Tuesday, February 17, 2015

NPH and the Nazarene General Board

I don't know what to say here, honestly. The Nazarene General Board is meeting next week. This is the governing body for my denomination. Leaders will come from literally all over the globe to give guidance to this crazy tribe called The Church of the Nazarene. One of the most important issues they'll have to face is how to deal with the sordid happenings at Nazarene Publishing House over the last year.

I've put a summary together of the history of this particularly difficult situation - you can read it here.*

NPH is back running again, much smaller than it was before and with a still tenuous future. They've got a new, streamlined board, one without the typical close ties to denominational hierarchy. They will present a report to the General Board. From what I've been told, this report will be kept private, perhaps only presented in Executive Session. I hope, hope, hope, I've heard wrong.

This sort of privacy is what got NPH into trouble in the first place. Handling things behind closed doors has been a long tradition in the Church of the Nazarene and we've really paid a price for it. Furthermore, while that sort of behavior may have been the norm within all sorts of corporate structures in the past, it's just not true anymore. People need transparency.

I recognize a lot of good, well-meaning people made some terrible mistakes in all this mess. More public statements and transparency will make their regret and embarrassment more pronounced. It's honorable to want to protect them as much as possible. But the truth is, those mistakes have been made already. We know what they were (at least we've got a pretty good idea of it). I'm well beyond the point of anger at any one person. I don't want anyone fired. I want our broken system fixed.

We don't have any sort of whistle-blower policies in place at our denominational headquarters. People who know of problems are afraid to bring them to light. That has to change. We've operated on relational trust more than hard facts, where things get done by handshakes and connections. That works, to some extent, when you're small and insular - but it's not going to work anymore.

The structure we have in place no longer serves the best needs of the denomination. The Board of General Superintendents exercises far more power in practice than they have by polity - that's dangerous for even the most holy of people.

I've been told decisions about the future of NPH and how to handle the problems of the past year will be left in the hands of the General Board. They'll decide what is made public and what is kept behind closed doors. I'm a little skeptical, to be honest, since the BGS and the General Secretary typically set the agenda for these proceedings and have been less than open during this process. I hope the General Board will make the choice for transparency. We've got some dirty laundry in the family. It's sad, but true. It's time for us to lay it out in the light of day so we can heal and move on.

In the narrative summary linked above, I put forth a request for some sort of Truth and Reconciliation type procedure, whereby those involved can explain their part in the NPH matter and be forgiven. People don't need to be raked over the coals. No one expects our leaders to be perfect. The Church of the Nazarene is full of love and forgiveness. We simply need to know what exactly happened, why it happened, and how we're going to prevent it from happening again.

I don't need to agree with the direction my denomination's leaders go, in fact, I probably disagree more than I agree. I don't need to agree, but I do need to trust. I need to trust that our leaders, our structure, and our process is functioning ethically and efficiently and, most importantly, in the mode of Christ. I'm just not convinced of that.

It pains me to say it, but it's true. The NPH affair involved massive monetary losses, but the response has been mostly an attempt to smooth over the problems, not fix them. This might be the largest scale issue we've faced, but it's certainly not the first. Without changes in structure and process, clearly outlined, with means of accountability, it's difficult to believe the same problems won't creep up again.

I don't expect the General Board to make huge changes. It is responsible to wait for the General Assembly, but we need some signal that it's being taken seriously. Having the NPH report presented in private is the exact opposite of what's needed. I hear that NPH report might contain some unflattering opinions about the actions and attitudes of the denominational administration towards NPH. That could be difficult to hear, but those grievances need to be aired.

If we really are the family we so often claim to be - I've seen first hand how Nazarenes from around the world can meet and find common acquaintances within minutes, an impressive feat for a denomination of 2+ million - we need to be willing to have the tough discussions, live with disagreements, work together. But to do so, we all need to be in on the conversation. Yes, we elect representatives to run things, but we don't elect them to shield us from reality.

If anyone has survived in the Church of the Nazarene for any length of time, it's because we love this denomination and the holiness ethic around which it's built. We want to be a strong force for good in the world. No one wants to see us weakened. We love the Church of the Nazarene. We love the publishing house that's supported and nurtured it for so many years. We love our elected leaders, who execute some of the most difficult responsibilities imaginable. And because of that great love, this just can't be left alone. We can't sweep another problem under the rug and hope for the best next time.

Let's put it all on the table, cry and grieve together, forgive and forge a new path to better enable us to be the people God's called us to be in the future.

*This narrative was shaped and formed by a lot of conversations over a long period of time. It's been amended and adjusted considerably over time. Much of the documentary evidence forming the outline of this narrative can be found linked from this page. I may still have some things wrong. I would love to be in conversation about where this narrative can be further refined to better reflect the reality of the situation.


Craig Laughlin said...

Very well said.

Jason Vickers said...

Good article. My only quibble is with the notion that the Church of the Nazarene is built on a "holiness ethic." My own view is that, at your best, your tradition is built upon a robust vision of the holiness of God that is, initially, pre-ethical. And if you are dying, then it is because this robust but pre-ethical vision of God's holiness has given way to ethics.