Friday, November 20, 2009

The Chicago Massacre

By now, most Egg readers are doubtless aware of the sudden and significant cuts in staff made recently at ELCA headquarters in Chicago.  Forty positions were eliminated -- on top of others, like the archivist, which had already been eliminated in recent months.  This is a significant 

We have few details to share, although the excellent blog Pretty Good Lutherans, linked above, does.  In particular, it posts a partial list of the actual positions which have been cut (although, mercifully, not the people who held them).

Now, PGL seems somewhat upset about the fact that two positions dealing with racism were cut -- one in the PB's office, one in Church and Society.  This, it is suggested, reflects a weakening of the ELCA's commitment to multiculturalism, and a willingness to remain what it is, an overwhelmingly white, English-speaking church body.

First, let's register an objection on principle.  Nobody enjoys layoffs, least of all in the more-or-less friendly environs of a church office, and we assume that the various managers who were forced to make the individual decisions did so with heavy hearts.  Until we hear otherwise, we will assume as a matter of course, and in keeping with the Eighth Commandment, that the decisions don't reflect anybody's desire to restructure the church's commitments, but rather dire necessity and a realistic assessment of what it takes to keep a denominational HQ running.

Clear?  Good.  But, all that said, the list includes six staff positions in the Global Mission unit.  Six.  That's three times as many as two.

For those who don't know, GM is bureaucratic shorthand for the part of the church office which selects, equips and coordinates the foreign missionaries, most of them in Africa but many others in the Middle East, Asia and the Americas, and a few of us -- ahem -- in Europe.  

It's not an especially large team, because, let's face it, the heyday of Anglo-American missionary work is behind us.  Earlier generations were successful in planting national churches all over the world, and those churches no longer need (although some still want) the classic malarial zealot with a Bible in one hand and a suitcase full of cash in the other.  He has been replaced by a much smaller team of experts in things like public health, water resources and accounting.  A very small number of these experts, usually committed to long-term service, is supplemented by a larger number of young, eager volunteers, deployed for comparatively short periods to do more general work.  Fairly few -- your correspondent is an exception -- do classic church-planting and pastoral care.

But that said, even the new smallish team  needs to be recruited, trained, supervised, and coordinated.  Team members need help with everything taxes and visas to medical evacuations and hostage situations.  Companion church officials need somebody to call when there is trouble -- not just the PB or his secretary, but somebody with specific expertise and a command of the details.

So if we accept the logic that the ELCA no longer cares about racism, we must also believe that it is running away, and fast, from its foreign mission work.  Here at the Egg, we don't think that's true.  But we also think that cutting six people from a single department is awfully harsh.  And we hope we don't need help with our taxes.

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