Saturday, May 16, 2009

Evasive Maneuvers and Propaganda do not an Alliance Make

I have a deep love and commitment for the denomination of churches in which I've grown up, the Christian & Missionary Alliance. But I have a growing burden for it as well, because I truly think that in one regard at least our denomination is in pretty bad place right now. I have a lot of hope in Jesus Christ, and thus have hope for his church. But as for my denomination, I don't know.

What hope is there for a denomination whose main strategies for dealing with controversial issues or hard-sell proposals are evasion and propaganda? What hope is there for a denomination who spends countless hours and dollars trying to figure out how to reach their culture with the gospel while simultaneously pushing away the very people in their midst who could save them a buck or two and just tell them?

Worse yet, what hope is there for a denomination which, instead of looking intently to the Word of God to speak relevantly to each time and culture through the interpretive community as they wrestle with contemporary questions (and with each other), settles for the polar strategies of avoidance and advertising?

I think we show a real lack of faith in Christ as our unifier when we depend on conflict avoidance and motivational media to keep us unified. What would be really promising would be if we trusted our unity in Christ to keep us together while we contended with one another around the Word of God and sought for the Spirit to guide us into truth.

An organization that fails to do this may continue to survive, and if it continues to take all its cues from the corporate world which is so adept at feeding consumers and gaining numbers it may even appear to thrive. But a denomination that claims to be Christian and yet forsakes this fundamental role and identity-marker at this crucial point might be dying inside at precisely the moment when it appears most "successful".

I quite honestly believe that is the crisis my denomination faces today. I respect many of my leaders and colleagues and I believe that they love and wish to serve Jesus Christ with all their hearts. And therein lies my hope. In fact, at our recent district conference our leaders gave us more "open mic" for discussion than I've seen in a long time.

But I think many still are digging for answers in all the wrong places. Hopefully in the years ahead we will have the guts to fight some stuff out (such as ordination, women in leadership, and our over-arching evangelical theology), but I don't think it will happen in the next few years. For now we seem poised for more conflict avoidance and for spending more thousands of dollars and man-hours on our (largely unneeded) self-motivation. Maybe by General Assembly 2012 we'll be ready to deal with some stuff. I sure hope so.

And maybe that's fine. Maybe this stuff has to be allowed to run its course so everyone can wrestle through it. I'm not interested in a dictatorship of new ideas any more than I am interested in the dictatorship of old ones. But that shouldn't prevent us from speaking up, even now. I think we see God more as we enter the process rather than sit back and pine and whine about the end goal. We need to lovingly and honestly fight against the false peace of evasion and the false hope of propaganda or we are going to die.

GK Chesterton adeptly addressed these twin problems in a 1908 essay entitled "On Bluff," addressing the editorialists of his time:

"The idea of fighting, of answering the argument by a suitable counter-argument, even if it be a sophistry, has evidently vanished from the editorial mind. Evasion and violence are the only expedients. . . . But both of these things are equally remote from the fighting spirit, which involves an interest in the enemy's movement in order to parry them. The good controversialist is a good listener . . . .

Most current attempts at [debate] are full of timidity or of bullying; and these two are in truth the same ... habit of admiring Power rather than Valour. That word Valour, by the way, is in itself a stirring sermon. It means putting one's full value into the struggle or sentiment; the almost exact translation of valour is 'being in it for all you are worth.'"

I confess that I struggle (as I'm sure we all do) with when to speak, when to listen, and how to do each lovingly and honestly. But evasive maneuvers and manipulative words are unbecoming a people who are rallied around the One who taught us self-giving communion and speaking the truth in love.

I do think Christ would lead me, and us, through this better than anyone or anything. I do think we have it at center if we'll reach back and grab it. We've quite literally just got to put the Christian and the Alliance back in C&MA. Then we'll really have something worth being Missionary about.


Tarasview said...

well, I'm not sure what specifically you are referring to... but I agree with your assessment.

Tony Tanti said...

I don't the specifics of recent Alliance debate but I know I was disgusted by what I heard happened last year when the women in leadership issue was dismissed without discussion due to the more pressing matter of church attendance falling and a rapid church planting plan.

Ironically the attendance numbers (which shouldn't matter that much anyway) and the church plant efforts are being directly affected by the Alliance's unwillingness or inability to deal with issues such as women in leadership.

You're right about the need for the proper way to have disagreements Jon, I don't think many people in the Alliance treat differences of opinion the way you do though, myself included, which is why I left. I couldn't stay while disagreeing with so much and I lost the desire to disagree respectfully.

jon said...

well, i don't want to slander anyone, but i am referring to the events (and the attitude behind them) of General Assembly 2008 and my (fairly educated) prognosis for General Assembly 2010, while also making a general observation of some bad habits within evangelicalism. i hope we are coming around to really wrestle with this stuff though. i hope.

tanti: i understand the feeling, but we could sure use you. there is a groundswell. i hope.

Tarasview said...

I feel annoyed at Assembly 2010 because it feels like it will effectively keep a lot of the younger and/or female set away. It is a lot of money (no matter how much they say it isn't) and I bet most churches will not be able to send more than one staff member- at most- which will likely be the senior pastor. Smaller churches might not even be able to do that. So basically the more affluent amongst us can go. It seems like it will be filled to the brim with middle-ish aged men.

