Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Standoff at the UCC's National Office

Okay, a quick polity lesson: at the national setting, the United Church of Christ has four governing boards that deal with different areas of our denominational life: Office of General Ministries, Wider Church Ministries, Local Church Ministries, and Justice & Witness Ministries. They largely act autonomously and hold one another accountable, as well as serve as resources for other settings of the church. It was set up this way in the spirit of congregationalism; the resistance to having one person or board at the top making decisions for everyone else.

That was, of course, until they decided that they wanted one board at the top making decisions for everyone else.

Over the past several years, a proposal has been making its rounds through the national setting to restructure the various boards into one big 86-member board, mainly in the name of expediency and budget cuts. A counter-petition has also been circulating detailing the reasons against such a restructure, among them: it will not give fair voice to historically underrepresented groups, it will promote elitism, and it will shift power to a more central location, which is against the UCC's founding spirit.

Well, the process has hit a snag. Justice and Witness Ministries, the final board to examine and approve this restructure, didn't approve it:
A proposal to form a single governing board for the national setting of the United Church of Christ came to an abrupt halt on March 20, after the board of Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) voted 17 to 14, with three abstentions, not to move the process forward.

Meeting March 17-23 in Cleveland, the UCC's five autonomous boards were expected to consider wording changes to the UCC Constitution and Bylaws that would be brought to General Synod 27 in Grand Rapids, Mich., in June. Each of the five boards, including JWM, voted last year to take the governance changes to General Synod for approval.

"No matter what the outcome of our vote had been, I would have to stand before you and report there is considerable ambivalence on the Justice and Witness Ministries board," the Rev. John Gregory-Davis, pastor of Meriden (N.H.) UCC and chair of the JWM board, told a joint gathering of the boards. "We are not of one mind on this."

The boards of Local Church Ministries, Wider Church Ministries and the Office of General Ministries each voted overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal.
In the article, members of JWM cite the historically underrepresented groups issue and the central power issue as the main holdups for them as they considered this.

What strikes me as outrageous after JWM shot it down is this:
On the final day of its meeting, the Executive Council defeated a motion from its organizational life committee that would have asked the JWM board to reconsider its decision in hopes of still allowing the process to move forward as planned. Several spoke to the motion saying they felt it would be an untenable request given the short timeline and the emotionally charged atmosphere.
"Come on, you guys! Let's send this back to you, but approve it this time! Pretty please?"

Yeah, I'm being snarky. I've only had one cup of coffee so far, I have a cold, and it's been a rollercoaster of a month. But even besides all that, let JWM's "no" be "no," and consider that maybe there's still room in the United Church of Christ, even at the national office, for disagreement and reconsideration. Naw, can't be true, right? Oops, guess so.


Don Niederfrank said...


I thought they had decided to let the 'no' be 'no'.
I think the saddest thing is the inability of our national leadership to either see this coming and/or to deal with its arrival. But I'm still angry that the leadership, including local reps, have acted in ways that have reduced our membership and, even more so, reduced support for OCWM. They screwed this up and now they can't fix it and Justice has been no small part in this.

This denomination was founded with a vision that has been manifest more clearly in the words and deeds of Obama & Co. then in our leadership. That vision of a transcendent Christianity is sorely needed and sinfully absent from us.

We have tried to bring in a kingdom defined by liberal politics and a Christ that discomforts people whose opinions we don't like rather than God's kingdom with a Christ who would discomforts the hell out of us. There has been little/no grieving over those who have left the Table. We are a liberal church in a post-liberal culture. God help us.

I'm sorry we didn't leave your generation with better. We should have. Too many of us were sleeping.

Jeff Nelson said...

"I thought they had decided to let the 'no' be 'no'."

They did, but only after a second attempt to get the proposal through. That's the part about that that I find outrageous.

Don Niederfrank said...


I should have my own blog instead of going off on others'. :-)

Anonymous said...

It saddens me that there is a lack of trust evident in the JWM constituencies. One who was at the meetings said the agreements were in place for 50% women and 50% persons of color on the new board.

It pains me that we even have to deal with quotas - especially 50% quotas. I don't mind the women quota so much because probably better than 50% of the UCC membership is women. But I think 50% persons of color is MORE than generous, and probably too generous. Yet JWM, the home of these "historically underrepresented constituencies", torpedoed the long-negotiated plan.

The 50% quota certainly reflects a prophetic, inclusive stance of who we want to be as a denomination, but it doesn't reflect the reality of our denominational constituency, and I think the General Synod/National Setting suffers for it because we don't reflect better the reality of who we are. If the church consists of a lot of old German E's and R's, for example, GS/NS should reflect this, also.

This may be a reason that we're down to 5600 churches and 1.2 million members. Underrepresented may have gone to overrepresented and should probably come a little closer to proportionately represented.


Gene said...

As for the Justice and Witness Board, is it wise for a board to have an even number of members?