Friday, July 30

Short Analysis of Call to Action

First, to my non-Methodist friends, this will probably be boring.  Church polity stuff often can be, unless you're a geek like me!  But there are some major structural proposals in front of the global church coming up and here is my brief analysis as executed for Polity class (in 1,000 words or less...couldn't do it...1,600 words or so because I had to get my last point in).  Some folks wanted to read it, so here it is!  Oh, and a note about a particular word:  amenable.  In legal terms, amenable carries quite a lot of weight.  If I am amenable to the President, I must do what the President requests.  Must.  If I am responsible to the President, I should do what the President requests.  Should.  Amenable/Must, Responsible/Should.

Call to Action Analysis

Soon, the United Methodist Church via the General Conference, will be determining a new way of being in the world.  The current structure of the connectional table has not functioned as envisioned in bringing resources and people together for the betterment of the church's mission.  This was especially evident with the financial collapse that the world has recently experienced.  Duplication of effort and resources is not something that the church can afford.  The restructuring is a radical change as it consolidates 9 general agencies into on organization, the United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry (UMCCMM) that would operate under a 15 member Board of Directors led by an Executive General Secretary.[1]  However, the question remains:  is this the right solution for the United Methodist Church?

Dr. Thomas Frank has offered a way of analyzing the proposed structure that seems to take a fairly neutral approach.[2]  He says that there are five principles in the United Methodist Constitution regarding church structure.  They are:

  1. Conferencing
  2. Episcopacy
  3. Separation of Powers
  4. Inclusiveness
  5. Fiduciary Duty Subject to Mission

The proposed aim of the new UMCCMM will be to "aid annual conferences and local churches as they fulfill the mission of the UMC"[3].  Additionally, the UMCCMM will be amenable to the General Conference.[4]  This seems to put the UMCCMM in compliance with the requirement to support the conference structure in the UM Constitution.  However, there are some difficulties with the proposed structure that may circumvent holy conferencing. 

The proposed structure looks like this:[5]

 Call to Action Structure

What this chart fails to fully communicate is that each of the offices is amenable to the Executive General Secretary.  Offices are not amenable to the UMCCMM.  The Executive General Secretary is elected by the Board of Directors.  The Executive General Secretary then nominates leadership for each of the Offices who are then elected by the Board of Directors.  It is clear that the Executive General Secretary is the lynchpin holding the entire organization together. 

For several years I worked at a not-for-profit agency in their headquarters.  My experience of the way boards interact with their leadership is that the leadership, whether amenable to the board or not, guides the vision and mission of the organization.  The leadership controls communication and information.  With that kind of power, selective communication is made based on the leader's personal ethics, morals, and theology.

In the case of the United Methodist Church, the board will come together four times a year.[6] This allows the General Secretary to have control of the communication and information that flows to and from the Board of Directors.  I believe that this structure is fully capable of side-stepping holy conferencing and the episcopal structure.  It has the potential for being a divisive position further exacerbating the already strained relationships in the UMC—relationships that are strained due to conflict over a world-wide vision, an inclusive vision, and a theological vision.

Specifically, regarding conferencing, United Methodists come together to make decisions together.  There is no side-stepping the conference.  With this structure, the proposal blatantly says that if the Board decides to create a world-wide financial campaign between quadrenniums, they can do so without going to General Conference for approval.[7]  That definitely evades conferencing.  Additionally, with a governing body and one office controlling communication and information, the offices are at the mercy of the Board and specifically (amenable) the Executive General Secretary.  I am unsure who said this, but it is true:  He, who controls information, controls the world.  Acting as an information/communication clearing house, the UMCCMM will control the information presented to the hearts and minds of United Methodists and to the world and can essentially side-step holy conferencing by creating a single vision.

Additionally, by controlling the information/communication, the UMCCMM essentially controls the vision of the church.  This is in direct conflict with the Book of Discipline.  It is the role of the bishop to have a vision for the church.[8] "The bishop leads by discerning, inspiring, strategizing, equipping, implementing, and evaluating the fulfillment of the mission of the church."[9]  If one looks at the proposed structure of the UMCCMM, there is no box for the episcopacy to interact with any of the boards, agencies, or offices.  How will they provide a vision for the church if they have no influence?  How will their concerns be heard if their communication is censored through the office of the UMCCMM?  With central control of communication in the hands of the elected Executive General Secretary, the voice of the episcopacy could be dampened.  What would happen if the Council of Bishops wanted to send a pastoral letter out to the church and the UMCCMM refused to publish it because it was not in their vision of supporting the annual conferences and the churches?

