With only a brief hiatus, I have spent my entire working life in journalism or its related field, communications. And I have ALWAYS been an absolutist about one thing — openness. Whether it was when I was a cub reporter at The Greenville (SC) Piedmont, arguing with County Council about whether it could go behind closed doors, or later at The Associated Press leading efforts at open government, I have never waivered.
And when I was honored to be elected to the then-named General Assembly Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) I carried this absolutism with me, and walked out of one meeting rather than participate in a wrongly justified closed door session. And at other times I’m sure I made a real nuisance of myself on the subject.
It’s not that I don’t acknowledge that an argument can be made for secrecy/privacy in some cases. It’s just that, on balance, I believe that openness is better, and worth the difficulties it can present, even in those special cases.
So I was dismayed, if not surprised, when the denomination’s General Assembly Mission Council — the new name of the body on which I used to serve — went behind closed doors to discuss budget cuts. I can understand the rationale, even if I don’t agree with it.
But I was angered — and am still angry — that when the Council returned to open session it voted without debate or discussion to adopt a budget that cut 73.5 positions — and cost 49 persons their jobs, and made significant changes in the organization’s structure.
That is a disservice to the denomination and an abdication of responsibility.
The denomination deserved to hear the reasons and rationale behind the decision; the denomination deserved to hear the thoughts and discussions that had gone into making the decision. It matters not whether the decision was the right one — it might even be. There’s no way to know because all the wrangling, angst, disagreement, agreement, whatever was hidden from public view.
We are asked instead to just accept the decision because those “on the inside” know best. A later news release from the Presbyterian News Service does a fair job of outlining the rationale, but we still get no sense of what had to be difficult decisions. We get no sense of now the GAMC went about reaching this decision, what questions were asked, what issues were raised, what alternatives were offered.
In a time when distrust of institutions is growing, and the PCUSA in particular is struggling to find its new way, this is certainly no way to build those connections about which we talk so much.