The Alliance seems to pay a lot of lip-service to being family friendly, or making functions accessible... but honestly? SO NOT family-friendly. Instead of making assembly MORE accessible so that we can actually work through some of this crap, they make it significantly LESS accessible. AND make it sound un-spiritual and anti-missions to NOT think we should be holding our general assembly half way around the world.

I am all about missions trips and seeing the rest of the world... I just don't think general assembly is the time to do it. We should be doing our very best to make it cheaper, easier to attend, more family-friendly so that younger pastors/spouses can attend and be heard and so more congregation members can go and be heard.

I have been sent dozens of "surveys" over my 10 years as a pastor's wife in the alliance and I have answered every single one. I have shared my concerns with those in leadership (I even shared nicely!)and I have found tons of agreement. But I feel basically ignored. But I also still feel like we need to fight. There is much good in our denomination and I really think it could be great... and I hope that our struggling through this crap will make it so that the young pastor's/spouses coming up behind us won't have to go through the exact same thing.

Anonymous said...

You all are pressing my buttons (of agreement). After the Turkey fiasco at assembly i wrote letters to the national board chairman, president, and cc'd our ds. I never did hear from the president but assume the survey after the fact was a response of sorts. I literally grew up in the Alliance and am now approaching 60, have served over 25 years as a pastor in the cma. Probably the last 9 years i have become increasingly discouraged at how things have been handled on the national level. But i continue on as long as i can use my gifts effectively and without too much disagreement...but it is getting more difficult. Thanks for the dialogue on all this...i wonder if this is the best venue for this discussion however...seems like we're all in the same choir. stu

Tarasview said...

Hey Stu- I completely agree that we need a more-listened-to forum... just not sure how to get it! Perhaps you have some advice from your experience?

Anonymous said...

hey Tara. I think the round tables at Assembly is an attempt on their part to hear from us a little easier...except they seem to be using the round tables to press their agenda more than listen to us (as in the Turkey thing). I sense much more hierarchy than in years could be just a leadership style thing...but i'm not very comfortable with top heavy stuff. I guess we need to write letters more, go to conferences and assemblies (yeh right), talk to our ds's (even just to encourage them in the middle of all this), and pray that God will still use us to reach the lost and disciple the found. There is always the tendancy to want to pull out but i don't think we're that bad yet. Stu

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this Jon. It's a pretty cutting post (oh, that last paragraph!) - but I think it's bang-on too. Right now I'm really struggling with whether or not to keep engaged in the C&MA beyond my local congregation. It's a draining thing, and I'm not sure where the benefit is anymore. You know, even if we "win" (as some might say) on some of these hot button years to come - we really haven't won in that it's probably just going to be the result of the a new majority's power-play, as opposed to a process of fit/split/contend/transcend (I love that idea). If you've got more thoughts, I'd love to hear them.

I asked that exact question about "age/gender/race" at conference this past week - how the national office plans on having a quorum that accurately reflects the make-up of our denomination. The answer I got didn't really address the question though.

jon said...

i agree with you about fit/split/contend/transcend jon. if only, and about the unfortunate reality that "winning" may someday only be because of power. i'm almost not interested if that's what it is. but you get the odd feeling of not being listened to sometimes unless you have clout, and i suppose if you believe in what you have to say it makes sense to try to gain the voice to say it.

i wonder if maybe we should just pick one or two people and send them to assembly to represent us and just have them up at the mic saying our piece for us. maybe they don't get the votes, but they die trying. you end up looking like a bit of a nut, up at the mic pushing an agenda, and i think robert's rules of order are sort of meant to make you feel that way . . . but who cares?

Tarasview said...

I think that would be a great idea Jon. You volunteering by any chance? :) I do wonder though if the person(s) would even be given the chance to speak. Couldn't they just pull another "put this vote off indefinitely to avoid conflict" motion and render us, again, speechless? I guess I need to figure out those blasted Robert's rules someday. I seriously hate those... my brain simply does not work that way :(

I have participated in several round-table discussions over the past couple assemblies... and I really really enjoyed them and they gave me some hope. But here I am months or years later and, as far as I can tell, nothing of substance has really changed. Of course I could be mistaken about that since I am not one of the powers that be.

And actually I am not so sure I mind things changing just because of a power shift. Political power shifts
(for the better) protect and help all sorts of disadvantaged and under-represented groups. Perhaps a power shift- although not the ideal way to go for certain- is needed just to protect the under-represented amongst us.

Perhaps I am just feeling a wee bit sceptical that change will happen any other way at this point.

jon said...

Good point about the proper use of power, to represent others well.

I think whoever was sent as a "representative" would need to suck it up and learn the stinking War-era Robert's Rules. I do believe that the motion which shut things down at Assembly 08 could have been shut down itself if a) people had voted against it or b) someone had questioned it and debated it even before it went to a vote.

Anonymous said...

Allow me to wade in again. I can remember wonderful Assemblies (in the 70's & some 80's) in which Roberts Rules was used properly. We had awesome debate and then votes were taken and we loved it or lived with it. But i think time constraints combined with the difficult issue (egs. divorce, role of women) has short circuited the process. I frankly don't know the solution if we run out of time and haven't addressed things to Assembly's satisfaction. As to politics...Assembly is supposed to be the highest governing body in the cma...but i think hierarchy is gradually winning the day. Stu.