#UMC Bishops Question #CallToAction Governance

Representation is more important than saving money

During the first week of February, a group of Western Jurisdiction Bishops, clergy leaders, and laity on episcopal and jurisdictional committees gathered together to talk about the Call To Action with members of the ethnic caucus groups. They wrote a succinct letter that outlines their major difficulties in a helpful way. They must have been reading my blog posts because the letter they drafted contains a lot of language that I resonate with. I encourage you to read it.

Their key points in the letter deal with the agency restructure; specifically, the Board of Directors that would be the highest perpetual body in the United Methodist Church and which would be competency-based rather than representative-based. Here’s a quote:

We believe that the proposed competency-based board is too severe a swing of the pendulum in the direction of ease, and efficiency at the expense of diversity and inclusivity and threatens to deprive the church of the perspectives and voices of the many cultures represented by our geographies, theologies and ethnic identities. With few voices present at the table, ease and efficiency of work may be achievable, but whose voices will be left out?

Note that I also use pendulum and efficiency language a lot. Glad to have some fans of this blog in the Western Jurisdiction! Or just people that use everyday English words. ;-) Ha! [/narcissism]

Here’s the letter (PDF), dated February 6th, 2012. Essentially the letter expresses four concerns:

First, they are concerned about losing work already done. “We run the risk of setting up our new agency structure for failure and the kind of chaos that will not enable them to serve as a resource to our annual conferences and local churches.” In short, they are wanting the current practitioners and heads of the general agencies to prioritize their own agencies by defining what is essential and what is not. For example, the GBGM already restructured and reduced the size of their board, the Women’s Division had a significant restructure, etc. Doing away with these works by representative boards and replacing them flat with the structure made by a competency-based board strikes the WJ as “reckless.”

Second, they propose an alternative governing board. “We do not believe that a strictly business model will necessarily lead us to being a stronger Church.” They are wary of 15-member executive board. They propose an alternative structure (not related to MFSA’s Alternative Structure that this blogger supports) that incorporates the work already done by GBGM and other agencies to create more efficient boards:

  1. Put 15 member boards at the top of each of the five agencies (the ones that 9 agencies will consolidate into).
  2. 3 members of each of those agency board woulds be on a general oversight board for the five of them.
Third, they are concerned about the Worldwide UMC. “We are further concerned about the lack of clear public conversation about the…challenges in our Central Conferences.” While the CTA calls for $5m for Central Conference Theological Education, the CTA plan does not give appropriate representation to Central Conferences when compared to the Alternative Structure. As GBHEM tweeted during the Pre-GC briefing in Manaus this past week, “Representation is more important than saving money.” I second that value.

Finally, they want monitoring agencies to be independent. “We are concerned that in placing the Commissions on Religion and Race and Status and Role of Women under the Justice and Reconciliation agency their primary monitoring function will be lost.” Both GCORR and COSROW are monitoring agencies, and having them under another agency diminishes their ability to be both prophetic and call other powers-that-be to account. Why do we have independent safety evaluations for companies? Because even well-intentioned internal evaluations miss things or obfuscate things due to corporate culture. These agencies must be set-aside to be most effective.

I’m not convinced by their agency restructure plan, but I do like the pushback against governance indiscriminate of diversity and representation. I think the more of this we see, the less likely we will see 15 members representing the diversity of the United Methodist Church in a few short months. And that’s a good thing. Like we are all saying, none of these offerings by the Bishops, CTA, MFSA, or anyone will be adopted whole-hog. We are just contributing to the conversation that will inform Holy Conferencing at General Conference.

The paper concludes with this timeless quote that we need to be wary of going forward.

It is in times of great organizational stress that our commitments to those on the margins and less represented the life of the church wind up being neglected, forgotten and often lost. We do not want this moment to be such a moment in the life of the United Methodist Church.

Amen. And Amen again!

Thoughts?

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Comments

  1. says

    I’m writing from the West, up in Alaska. Over here we consider our diversity to be a great strength and so I definitely see where the bishops are coming from here. I think their concluding statement, that you highlighted, is pretty foundational for many of our discussions among Western Jurisdiction leadership. Mind you, however, we’re a small jurisdiction with little representation ourselves at the general church level. That keeps ups mindful of these issues.

  2. Anne says

    In some ways, I’m wondering why the Call to Action (when finished) was not shared with the bishops who could then do this type of session to discuss the pluses and minuses and offer revisions before the CtA ever came out to the UM public. The findings from the meetings of every jurisdiction could then be passed on to the CtA team who could then make some revisions and then release the CtA in a more constructive manner. I honestly think we would be in a better position of knowing what might be best for the church if these things had happened. Especially since we are now about two months away from GC. With the CtA as is, there are too many questions, disagreements, etc. and I wonder if 2 weeks will be enough time to do the CtA and church justice, not too mention the other legislation that needs to be discussed.

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