To my non-surprise, nobody has defended FUM from these charges, neither to me personally nor on my blog (or on any other that I've noticed), even though that post brought a large amount of traffic to my blog and was the number one outgoing link from quakerquaker.org for several days. I was content to leave it there, but today I find that quakerquaker.org has included a link to the Baltimore Yearly Meeting representatives' report that included charges of managerial dysfunction that had been circulating in partial form in many other places, including a Chuck Fager "bombshell" summary that someone forwarded to me.
I find this report very useful. In fact, it may be the most useful document ever produced by a member yearly meeting's representatives in my memory, but only under certain conditions:
- The report is appropriated for management and governance purposes, not mined for "bombshell" value or to reinforce prejudices.
- The document's users are willing to tease out management issues from theological issues. I would like to remind my fellow evangelicals who seek to dominate FUM governance that, even if our ideal level of theological purity were attained, fatal levels of dysfunction are still possible. In fact, without a loyal opposition, these flaws are pretty much guaranteed.
My second, and perhaps more important, quibble with the report is this: FUM often continues to be presented by its critics as a centralized organization, a mysterious black box, into which you make deposits of money and representatives and suggestions and complaints, and out of which come dubious policies and incomprehensible actions. At least this time, the outlines of the black box are more defined than in some other criticisms: "The FUM decision making process is very centered in the Presiding Clerk and a few other Board members. This process feels to us to be closed to new thoughts and persons." The authors of this report do list their attendance at FUM governance meetings--"... Richmond, IN (Oct. 2006), Kakamega, Kenya (Feb. 2007), and Plainfield, IN (July 2007). We also participated in a FUM Board tour in Kenya and Uganda, and a Board Retreat in Plainfield, IN." What they don't say here, but what they or others may yet be able to tell us, is what they said and did at those meetings, and what they reported to Baltimore Friends upon each of those occasions. This is crucial: When did they intervene, when were they ignored, and what did they do about it? It is one thing for you to try valiantly and be squelched (or, for that matter, try valiantly and be overruled by a healthy process), and quite another simply to sit back and watch an organization engage in self-destructive behaviors while you quietly list all its mistakes for later use in criticism.
Of course these aren't the only two possibilities--it could be that the observers experienced a tipping point of disillusionment only recently--but these questions about the interaction between FUM, its representatives, and its constituency seem basic to any meaningful attempts to hold FUM accountable. FUM is not that Richmond, Indiana-based black box--it is the yearly meetings and their members, or at least those members who identify with "orthodox" Christian Quakerism.
In my last few years at FUM, Baltimore YM's Howard Fullerton was a central player in our struggles to achieve financial integrity, particularly in our attempts to exercise good stewardship around the artificial crisis of the supposed Y2K bug. I would like to think that similar expertise from any FUM yearly meeting would be available and fully used even today, but I just don't know. In any case, I truly appreciated reading the full report from the Baltimore Yearly Meeting representatives, because--given a commitment to Gospel order and good stewardship--it may well be one of the crowbars that opens up a badly-needed discussion: what is the strategic value of FUM as the central body of Orthodox Quakers in the world today, and with what organizational capacities do we intend to empower it to make that value real--"to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved, and obeyed as Teacher and Lord."
I don't know what the best locations might be to host the conversation that might arise from the Baltimore Yearly Meeting report. The report itself, as hosted on the Yearly Meeting Website, doesn't include a comment facility. One reason I felt a need to write this morning's item was to provide a venue for reflection on the report, but I'd be glad to add a link here to other places where that conversation might be continuing--please let me know. I would also like to know what active steps were taken to circulate that report to the other yearly meetings and to FUM officers and staff.
For convenience, here's a link to all of my previous posts on FUM, some of which also have external links to other commentators.