Oh, for grace for peaceful governance

Governance seems a giant yawn to most folks, but if you’re looking for fun or fury, governance is the thing. Nothing brings out organizational fireworks like discussions about who gets to decide what about almost anything. This includes among church bodies – from the smallest congregations to the biggest denominations.

bored_students_3276Power struggles within the Christian community are as old as the book of Acts and as new as this summer’s crop of denominational gatherings. All too often, where two or three gather together, tempers flare, motivations are questioned, and trust slips away.

Writing about the General Conference of my own tiny ecclesial family, the Brethren in Christ Church USA, blogger Harriet Bicksler notes that

the issue of organizational trust often comes down to different views of leadership and decision-making, whether we prefer a more top-down style or more diffuse, shared and consensus-building. . . To some extent, whether you support top-down or shared leadership and decision-making depends on where you sit – that is, if you’re one of the few at the top you’re likely to support top-down decisions, but if you’re an ordinary person at the ‘bottom’ of the organizational flowchart you’re more inclined to question and less willing to trust and submit happily. That’s overly simplistic, of course, but it is part of what’s going on.

Trust also has a lot to do with whether we agree with the way a vote went – if your side won or lost. A case in point is Editor John Buchanan’s reflections on the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) via his column in Christian Century magazine.


On one big issue – the vote to allow Presbyterian clergy to preside at same-sex weddings – Buchanan voiced wholehearted trust in the decision, describing it as “a huge step toward full equality for the gay and lesbian community in the church and society.” He left no doubt that, in his opinion, the powers that be had gotten this one right.

However, on the other big issue (divesting Presbyterian funds from three companies whose products are deemed harmful to the Palestinian people) – where the vote didn’t go the way Buchanan would have preferred – he wrote that “leadership, which is supposed to remain neutral and ensure balance, did not do its job.”

Not being a Presbyterian, I don’t presume to take a side on the decisions of that denomination’s General Assembly. But I’m not beyond noting that Buchanan’s editorial illustrates what Harriet Bicksler writes about in her blog. She recalls having

been on boards (and chaired one of them) that made decisions that weren’t always appreciated or supported by the rank-and-file. I’ve been hurt by accusations both direct and indirect that the board didn’t know what it was doing, we had some kind of hidden agenda, we weren’t worthy of trust. The truth is that members of the boards I was on really had the best interests of the organization at heart, tried to be wise and careful in our decision-making, but among many good decisions also made some that in hindsight didn’t work out so well. Being considered untrustworthy feels like a low blow when we were doing our best to do the right thing.

In other words, Christ-followers could benefit from grace for peaceful governance – in the smallest congregation to the biggest denominations. Everything else follows from there, including our witness and mission.

What's your take on this topic?

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