A couple of weeks ago, DisciplesWorld was given information that led to an article about Disciples Home Missions, which we posted on our website yesterday. The editors of the magazine would like to share some of our thoughts behind this story.
This has been an extremely difficult story to write. It involves church leaders with whom we work and worship on a regular basis. We love the church and the individual people who together comprise the church. This story has raised the hard questions of what it means to live a Christian life acutely aware of the ways in which we fail God and one another, and the ways in which we are reconciled to God and one another. It raises questions of accountability and transparency, and questions of mercy and care. This story will not be the last in this saga.
The story began when long-time DHM employee Jane Lawrence was asked by Interim President Dan Clark to clear out her desk and leave the building on the same day she announced her retirement, August 27. This was also Clark’s first day on the job. That’s unusual.
We’ve reported on other abrupt departures of DHM employees over the years, but those were often dictated by a decrease in funding. Lawrence’s work was pivotal to a number of programs that serve congregations, young leaders, and regions; why wouldn’t she be retained for some continuity in an interim period? General ministries serve the whole church and DHM board members are elected by the church. What happened here?
Clark would not give an explanation other than to say that Lawrence’s retirement was effective on August 27.
Lawrence’s explanation is that she was treated disrespectfully after 17 years of service at DHM in reprisal for bringing concerns about former president Arnold Nelson’s judgment and leadership to the attention of the DHM board.
Is this credible? Were Lawrence’s prior actions something that could bring about a reprisal? Those questions led us back to the resignation of Nelson which was announced May 21. DisciplesWorld reported on Nelson’s resignation then, and wrote a longer article in the July/August issue. We reported what we now recognize to be only part of the truth because we were not aware of the events and charges that preceded his resignation.
Understandably, DHM board members and staff alike have been cautious about publicly discussing confidential personnel matters such as Nelson’s resignation and the handling of Lawrence’s retirement. However, we have confirmed the brunt of Lawrence’s claim about what led to Nelson’s resignation. And we have confirmed that several DHM board members were very unhappy with staff about it.
So, here we have a general ministry of the church about which rumors have circulated for years, rumors of poor judgment and dysfunction, rumors about a close-knit board of directors that likes to operate in secrecy, complaints about a lack of vision and lack of responsiveness. But rumors alone are not news.
And a window on that system has opened up, albeit one opened by a woman who served the church for her entire career and is now relegated to the role of “disgruntled employee.” But it has opened, nevertheless. As a result, questions arise about the operations of the DHM board of directors, many questions that remain unanswered. Questions concerning accountability and transparency, decision-making, and oversight.
DisciplesWorld made attempts to find out answers. Not surprisingly, several people in positions of leadership were unwilling to speak with us. Late last week, we made some headway and are working on a follow-up article that gives DHM leadership’s perspective on its operations and systems of accountability.
Not all of the answers to questions will reveal scandal, of course. The motives of the DHM board may well be good and honorable, but without some transparency before the people who elected them and the congregations they serve, the actions of the DHM board become suspect. They become suspect even if they don’t deserve to be suspect. Understand here that we are not accusing the DHM board of wrong doing; we are asking questions that if go unanswered leave the mind open to wonder and worry. And they are not unreasonable questions for church folks to ask of their elected leaders.
The irony is that if Clark had not so abruptly dismissed Lawrence from the building and declined to explain it, the questions about Nelson’s resignation and the operations of the DHM board may have never seen the light of day.