Greg Bales

Not Wolves

Earlier today, I had half a mind to write more in response to the goings-on in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Governance was one of the things that most vexed me when last I was an active member in a Church of Christ. Knowing who had power in the church was simple; getting those persons to own the power they held was another thing altogether. They were skilled at giving lip service to democratic rule (which the church professed to) then hiding behind intransigence or finding ways to reopen old business by conveniently forgetting—or ignoring—the minutes from previous meetings. It was a system of governance that allowed small-c conservatives to seize their favorite bodies at rest and cinch them down even tighter against all winds, real or imagined.

The other half of my mind has since prevailed. If it was ever my place to speak to the Church of Christ about anything, it’s not my place to speak now—not directly. Anyway, what would I say? Run away from the douchebags out there? Okay, then do that, Churches of Christ, and everyone else, too. It’s good advice!1

1 So is this: (1) Abandon antintellectualism and the idealization of lay ministry; by the same token, value professionals. (2) Develop a formal, denomination-wide credentialing system that helps to screen out dangerous or unsavory characters from the ministry. (3) Hire ministers for how they demonstrate pastoral care, not for their salesmanship of themselves or of Jesus. I offer these suggestions without comment, but any one of them would help (not to say be 100% effective) to keep characters such as Drumheller out of the pulpit.

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December 27, 2010

ugh. my dad is slipping further and further into anti-intellectualism and anti-clergy… with it, though, is a marked anti-denomenationalism that moves him (somewhat) away from cOc dogmatism

Looking at my footnote advice, I realized there is no extant world in which COC churches would adopt all of it. (3) would be most likely to actually happen, and even that has most of American church history going against it.

Do you think your Dad’s recent turn represents a disappointment with the denomination—everybody else has abandoned core principles, and whatnot, like the teapartiers believe happened to America?

PS. I heard from Neely Tucker a few days after I sent my note. He was appreciative; added that the church he profiled had had a lot of problems going way back.

December 28, 2010

I think your advice would be beneficial even if only #3 might be realistically adopted, but it seems to me that the fact #1 and #2 seem so unlikely to be adopted points directly to the structural/systemic problems with the cofc model of governance. As you imply in your post, the anti-institutional structure of cofc’s (coupled with the culture of anti-intellectualism and valorization of lay ministry that is attracted to such a structure) is so flexible as to be without content. This allows small groups — usually those with a vested interested in maintaining some kind of status quo — can take control of governance. Would those in charge of cofc governance give up some of that structural flexibility and the power that it makes available in exchange for a more formal system of accreditation or an ethic of respect for expertise? I doubt it.

I am in no position to lecture the cofc anymore, either, but part of the reason for that is the arbitrary way in which cofc’s structures allow individuals to impose their wills on others with the thinnest justifications. With no system for evaluating church governance, there are no criteria for judgment other than the whims of “elders” and “church leaders.”

I get to the end of this, and I think I’ve just repeated what you’ve said with more angst.

For me, it’s been long enough now that it’s more curiosity than anything. Nevertheless, your angst is certainly allowed around here!

Obviously, other systems of governance have their problems, too. The Catholic Church works by hierarchy and opacity, and it suffers because of its secrecy. Mainline Protestant denominations seem to do passably well governing by convention, but they’re prone to schism. I think one of the most intoxicating—and often damaging—parts of CoC power structure is that (excluding the Evangelical-like megachurches of Arkansas, Tennessee, & Texas) power is wielded so personally that it stings when used.

Yes! to this—

“I think one of the most intoxicating—and often damaging—parts of CoC power structure is that (excluding the Evangelical-like megachurches of Arkansas, Tennessee, & Texas) power is wielded so personally that it stings when used.”

Methinks you’ve a story to tell, Shaun!

Oh, just another case of the fight being so vicious because the stakes are so small.

December 29, 2010

Dad called me last night for something unrelated, but the conversation such as it was turned to a book he had acquired and begun reading about the first- and second-century church. He was struck by the fact that a formal hierarchy had developed by 150 A.D. “I told J——,” his wife, “‘It’s amazing when you think about it. It only took a generation for them to fall away from the truth!’”

Amazing when you think about it, indeed!

December 30, 2010

yeah. that sounds like something my dad would say.

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