A review team is midstream in its work of trying to evaluate that, due to report back to the General Assembly in 2010, and in the process of consulting with the committees and with others affected by their work.
Some of those being consulted include the General Assembly Mission Council and the council’s Staff Leadership Team: Executive Director Linda Valentine and her top assistants. They’re helping to evaluate the work and role of three committees: the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns, the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns, and the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.
The review team has been meeting with each of those committees, and hopes to complete a draft report by November, according to its chair, Doug Megill, a physician from Pennsylvania and a General Assembly Mission Council member.
On Sept. 22, the council’s executive committee received a summary of comments from the council and the leadership team — and those summaries, while polite, touched upon some of the areas of conflict.
Both called for more communication and collaboration “at the front end, rather than what seems to be a constantly reactive approach,” wrote Curtis Kearns, the council’s executive administrator, who summarized the views of the Staff Leadership Team.
What sometimes happens, said Michael Kruse of Kansas City, the council’s vice-chair, is that when an issue becomes controversial, “nobody is approached here and suddenly a public declaration takes place and an e-mail gets circulated widely,” when the difficulties might have been cleared up if there had been more consultation at the beginning.
The council members also objected to what they see as an unfair assumption at times that — when there are differences of views — council members aren’t concerned about issues of justice and diversity. Some council members are frustrated and “can’t understand the level of what feels like antagonism” coming from the committees, he said at the Sept. 22 meeting.
The committees “are frequently experienced as an obstacle rather than a partner” as the church tries to find new ways of doing ministry with fewer resources, wrote Kruse, summarizing the views of council members.
The committees “seem inclined towards a defensive mentality, taking any attempts at scrutiny, revision, or reduction in justice and advocacy programming as particularized hostility towards this mission,” Kruse wrote. “This creates a perception by some that the … committees are too often functioning as special-interest groups defending turf … .”
When staff members who relate to these committees are hired or dismissed, the committees will be consulted. But Kruse’s report makes it clear that Valentine has the power to hire and fire the staff members who work with these committees, and “there may be occasions where staff decisions are made without prior notifications (to the committees) and without revelation of specifics” that would involve confidential personnel information.
The comments also challenge the committees to become more involved in grassroots efforts of congregations to work for justice. It’s “unclear what impact the work of these committees has had on members, outside of a few enthusiasts,” or on influencing the broader world, Kruse wrote.
Kruse also acknowledged that the committees and the council have different roles, and that some differences in views likely are inevitable. He also praised the passion of the committees, saying “it’s important work that you’re doing.”
Two members of the review team — Joyce Smith, a member of the General Assembly Mission Council, and Lemuel Garcia, an associate presbyter with Salem Presbytery in North Carolina — participated in the discussion.
While the committees are involved in some significant work — such as working to end sex trafficking of women — “it doesn’t trickle down,” so that council members necessarily are aware, Smith said. One change Kruse suggested was periodically scheduling time at council meetings for the committees to discuss their work.