Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Autonomy makes Baptist life so interesting

Our polity that puts autonomy at every level of Baptist life does make for some interesting situations.

I wrote earlier of the church in a Missouri association that retained their pastor even after he was arrested on felony charges for sexual crimes with minors. They exercised their autonomy to keep an accused pedophile in their pulpit. No other Baptist church, association, state convention, or national organization can do a doggone thing about it.

Autonomy at work.

The church’s local association, exercising their autonomy, expelled the church but not for the retention of the pastor but rather for not being cooperative.

Autonomy at work.

Consider the case of a Virginia church and their association. The Ginter Park Baptist Church in Richmond ordained an openly gay man after which the Richmond Baptist Association appointed a group to examine the matter and that committee voted to retain the church. The entire association narrowly ratified the committee’s recommendation and the church remains a member in good standing with Richmond Baptist Association.

Autonomy at work.

Vote to retain church brings backlash is the story on the latter situation, carried by ABP.

Now, a number of churches have quit the association and a considerable number of others are considering such a move. Together, these churches represent about 40% of the association’s budget.

A church ordains a gay man. The association votes to "embrace Giner Park Baptist Church as a sister church" but without endorsing its views on ordaining homosexuals. Evidently, the association does not feel that such actions rise to the level necessary to expel a member church. 

Autonomy at work. 

Now, other churches in the association are withdrawing from the group over the decision. 

Autonomy at work.

The beleaguered associational missionary, concerned about the fragmentation of his group and loss of a significant amount of funding takes a group to the pastor and others of the church that started this mess, the one that ordained the homosexual man, "to share with [Ginter Park leaders] the impact of [the vote] and to let them know the serious situation we find ourselves in". 

Translation: “Our budget is shot to pieces. Would you help us out by withdrawing?”

To her credit, the Ginter Park pastor, Mandy England Cole, refused to quit, neither did she allow the associational missionary to make her and her church responsible for the association’s actual and potential budget woes. After all, the association did not "find" themselves in the current dire situation; they created it by exercising their autonomy to “embrace” her church - the Big Hug that will likely end the association as it has been known.

Autonomy at work.

If the same circumstances arose in my association, I would (a) vote to expel the church, and if that failed (b) leave the association.

I suspect that another autonomous association will spring up in Richmond, proving once again that the way we Baptists start new churches, associations, and state conventions is the old fashioned way – we split the ones we have.

Autonomy at work.


Rick Patrick said...

I choose to exercise my autonomy by reading everything William Thornton writes. This is an excellent article looking at autonomy from all sides.

William Thornton said...

Smart guy that Rick Patrick...reads all my stuff.

Anonymous said...

Interesting times. An SBC seminary revises pastoral care curriculum to take a simplistic view of mental health and institutional inertia cements an ineffective structural configuration: The Association. Change a thing that can make a difference and keep a thing that does not. It is one thing to have autonomy, but another to use it responsibly/effectively.