Nepotism and Guaranteed Appointments

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Ask my family one of my favorite words to hate and they will answer, “Nepotism.” I just read a blog post comment on the www.umc.org site in which someone said the United Methodist Church should not give up “guaranteed appointments” because there is too much nepotism and politics in the church. This person’s contention is that having “guaranteed appointments” offers a more level playing field and cuts down on the nepotism that makes people distrust the current system of appointment-making. I must admit they speak the truth to a degree, but don’t offer a solution to the situation we do have; i.e., where it is difficult to exit ineffective clergy from our ranks. Guaranteed appointments often breed mediocrity.

But what about nepotism and favoritism that results in people “flopping to the top” or getting big jumps in salary or church size because of their choice of school, family connections, or even their age? The blog commentator said in their conference, for instance, that “young is in” right now so young clergy get big bumps in terms of raises and churches, and this person also said that people get better churches because of family connections.

I think the future of the Wesleyan Movement and our denomination rests on excellence in pulpit and pew – no favoritism or nepotism allowed. No one should be able to “chummy” their way to the top. It’s all about effectiveness. Look at Wesley, Asbury, Harry Hoosier and the early leaders of the denomination. They blessed the ministries of whomever was getting results; didn’t matter if they were ordained, pedigreed, learned or not. Some may complain about using the corporate lingo of “metrics,” but that’s who we are in our distinctive ecclesiological emphasis on sanctification. From Wesley’s “Large Minutes” in 1744 and ever since we have been employing measurable standards to empirically answer the Methodist question, “How goes it with your soul?”

So people should be deployed in ministry settings based on gifts, graces, and RESULTS; not who you know or whether you’re a great suck-up. This is a laity problem, too, as I think about those churches where if you’re not a member of such and such a family you’re still an outsider and never get elected to anything; or the church where the big money person moves in and tries and does “buy” their way into a leadership position. Whew! Nepotism, sucking-up, favoritism – it’s sin and corruption the likes of ex-Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich.

And it’s been that way in church politics for a long time. For instance, the word “nepotism” comes from the Latin, “nepos,” or “nephew.” Guess how it got into our vernacular. We can attribute it to popes like Pope Sixtus IV who made six of his nephews into Cardinals and most of them at outrageously young ages. Nepotism has been rampant in the church. Instead of nepotism we should embrace the witness of the Holy Spirit in the lives we appreciate. Does this person have what it takes,and does it show up in their fruitfulness. Ah! Fruitfulness, that’s the word I’ve been looking for. That’s the word I ponder as people are thinking about ministry or lay leadership – Show me fruit or else.

My two kids that are in ministry know that they don’t get preferential treatment from me. It’s never been that way. Ask them what it was like for me to be their coach when they were little. I was more likely to bench them than let them play, just to avoid the appearance of partiality. They knew I loved them, and they played if they were the best person to put in the field or on the court, but they knew that foremost the decisions were about fairness and integrity. That is the crux of the whole debate about guaranteed appointments. If Bishops, DS‘, Boards of Ordained Ministries, whomever, etc. treated everyone alike with fairness and integrity – no favorites, no pet students – then we wouldn’t have anxiety about getting rid of guaranteed appointments. We could and would trust the system.

However, I’m saddened by the fact that I still have PPRC committees say they would rather have a man than a woman, even if the woman is better, or that they would rather have a sorry white male than a gifted fruitful minority female. Give me a break! This is where I might have to mitigate all that I’ve said and put some sort of bigot-protection into the appointment-making process for women and minorities. But, whoa, if we believe that fruitfulness can be measured; then the proof will be manifest and shut up the naysayers, but we have to make sure that some, like women, minorities, or those with some disabling condition, at least get a chance to show what they can do. Right? Isn’t that fair?

I’m willing to trust the kind of leadership that is fair to all, but I’m a semi-white male who’s worked his tail off to get where I am, and I also understand and have benefited from “white privilege.” But, I also understand and favor the truth that God blesses and it shows, too. So, guaranteed appointments, or not – no more nepotism, no more mediocrity. God’s power is made perfect in weakness, true – but I think we need to quit honoring so much weakness that the church is going down the tubes. We are falling prey to our basest insecurities when we want to surround ourselves by “yes” people. It’s time to be strong and do the right thing without regard to who our chums are, or our preconceived prejudices. Say it with me, “NO MORE NEPOTISM!” “NO MORE NEPOTISM!” “NO MORE NEPOTISM!”

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