Monday, June 24, 2013

Power and Grace

My tribe is gathering in Indianapolis, as I've said in a previous post. The Church of the Nazarene is going about it's business this week. While I nerd out about legislation, for the most part, it's pretty mundane.

We've come through some tough times recently and logistically. Our denomination began in the US and quickly spread around the world. It's been tough integrating members from around the world into an essentially US-centric system. It's become even tougher as those outside the US well outnumber those within.

For the most part we've been moving forward fitfully, but with grace. At the previous General Assembly we elected a native of Cape Verde as one of six General Superintendents, the highest position within our little family. It's been a big deal.

Monday night, another change was on the docket. Our denomination is legislatively controlled by a General Board, who handles business between these every-four-year assemblies. Currently, the United States has a representation of about 60% on this board in a format that, for a while, actually gave Nazarenes outside the US a larger representation than their membership would otherwise dictate.

The formula we have now was once a gracious sharing of power by the US founders of the denomination to the global members who are the future of the Church of the Nazarene.

A resolution last night would change the representation of the General Board in several ways, shrinking the overall membership from about 50 to about 30 to keep it manageable. I'm not sure there would be much objection to such a move.

In addition, however, it would change the representation to be proportional by membership. The representation of the six regions (Meso-America, South America, Eurasia, Africa, Asia-Pacific, and USA/Canada) would be determined by membership in those areas.

This would call for a reduction in total members for most regions, but a drastic reduction in representation for the US. Currently the US has 30% of the membership, but 60% of the representation.

As I watched the proceedings, countless Americans stood to oppose the change. They never mentioned power, but they came darn close. One even said that because the US contributes the vast majority of the money to operate the denomination, it should have a larger say in how things run.

That might make sense in a capitalist organization or even a democratic one. It makes no sense in a Christian organization, where all people are valued equally. It makes even less sense in a denomination which decided in 1980 (before I was even born) that money would not dictate representation in the Church of the Nazarene.

Some have said this change is too much too soon with unknown consequences. Yet it is the result of four years of study by a commission formed and approved by the General Assembly at its last meeting. It is not a fly by night decision.

A great man once said, "The only legitimate use of power is to share it." By virtue of more blessings than we could ever count or name, the United States has a lot of power - not just politically or economically, but culturally as well. The same is true within the Church of the Nazarene.

It is our Christian duty to give away power, to share it and not abuse it. It is our duty as Nazarenes to show trust in each other, grace, and hope. We have spent the past week in worship together, celebrating our global presence and our continued work of embodying God's love across the globe.

When it comes to issues of power and grace, we hesitate.

Before I jump off a cliff thinking our elected delegates did this on purpose, I must pause to consider that they hadn't thought it through entirely or hadn't had the opportunity to fully grasp what was being asked.

According to our rules, any delegate who voted to reject resolution GA-310a, can call for a reconsideration of the resolution. I hope and pray that through discussions this evening and through the week, someone decides to make this step. Further, that someone would speak truth to the powerful with grace - that we would, together, be able to move forward as equals, as brother and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ.

If we cannot be fair with each other, how are we to be trusted and received by others in the world?


Brannon Hancock said...

I agree power is best wielded when it is shared; I agree that it is high time the COTN in N. America gives up the CEO mentality and hands over more leadership to our (growing!) global contingency. But the key phrase is "gives up" and "hands over"; I don't want to see us do this out of some PC notion of "fairness." Jesus wasn't fair; he healed some people and not others; he spent more time with 12 than he did with the multitudes, and more time with 3 than he did with 12. I don't want us electing GSes or passing resolutions for the sake of fairness. I want us to do what is right. What is right in this case, IMHO, would be for N. America to concede more power to the global church. And if N. America isn't ready to give up power, then I'm disappointed (in our delegates; which means in myself, because I helped elect them, along with every other member of every district assembly, delegates to which are elected by local church members...remember that the power flows up from the bottom in our polity!), but I don't think it should be strong-armed away either. It should be give up freely. #kenosis #Phil2

Nate Pruitt said...

As much as I would like to see it "given up freely" the sad reality may be that we're an entire generation of delegates away from that happening. It would be a shame to see this delayed another 12-16 years because of pride.

Brannon Hancock said...

Nate - I agree that would be sad; and to be clear, I think the situation is absurd in the first place; our delegates should be heeding the advice of the BGS and the commission on this issue instead of listening to and following the concerns of well-spoken detractors from the floor. However, this is how our system works. If we want to change it, here's what to do: 1) get your local church to send younger, more open-minded / progressive delegates to district assembly (and yes, those younger, more open-minded progressive people have to take off work and get baby sitters and all that jazz so they can be there.) Then, 2) they need to vote for GA delegates of like-mind, who will also have to take even more time off work to make attendance a priority. Then 3) those GA delegates have to vote for change and progress, and perhaps exert their influence wherever they can throughout the delegation to do the same. This is how it works.

We're also up against the (also sad) reality that many younger, open-minded progressive leaders don't give a rip about this kind of stuff or denominations in general...

Patrick said...

When this failed to pass I was angry, though as I complained to a friend of mine, I began to see how this may be a bit murkier than it looks. (Not that I'm sure I'm swayed on the issue.) The fact is, some of the more progressive stuff we want to see passed will only be passed because America has such a large stake. Many of the other countries have hardline conservative stances on things and we could very realistically see many kinds of measures that I know I want to fail, pass- if this change is implemented.
Again, I don't know if that is enough to say the way it is, is a just way, but perhaps there would be a better way to implement the changes. America does have so much in the way of education, as well. I just think there are real questions we need to ask if we're prepared to deal with, and going about this needed change in a better way may be very possible. The committee voted very highly of this motion, as I recall, and I expect to see it again.

