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GBCS board meeting reflections: Friday

Today was another full day at our fall board meeting for the General Board of Church and Society.

Today, we spent time visiting our representatives on Capitol Hill. My work on the board is especially on the work area of Environmental and Economic Justice. One of our major priorities has been in addressing federal budget issues, and communicating our understanding of the budget as a moral document.

We had time as a small group to meet with Neil Bradley, policy director for Majority Whip Roy Blunt. This was my first meeting of this kind, and I was a bit nervous, but once the conversation started, I remembered the beliefs that ground me and found my voice.

I found Mr. Bradley to be, frankly, patronizing, and I felt like we were getting a lot of smooth talk around real issues. At one point, Mr. Bradley informed us, when we asked him about US borrowing money to meet our spending, that many are misinformed and think that we can just print more money at the treasury. And whenever he referred to an unpopular policy, he said, "a lot of people are going to yell at us for that."

When we asked about cuts to social services, and about additional cuts proposed in light of Katrina and Rita, his first response was that they were "not really making any cuts." That's right, that is a direct quote.

He later suggested that people who pay less or no taxes to the federal government don't care about the government because they are not financially "invested" in it. He compared this to church members who give less, knowing that we were all church folk who know about "church budgets." This is the issue that caused me to pipe up - people who don't pay as much don't care as much? How can he say that?

He concluded by saying that criticizing the budget as a whole isn't something helpful to him - that instead we should look for parts of proposal that we can support, and other parts we think need "tweaking." When another board member asked if there was somewhere such information was available to us for our input, of course, Mr. Bradley had to admit that it was not easily available to us and that they plan to proceed with "budget reconciliation" as outlined.

I certainly was enlightened by my experience, and I appreciate even more the work of GBCS staff like John Hill (Director for Economic and Environmental Justice) for going up against such an audience repeatedly. The one day was enough to last me for some time.


John said…
He later suggested that people who pay less or no taxes to the federal government don't care about the government because they are not financially "invested" in it.

This is something akin to a mugger's victim being financially invested in the money robbed from him.
Anonymous said…

Since you spent the whole week in Washington, can we assume that you visited Dean Synder? I agree with John, that is a cool name..... "Dean Synder". Smart, Very Smart sounding. :-)
Dan Trabue said…
Thanks for doing this work. It certainly feels hopeless sometimes going in to meetings like this (I've had a few with Kentucky's Republican reps and it's like talking to a brick wall, except that the brick walls are more receptive...)

Anonymous said…
some times I'm so glad to be in the overseas UMC
this was one of them
bless you for trying your best.

Dickens wrote that the wheels of chancery (law) grind slowly.I guess it applies to governments too in so many ways.

I found the comment that people who pay fewer taxes don't care much about the govt because they aren't financially invested in it - very very alarming.

I think of the widows mite and I think of God's desire we will give generously without personal gain...

oh well :(
Revwilly said…
Question: In your opinion would it be wise/helpful/more representative if the Board of Church and Society was made up equally of conservatives and progressives? If not,why not?
Beth Quick said…
Hi Keith - sadly, no lunch with Dean. Next time maybe ;)

Revwilly - I guess, what I think is that everyone who is serving on the board should to a large degree support the general work of the board, in the principles. I think board members have an important accountability task, but i think if people on the board frequently or usually disagree with the work of the agency, it makes it hard for anyone to accomplish anything. I think the best place to make changes to the nature of the agency is through general conference legislation, if the church wants the agency to be about different work than it is. Once that's set, i think our job as board members is to facilitate the work. As for liberal/conservative membership, I think that the majority of the time, we work well together with the mix we have - we are certainly a diverse bunch, but we have a lot of common ideals that we can work for.
Anonymous said…

I appreciate the personal update on what the Bd of C & S is doing. But like usual the Bd is off base. Budgets cannot be moral or immoral, only people can. It wasn't a budget that ate the forbidden fruit. It is true people choose to spend money in moral or immoral ways. So let's invest our time and energy in creating moral individuals.
Revwilly said…
revjrbat makes an excellent point about budgets and people.
Beth Quick said…
revjrbat - Yes, people are moral and immoral. The federal budget, like all budgets, is a reflection of what people (in this case elected representatives) have determined are priorities. If a budget shows for instance that certain things get much higher priority and other things get cut drastically, those figures represent not just abstract numbers, but morals. To me, urging leaders to show different moral priorities in the budget is part of the process of urging people to be moral - not disconnected from it. Urging people to be moral in my mind is more than urging them towards some state of being - morality implies positive moral action too. I think GBCS, whose defined role in our church is public policy and advocacy, is doing exactly what it is meant to do and needed to do. Thank goodness our church sees itself as a voice in the world for change, not just limited to acceptable areas where the church is supposed to speak.
Revwilly said…
"...I think is that everyone who is serving on the board should to a large degree support the general work of the board, in the principles." The work and principles of the Board are what they are because it has primarily been made up of progressives. What you seem to be saying is that the Board should always remain the same in its work and principles - that it should always have mostly progressives on it because putting more conservative on it might change its work and principles. Am I undersanding your correctly?
Beth Quick said…
Rev Willy - Of course that's not what I'm saying. I thought I was pretty clear, actually, and I certainly didn't say that the board "should always remain the same" or that it should have mostly progressives. The make-up of the board is determined by each jurisdiction - everyone on the board is elected to the board by our church - the make up of the board is determined by a very diverse church, and geographically, we have more board representatives on it from areas traditionally considered more conservative. But board members have been elected because of our gifts and talents, and have been elected by our peers in the church. What i'm saying is that the mission of the board is something outlined for us in the Book of Discipline. If people have issues with the primary focus of the board, then the appropriate place to advocate for change to it is to change the stated mission, by changing the Discipline, which can only be done by the General Conference. All of us on the board work for change to some extent, but we can't, as board members, change the primary task of the agency from within the board. That's not how the UMC has structured itself and it's accountability system. I'm saying that if you don't support the primary mission of the board and you want to change it, the most effective way to do that is through the process we've agreed upon for change as a church: General Conference.
Dan Trabue said…
I agree with Elizabeth, mostly. Certainly a budget is reflective of our actions and our actions are moral or immoral.

Inasmuch as we plan a budget and thereby make decisions about what actions we'll take, a budget is very much a moral statement and call to action (or inaction).
seethroughfaith said…
Funny. I was just writing about how slowly things move in church -in UMC, in theology etc - and wanted to use Dicken's quote so googled it to check I'd remembered it right (it's 30 years since I read Bleak House for my A levels) and lo and behold google came up with your blog Beth. It's a small small world :)

Blessed 2008 - time flies - even if the church moves slowly

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