Another major concern I have is the proposal to have the Offices amenable to the Executive General Secretary.  My biggest concern is around the offices that are outward facing to the world rather than inward facing to the annual conferences and to the churches.  The marching orders of the UMCCMM are to "aid annual conferences and local churches as they fulfill the mission of the United Methodist Church."[10]  The mission of the UMC is:  "to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs."[11]  Yes, churches provide the most significant interaction with the world to create disciples, however, the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) and the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) typically are not focused on the local congregation.  With this proposed structure and a narrow reading of the purpose of the UMCCMM, the function of these two General Boards, as Offices, could be greatly narrowed.  My greatest concern is for GBCS.  They are the most controversial and their mission is substantially changed under the new proposal.  The biggest change is that the newly created Office of Justice and Reconciliation would be focused on issues of poverty and ethnic equity within the church.[12]  In addition to this narrowing of focus, they are then subject to "fulfill other functions as determined by the Board of Directors of the Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry."[13]  Let us also remember that this Office will be amenable to the Executive General Secretary, not the Board of Directors or the General Conference.

Upon first blush, the proposed new structure seems to provide a much needed financial relief to struggling UM structures, boards, and agencies.  It boosts churches with a $60 million infusion of cash and eliminates duplicity of roles and functions.  However, it does this by consolidating power in the hands of one person in such a way that abuse could easily happen.  It also creates a great potential for avid politicking to ensure the "correct hire."  Much has also been made of the need for inclusivity of gender and ethnic groups.  I would like to note that is a valid concern.  Looking at the change management team tells me that the concern is more than deserved.  The change management team consists of:

  • Neil Alexander, Caucasian, older gentleman from UM Publishing, TN
  • Carolyn Byrd, ethnicity unknown, former executive at Citibank, Freddie Mac, and current chair of GlobalTech Financial, LLC, GA
  • Adam Hamilton, Caucasian, middle-aged pastor, KS
  • Laura Nichol, Caucasian, middle-aged lay-member, works with executive teams, TX
  • Gregory Palmer, African-American, Bishop, IL
  • Gary Shorb, Caucasian, older, President & CEO of Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare, TN
  • Carol Tuthill, Caucasian, older, retired Proctor & Gamble executive, OH

 I cannot help but notice the extreme lack of diversity.  There doesn't seem to be a "normal" person in the lot.  Nor is there a person west of Texas.  This team is also loaded with corporate CEO type people from organizations that I would never consider ethical, moral, or at all adhering to the UM Social Principles.  And having the only ethnic diversity being the Bishop is challenging to my personal idea of what inclusivity is.

My conclusion is that something must change within the UMC but going to a more hierarchical model is probably not the right solution.  At a time when business organizations are going from a hierarchical model to a flat model, it seems counter-intuitive.  I can only pray that much more thought, prayers, and constraints will be built into the final product of the Call to Action change.

[1] Heather Hahn.  "Will Restructuring Cut Vital Ministry?"  United Methodist Insight. January 31, 2012.  Accessed March 7, 2012.

[2] Cynthia B. Astle.  "Scholar Poses Critical Questions of Call to Action."  United Methodist Insight. January 23, 2012.  Accessed March 7, 2012.

[3] Daily Christian Advocate.  Volume 2, Section 2. (Nashville: UM Publishing, 2012), page 925.

[4] Ibid, page 926.

[5] "Not the Change We Need."  United Methodist Insight.  February 10, 2012. Accessed March 7, 2012.

[6] Ibid, page 949.

[7] Ibid, page 939.

[8] No Author (2009-01-01). The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2008-2012 (p. 296). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Daily Christian Advocate.  Volume 2, Section 2. (Nashville: UM Publishing, 2012), page 925.

[11] No Author (2009-01-01). The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2008-2012 (p. 87). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.

[12] Daily Christian Advocate.  Volume 2, Section 2. (Nashville: UM Publishing, 2012), page 940.

[13] Ibid.


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