Second: Uncoupling the Boards
(1) The historic mission societies (and their advocates) have never been happy with the level of organizational integration and its implications from as far back as the formation of the Northern Baptist Convention. The “thawing” of our organizational life in the last few years has given them opportunity to once again make the case for greater independence.
(2) Funding also has an influence on this move and consists of three components. Many (not all) of the various ABC partners believe they can do better raising money on their own, unfettered by rules and associations with other ABC partners. Also, it is a widely-acknowledged trend in American philanthropy that the culture is moving away from common funding strategies like United Way. Persons (and churches) like to pick and choose where their financial support goes, matching their passion with their pocketbook. Finally, churches are picking who will receive (and who will not receive) their financial support for ideological reasons. Funding is a major driver for reorganization. A key question will be whether this plan will answer that question, which leads us to the third driver.
(3) Many components of American Baptist life feel compelled to find a new place for comfort with one another. Those on both the Left and the Right are fearful or frustrated by even the modest level of integration in our present organization (yes, it is both). There are many places for mutual irritation. Some fear “popery,” others fear loss of autonomy, others fear the erosion of local congregational mission responsibility, others are frustrated that we cannot establish and implement denominational goals, others are troubled by the arrogant presumption that the denomination can speak for them, and others are angered by the lack of consistency (integrity) between what is said and what is done. The alienation and disaffection is real. It is easy to document. It is not so easy to formulate specific, organizational solutions.
I confess that the move to uncouple the boards (and what it symbolizes) is very painful for me. I believe that a unified mission board is the most effective way for us to claim identity and accomplish mission; and that it can be done consistent with a “federation” understanding of ourselves. However, I know that stream has dried up, and I have abandoned it.
There seems to be appropriate concern for maintaining at least some semblance of connection between the various components of American Baptist life. In the case of the historic mission societies, the discussion centers around the use of “Class B Directors” (a legal designation) to circumvent the possibility that any of the boards could unilaterally choose to abandon ABCUSA. This can work. However, it cannot preclude any board from choosing its own goals and direction, with or without the consent of the other partners.
Like I said, this plan moves us apart. The $64,000 question is: Does it move us far enough from one another to create a level of comfort, and at the same time hold us close enough together to claim a common identity? At what price??? Does it really solve the alignment problem we have between denominational goals and program board implementation? Is the very notion of “denominational goals” a reflection of a bygone era?