Former director sees prophetic role for MCC
In 18-month tenure, Davis went from high hopes to frustrationBy Robert Rhodes Mennonite Weekly Review
Robb Davis’ legacy at the head of Mennonite Central Committee — an 18-month period he describes as one of unrealized, even frustrated, potential — may be encapsulated in a single photograph.
The photo shows Davis conversing with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York on Sept. 20. It was taken at a meeting MCC was asked to organize between U.S. religious leaders and Ahmadinejad, who was in New York to address the United Nations. The encounter — coming amid growing U.S. tensions with Iran over its nuclear development program — was the kind of thing Davis thought MCC should be all about.
But only weeks later, on Oct. 23, Davis abruptly resigned as MCC’s executive director, leaving not only an organization trying to re-envision its future, but many unanswered questions about why Davis — an accomplished, charismatic man of service with the high ideals MCC traditionally has espoused — would simply quit and walk away.
“I know it felt out of the blue, and it wasn’t an easy decision,” Davis said in an interview May 4. “But I was not feeling that I had the patience or the maturity to really help move MCC into its future. I think my own maturity as a leader had not evolved to that point.”
Before coming to MCC in 2005, Davis had worked for service agencies such as World Vision, Catholic Relief Services and the Davis, Calif.-based Freedom from Hunger. He also was a featured speaker at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute hosted by Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., and holds a master’s degree in public health and a doctorate in population dynamics from Johns Hopkins University.
His training and his passion for forging grassroots responses to global problems would seem to make him a perfect fit to lead MCC. But Davis said he was not equipped to navigate MCC’s interior culture or to fully understand the relationship the agency has with its constituent churches.
“I’m very high on MCC,” Davis said. “I don’t see another [agency] that is positioned to do what MCC does. What I said to staff when I was there was that if MCC didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it… . MCC should be risk-loving and risk-taking. I just wanted MCC to do more. I felt like the opportunities are really there.”
Central to MCC, Davis said, is its role as a prophetic voice among Anabaptist churches, which Davis believes have lost some of their theological bearings, especially when it comes to issues such as the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
“I don’t think the church is returning to those theological roots,” Davis said. “The church needs that fundamental call to return to who we are as a people. MCC can nurture the church [and help it] gain a bigger vision. That to me is where MCC’s greatest challenge lies — speaking prophetically but nurturing the questions of ‘How do we live at this time; how do we live as global Christians in a globalized economy?’ ”
One of Davis’ assignments at MCC was to help the agency redesign its governance and leadership model — a process that continues and was affirmed by MCC’s binational board on June 9.
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