Sunday, June 29, 2008

Terminating Ministers

"Ministers can be terminated for incompetence," screams the UU World headline. It's a misleading headline with nasty overtones, and I expect better from the UU World.

Aside from the fact that it is ministerial fellowship (credentialing) which can be terminated, not ministers, for incompetence, I'm sure I'm not the only person who thinks "killed by organized crime" when the verb "terminated" is used in that way.

The text of the article shocked me too, and this is not an editorial problem. When this new rule was explained to the ministers, it was couched in terms of, "When a minister has experienced several negotiated resignations..." they can be judged to be an incompetent minister and removed from Fellowship. The article implied that it would be possible for someone to be removed from Fellowship because they didn't meet current competencies. This would make it possible to remove any minister from fellowship because I can promise you, there's not a minister amongst us who perfectly meets current competencies. I've had an opportunity to look at the list of questions the MFC has lately asked candidates and there are lots and lots that I'd have difficulty with, and more still in which the "competent" answer is impossibly subjective.

So while I think that there is need for a provision like this, without carefully drawn guidelines, it could be a very dangerous new rule.


Anonymous said...

The argument for the rule change in that Plenary session did include language to the effect of serial resignations, which obviously didn't make it into the reporting, though Wayne was hemming and hawing a bit when asked for a definition of the word incompetence.

I've found the reporting of the GA blog on several Plenary sessions to be, shall we say, sloppy, leading to what could be some pretty serious misunderstandings on what actually happened. I did make some noise about one such article, but have not seen any corrections or clarifications as yet.

Anonymous said...

Well- I have to say that in the world I live in terminated is a polite word for fired OR at least for "let go," generally used as code for "this person doesn't work here, and we aren't going to talk about reasons (subtext), but we aren't crying about it."

And that seems like a pretty good gloss for this. The organized crime version is just related to that for me, implying that's how you leave jobs in that milieu.

If you google the word, I don't think the uses you'll find are particularly deadly in the literal sense.

ogre said...

Were it plausible for a minister to be "terminated" (not in The Godfather sense), the panicky tones might be a shade more appropriate. But they're not.

It's not ministers being terminated for incompetence. It's fellowship--meaning full membership in the UUMA, and the loss of active support of the UUA in seeking a new pulpit. It doesn't affect (save possibly and indirectly) a call one was already serving. It doesn't affect one's access to the services of the UUA for such things as health care insurance. Nor from support for the congregation's minister.

It just means that the minister in question has been flagged as incompetent by the MFC, and is no longer part of the club. It's not even terminal; such an individual would have had a MFC process to get to that point and would know precisely what the perceived incompetency was. That could be studiously addressed... go take courses, go get mentored, work on it. Then go back and seek the restoration of fellowship.

Given that the MFC could already pull fellowship for misconduct unbecoming a minister, I think the outbreak of nerves over this is strange. The potential behaviors that might be deemed "unbecoming" seems more open to potential abuse (particularly in this YouTube era...) than an accusation of incompetence.

But maybe it's just that we're all human and have that gut anxiety that we're not as competent as people see us being. Well... except for those of us who don't--and they very likely have other problems that would lead to suggestions of incompetence and misbehavior.

I sat through that whole discussion and my sense was that the delegates were comfortable with the idea. I am--and my competencies haven't been weighed yet. I can't fathom the idea that ministers shouldn't always have to be competent--which doesn't mean perfect. It doesn't even mean excellent.

After nearly eight years of an incompetent US presidency, I think we'd be supportive of the idea that incompetence ought to be sufficient cause for corrective measures.

Christine Robinson said...

Oh, I agree we need such a thing, and I'm not in a panic about it. (Although I think that loosing my Fellowship even if I kept my job and my benefits, would be extremely more painful than you are picturing it...among other things, states that a call to a minister can only be extended to a person in Fellowship...)

I'm just, generally speaking, a big advocate of clarity and written policy, and I'm detecting a lack of both on this very important issue.