For the record, no, I don't think "We know better" is a sufficient rationale.

Tyler said...

i agree. representation should be based off membership.
If Africa grows then it should be the largest.

Or maybe we mimic the US (this is one time it would be a good thing)... one time... and have the General Board be like the senate. Where each region gets X General Board spots. and the GA is like the House of Reps

Headnugget said...

I agree that this resolution should have passed and strongly disagree with the idea that money justifies the USA holding power.
I'm wondering however whether swapping money for people is justified? '
My church is bigger than your church and therefore I should have more of a say'
hardly seems more justifiable. I recognise that this really confuses matters as what would be the correct way to form a board? Perhaps Geography: One proportion per continent perhaps?
The arguments against this would be regarding places like Europe and the Middle East (& probably Australasia) which have such smaller numbers, but perhaps giving such places an equal voice would better enable whatever is limiting growth in those areas to be discussed and recognised and considered and adequately responded to.
The other problem would be the places that fall between continents such as Pacific Islands although I believe (though I could be wrong) that these may align themselves most with Australasia

Hope and Nate said...

I didn't read all of the comments, so I don't know if this was addressed, but what would happen to those who were already elected as US representatives? Or have those just been nominated?

Rich Schmidt said...

Someone asked from the floor when this would be implemented, and the answer was at the 29th General Assembly. So if it's passed this time, the composition of the board won't change until 4 years from now.

Ryan said...

Patrick, that's something everyone has to face. Whether our ideal agenda is progressive or liberal or conservative, it doesn't justify the retention of disproportionate influence. It would be as if we're saying, "we've thought about this more than you; give it a few years and you'll agree." That may be true, it may be false, but it's not a Christ-like attitude. The end result is not the goal, going about the process in ways that reflect Christ is of paramount importance. Yes, much of the rest of the Nazarene world is more conservative than the US, but we're just going to have to get used to being a minority voice. Technically, we already are.

Andrew said...

The primary goal is to maintain the accuracy and completeness of the saving reality of God. As the General Assembly wrestles with this influx of international influence, I might offer a bit of hope from the Orthodox Church, who has been in many of the places that you mention for at least the last thousand years (except America, which has only been about the last 400 or so).

The model they use is that when a new church community begins to grow in a new place, the locals have very little control over anything. Eventually as the church becomes more and more established, a couple generations go by, you get some native clergy, it will be able to be trusted to self-promote the authentic teachings of the church at which point (to make a really long story really, really short) they can gain their own "independence" (so to speak). Until then, they have an "overseeing" church (The Russians were overseen by the Greek Church for several centuries in this manner.)

The Greek Church, The Russian Church, The Bulgarian Church, The Antiochian Church are all self-governing bodies of the same Orthodox Church. They don't have any authority over each other, but are all fully in communion with each other.

Is it possible that the Nazarene Church could adopt this model? Americans have 100% representation over the churches in America, but where the church is firmly established, give them a board that is fully ethnic and let them go?

Ryan said...

There is a resolution to move to a regional confederation, probably more akin to the worldwide Anglican communion. I don't like it. I'm a part of a global denomination, where we work together across cultures precisely because the gospel calls us to embody a new culture. I wouldn't want anything that separates such unity, even if it means giving up some things I'd like to see change. To me, unity in Christ is above all else. There is no evangelism or mission without it.

Scott said...

As the delegate who spoke Spanish asked for clarity on, there were really 3 issues at hand. I would bet had they presented each as its own resolution it may have gained more traction. It definitely points out issues needing addressed, though. I appreciate your post laying out it all out.

Anonymous said...

Let's remember the Church of the did not just start in the States "With the Pentecostal Church of Scotland and Pentecostal Mission unions in 1915, the Church of the Nazarene embraced seven previous denominations and parts of two other groups"

Anonymous said...


The problem is that we are already much more of a regional confederation than a united global church. Do we have a Global Network? Sure, but we don't have a Global organization (from a bookkeeping standpoint the regions are separate entities, there is no unified balance sheet or financial statements) nor a global church body. Even in the US "Kansas City" has very little control over churches. Our national denomination is more of a confederation of districts than it is like, say the Catholic Church. The idea of unity is a joke when a Nazarene church in Alabama is, effectively, a totally different denomination than the Nazarene church you'd find in Brooklyn or LA, let alone Santiago. Look at the history with the Concerned Nazarenes and the statement of biblical inerrancy and you see we don't even share the same theology. Sure, we share a common name but so do the Southern Baptists. Think the manual is the unified polity? How many Naz churches do you know of where the pastor reads the manual to the congregation once a year? How many Naz churches/districts reject the Manuals stance on openness to theistic evolution or female pastors?

The "united global church" meme gives us warm fuzzy's and makes for good propaganda but, looking at it concretely (not as an abstraction), it is but a mirage. Or, perhaps it would be more apropos to call it a riddle.

"`Have you guessed the riddle yet?' the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.

`No, I give it up,' Alice replied: `what's the answer?'

`I haven't the slightest idea,' said the Hatter."

Ryan said...

This seems to betray the idea that who we are in our various contextual entities is who we are as a denomination. Yes, our polity is essentially a confederation of districts and any district could up and leave. But who are in who we are together - what we affirm as our Articles of Faith and our polity. We have a procedure for bringing in line those local entities we wish, but usually there is a lot of grace, as there should be.

I live, work and minister in my local area, but I am a Nazarene because I ascribe to a global assembly of people who gather to make decisions together.

There are certainly members of the denomination who are not actually Nazarenes for one reason or another - but individual dissent does not mean disunity. Only in an individualistic mindset does this argument even make sense.

So long as we continue to meet together, sending delegates and agreeing to a polity, we are united.