Church needs a free press, open meetings
At its recent meeting in Harrisonburg, Va., the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board might have modeled the faithful discernment the church needs to find its way through contentious issues.
But you would have to take their word for it. We can’t tell you firsthand. We can’t describe the conversation. We can’t judge for ourselves. The board addressed its sensitive topics in private.
It’s hard to be a role model behind closed doors.
If someone had a wise pastoral word, you won’t read about it. If someone offered an insightful perspective, you won’t learn from it. If someone said something refreshingly candid or just plain interesting, it’s not for us to know.
In fact, we don’t know what any individual board member said about issues of great interest across the denomination. We don’t even know how many members voted against the board’s statement expressing disapproval of Mountain States Mennonite Conference’s decision to grant a ministerial license to a lesbian pastor. All we know is it wasn’t unanimous.
We’re in the dark on all of this because the board has imposed new policies and practices that control the media. The first is an excessive use of closed sessions. The second is an insistance on decision-making power over what is published. These restrictions prevent the church press from serving as the people’s eyes and ears while church leaders do their work.
In the past, closed sessions were used mostly for personnel matters. But, at its recent meeting, the board spent about seven of 16 hours in executive session, The Mennonite reported.
Shutting out the church press breaks with a tradition of open meetings held by the top leadership boards of MC USA and its predecessors, the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church. In the past, a topic’s sensitive nature was not considered a sufficient reason to hold a closed session. In fact, an independent reporter is especially important then. Church members need an observer who puts their interests first and doesn’t shield church leaders from controversy.
Denominational leaders believe closed sessions are necessary “to invite a maximum sense of safety for board members to express themselves,” MC USA executive director Ervin Stutzman wrote in a report to the board. “Eventually, we hope to find a better way to balance the competing needs for both emotional safety on the board and independent reporting to the church.”
It is true: Being a denominational leader isn’t “safe.” No matter what you do, somebody won’t like it. You give up some of your privacy because you become a public figure. When you do the work of the church, the members have a right to know how you did it and then give you praise or critique.
Comment on the article Media control
Please keep comments civil. MWR editors reserve the right to remove any comment. When posting a comment, you agree to the MWR Comments Policy. Name and comment will be posted; commenters are strongly encouraged to give their full name. Email address is for follow-up only and will not be made public.