Thursday, July 06, 2006

two take-overs

I spent most of Monday reading about the conservative resurgence/ fundamentalist take-over in the Southern Baptist Convention, from 1979-1991 or so. The book I read is called "The New Crusades, the New Holy Land", by David Morgan, and it was very detailed if a little dry. It got me thinking about how this should apply to my own work with churches and other organizations. I think it's important to think about how one's organization might be "taken over" or "reappropriated" by those who disagree with the existing membership, or at least the existing leadership.
Basically, the SBC was taken over by a growing group of fundamentalists rallying around the issue of Biblical Inerrancy. (Wow! A Protestant denomination arguing over something other than sex!) Other issues played into it, but the litmus test for loyalty and support from this block of fundamentalists was whether you were willing to sign on to their idea of inerrancy. There were some possibly sketchy elections of national leaders at general conventions, but it was basically just a slow build of power, and forcing "liberals" (actually, non-fundamentalist conservatives, or even charismatics) off of agency boards and seminary faculties. Such an action is especially ironic in a Baptist body, which in theory has no centralized organization. However, what little was there was appropriated to the ends of those who would "regain control from liberals."
It brought to mind a story I heard about another take-over. Some years ago, there was a pretty active college republicans group at Oberlin. There's one now, but it just re-started this year, and had not been active since before I got here previously. Supposedly, the reason for this lull is that one year, the OC Republicans announced they were going to be holding elections at their next meeting. About five republicans showed up, and so did twenty-some members of Socialist Alternative. The SA members voted themselves into power, then promptly transferred the Republicans' budget to their own organization.
Now, I don't know how true that story is, but it has at least the possibility of truth. It's also kind of hilarious. Thinking about these two stories made me think about take-overs- is it important for organizations to think about how easily they could be taken over?
All of this points, I'm afraid, to the importance of knowing the bylaws of your organization. The fundamentalist SBC block had some folks that would pore over the bylaws for hours, strategizing. The Socialist Alternative folks took advantage of a weak spot in the structure and bylaws of the OC Republicans, and for all I know this weak spot has not yet been patched. In addition to making me worried for the ABC and the National Council of Churches, whose best moderate parliamentarian passed away this year, it makes me think about systems of government.
It makes me even gladder than I was that Peace Community Church, my church in Oberlin, is run by concensus. Concensus takes a long time to build, but this slowness can work against small groups that hope to over-run the established methods and practices of the existing body. I can see this back-firing, and working against justice, when a few hold-outs block the body from taking important action. But remembering these take-overs certainly makes me reflect on another piece of the usefulness of concensus.

It would also be interesting to think about the theological/ecclesiological implications of a chruch being "taken over", but that's for another day, and maybe for another person...


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