LOUISVILLE – The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board voted Sept. 21 to reduce its size from 40 voting members to 20 – and to give the advocacy and advisory committees in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voting seats on the board.
The board’s Governance Task Force had recommended (H.001 Governance Task Force Report) moving to a board of 16 voting members – but the board approved an amendment proposed by Brenton Thompson of Pennsylvania, who said having 20 voting members instead of 16 would give a little more “breathing room.”
The board had a long, intricate discussion about the task force proposal – a conversation that both recognized the advantages of having a smaller board and the difficulty of designing it in a way that reflects diversity and brings the needed gifts and talents, discerned in complicated ways.
There also were repeated references to the need for trust. “I’m not sure it’s about the numbers,” said Jan Edmiston, co-moderator of the 2016 General Assembly. “We are seeking out more voices,” and “if we don’t change the culture and we don’t have a culture of trust, none of this makes any difference.”
Ken Godshall, who is chair of the board and a member of the Governance Task Force, said that for governing boards “research strongly suggests that smaller is better.” He said the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, which has a mix of 40 voting members plus 17 nonvoting members, is much larger than that of the Presbyterian Foundation (with 19 voting members) or the Board of Pensions (with 29).
The large size of the current board makes it hard to communicate with all the members and build relationships, or to call meetings quickly, Godshall said – which has meant that the board’s smaller executive committee has essentially functioned as the board in between the regular meetings.
The reconfigured board will include three program committees – a Committee to Nurture the Body; a Committee for Outreach to the World; and a Committee for Resource Allocation and Stewardship.
The board’s current structure includes 40 voting members, 15 corresponding members (who have voice but not vote when the full board meets), two ecumenical advisory members and four at-large committee members.
“The current differentiation of membership categories creates confusion for participants regarding who has a vote and builds a hierarchical system that challenges the equality of members,” the Governance Task Force proposal states.
But reducing the size of the board, which will happen through attrition, wasn’t the only issue: its composition and committee structure are changing as well. And much of the conversation involved the criteria which will be used to nominate new board members, since the current categories of nominating people based on geography or membership in particular groups (mid council leaders or young adults, for example) are being set aside.
Following a closed-door meeting Sept. 20, the Governance Task Force made several changes in its proposal – among them, recommending that the advocacy and advisory committees be given voting power on the reconfigured board.
An earlier recommendation would have given the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns, the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns and the Advisory Committee for Social Witness Policy the status of corresponding members on the board – meaning they would have voice but not vote at board meetings. All three urged the board to vote down the proposal as written.
The General Assembly Committee on Representation also sent an “Advice and Counsel” memorandum (H.210 GACOR Advice on H.001) regarding the Governance Task Force recommendation, raising concerns about the impact the proposed changes would have on diversity. That memo states that the proposed mechanism for reducing the size of the board “will adversely affect equity in representation.”
The Governance Task Force has said the smaller board will be diverse. “We’re very committed to diversity,” said Melinda Sanders, a lawyer from Tennessee who leads the Governance Task Force.
But figuring out how to define and achieve diversity, particularly on a smaller board, may prove challenging.
As a sign of that difficulty, the board was unwilling to vote on the size of the reconfigured board until it had first discussed the criteria for selection. “It’s a little hard to bifurcate the board size and board composition,” said Beverly Brewster, a corresponding member from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.
She raised the question of “who are these 16 people going to be?”
Warren Lasane Jr., a board member and mid council leader from the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic, said “every time we reduce numbers, racial-ethnic representation gets harder” to achieve in a denomination that’s largely white.
“I think we’re missing what the definition of diversity means,” said Jason Chavez, a board member from Virginia. The often-used categories in the PC(USA) of Asian, black, Hispanic, Native American and white don’t reflect that there are subcategories within those that “have very different experiences,” he said. For example, Chinese churches and Korean churches are very different. The experiences of African American and African immigrant churches are different.
With fewer members, “how would we ensure those experiences and the knowledge they bring to the board are being recognized and upheld?”
Kathy Terpstra said she comes from a church where congregants “are not all highly-educated professional people,” and who might not want a board made up of people who are “lawyers or finance people or have MBAs.”
And Nicholas Yoda of Cincinnati said the board’s dilemma was a little like Goldilocks – “we’re looking at what’s too small, what’s too big, and what is just right.”
The Governance Task Force also has struggled to define what it eventually called the “gifts and talents” it would desire for people who would serve on the board
Sanders told the board’s executive committee that the proposal had been revised because an earlier draft used dominant cultural language “which was confusing at best and insulting at worst. For that, we offer apologies.”
Conrad Rocha, who serves on the Governance Task Force, told the board the conversations the task force had with the advocacy and advisory committees “was the education of Conrad” and of the task force. “I’m a person of color,” Rocha said. “I grew up very poor. I went to school and was told I couldn’t speak Spanish and I had to speak English and I was punished if I didn’t. I grew up and became a person of privilege and a member of the dominant culture,” as a lawyer and accountant.
The proposal earlier used the words “professionalism,” but “what we came to recognize that the word ‘professionalism,’ like “skill sets,’ are dominant culture terms,” Rocha said.
“When we used the term professionalism, we erred, and we erred greatly,” he said. “It is in many respects disrespectful to my brothers and sisters of color and those who live on the margins. Mea culpa. I don’t ask for anyone’s forgiveness, but I apologize.”
So the Governance Task Force said it will ask each board committee to define what “gifts and talents” it needs from board members. It presented a document (H.211 Gifts and Talents) called “Gifts and Talents that will Further the Work and Ministry of the Presbyterian Mission Agency” that gave some ideas of what that list might be like.
Buddy Monahan, the chair of the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns, said he and other people of color have had the experience in their own communities of being “seen as someone who can do a particular job” but “we are never asked” by the broader church to use those gifts. “Within our own circles we are qualified to be part of something,” but are not seen that way by the predominantly white church, Monahan said.
The measure the board approved included new language suggested by Joseph Morrow and James Parks, which directs the Governance Task Force “to draft a plan for
a deliberative process to nominate new PMAB board members, to be approved by the board, to ensure inclusivity through sufficient social, ecclesial and skill diversity by February 2018, and that deliberation include a review of the documents provided” by the advocacy and advisory groups, the General Assembly Committee on Representation, and the board’s own Power and Privilege ministerial team.
The board voted down a proposed amendment that would have retained two ecumenical advisory members on the board.
Sanders also warned that the board has more work to do to refine the proposal. “If these pass, I warn you there will be more changes,” she said.