As I watched General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene unfold and progress, I was impressed with our leaders on several points.
1. We elected Jennifer Brown (from Jamaica) as the president of Nazarene Missions International. She is an ordained elder serving as an associate pastor with her husband. She also teaches high school and administers an after school program for adults who dropped out of high school. She has wide support from the leaders of the Caribbean Region, and she is the first non-white and first non-American president of NMI. This is one important step of our communal understanding that the whole globe is a mission field and the global church is a missional church.
2. We elected Eugenio Duarte (from Cape Verde, an island nation off the west coast of Africa, and one of the first Nazarene "mission fields") as our 37th General Superintendent. Amazingly, it only required just seven ballots. This is really, really fast. The next day it took 22 ballots to elect David Graves. Eugenio Duarte (sounds like "dwart"), the first G.S. who is non-white, the room erupted in applause, shouts, praises to God, and tears. Duarte was swarmed by the African delegates, who joined in spontaneous song. Eventually, they literally lifted him off the ground and carried him to the stage en mass. Someone picked up the Cape Verde flag (from the flags representing all the countries where we have Nazarenes), and they waved it around the room. In his acceptance speech, he thanked the church in five different languages, and he is reportedly fluent in all five. I am so, so proud of our church for electing Duarte! (To see a video of his election and the subsequent celebration, click here.)
I had hoped for one more non-white, non-American, or female G.S.. Instead, we elected two more white American males. In all fairness, David Graves and Stan Toler are probably great guys who will do a good job. However, many of us were hoping for more diversity in our highest level of leadership. At several points, either a woman (Carla Sundberg) or a Latino (Gustavo Crocker) were leading the voting, but they could never reach the necessary 60% of votes to be elected. Nonetheless, in electing Jenifer Brown and Eugenio Duarte, we have made great strides toward having leaders who reflect our membership. (To get a sense of the drama and ups and downs involved in the election process, click here to see the record of all 51 ballots.)
(An unfortunate side note: I missed seeing Duarte's election in person. This is the day our family chose to go to Disney World. Arrggh!)
3. I was impressed with the action of the General Assembly on several resolutions. Let me list a few which seem most significant to me. (To see a longer list of highlights, click here.)
A) We authorized the Commission on the Nazarene Future to study Nazarene ecclesiology, polity, and missional strategy, with particular attention given to the role of the general superintendency in the international church. Conversations, blogs, forums, and chat rooms have been buzzing for years about the need to restructure our system and structure for General Superintendents. Many districts proposed resolutions with various changes to the role, election, or term of service for GS's. However, (I think) based on the recommendation of the Board of General Superintendents, the General Assembly wisely chose to reject discussion on any changes during the assembly time in favor of a longer, more studied, more considered, more comprehensive change to be proposed by this commission in four years at the next General Assembly.
B) We authorized the Global Manual Advisory Council to do a significant rewrite of the Manual, our rulebook for theology and policy. The portions of our current Manual which express our history, theology, and basic identity will be retained and streamlined. However, the other portions will be adjusted by world region to fit more closely the context of the cultures within those regions. This will include making church structures and expected ethical stances adjusted to the various cultures around the world.
Many people from nearly every corner of the Nazarene world (at least all which have had significant contact with people outside North America) have been calling for exactly this. Personally, I had slim hopes that we would take such a drastic step. The rewrite was proposed by the International Church Committee (a group formed at the last General Assembly to study how to help the structures of our church become more international in nature), and it passed quickly with almost no discussion or fanfare. I fully expected a standing ovation, and I was shocked that we simply quietly moved on to the next resolution. Maybe this was only new news to me, or maybe folks just don't realize how important this is. However, I believe this is one of the most significant and momentous events in recent Nazarene history.
C) The Board of General Superintendents suggested a mild rewrite of Article of Faith #10: Entire Sanctification. (If you aren't familiar with this doctrine, this is often called the "distinctive" Nazarene doctrine, even though other denominations also hold to it. However, recently, this doctrine - and particularly Article 10, our official statement explaining it - have been the center of widespread debate and discussion. I have heard some say, "Nobody likes the way Article 10 is written, but the problem is that we can't agree on how to change it.") Almost everyone in the assembly agreed that the rewrite suggested by the General Superintendents is significantly better than the current statement. (Sorry, but I don't have the text of their proposed rewrite now.)
However, Jim Bond, a retired General Superintendent, suggested that we postpone the changes in favor of a comprehensive study of Article 10 by Nazarene theologians and pastors around the world. After a brief discussion, this proposal was rejected, and the GS's suggested changes were adopted.
Several reasons were put forward for adopting the changes now: (1) This is clearly an improvement over the muddy statement we currently have, so why wait another four years with an unclear statement. (2) Considerable thought (even if only with USA leaders) has already gone into the proposed changes. (3) Accepting these changes does not preclude ongoing discussion and growth in our thoughts on Article 10.
I understand these reasons, and I think it was probably best to vote in the proposed changes. However, I think it would have been best to do both: accept these changes AND authorize a global commission to study Article 10. I think we missed a great opportunity by not choosing both.
D) We authorized a commission to study the difficulty of getting adequate representation from all regions at our General Assemblies. For a variety of reasons (including finances and visa limitations), some regions are unable to send as many as 40% of their elected delegates.
I expect that this commission will suggest a few possible solutions. We could hold the General Assembly in a nation which grants visas more liberally (which would be almost anywhere other than the USA). We could also hold the General Assembly via simulcast with regional groups gathering around the world and participating via video feeds over the internet. Nazarene Youth International held their global convention this way this time. I haven't heard a definite report yet, but I think this went well and enabled wider representation.
I would be in favor of either of these options. We desperately need to do something to enable more of our international delegates to attend General Assembly. For example, if all eligible delegates had attended this year's assembly, international delegates would have out numbered the USA delegates by a significant margin (I think). Instead, the USA held more than a 100 vote majority.
There were other resolutions relating to sabbaticals for local church pastors, maternity/paternity leave for church pastors, and (according to rumors) changing the ban on alcohol consumption to a statement in favor of moderation. I don't know the results of these resolutions.
All in all, I feel like this General Assembly (the first one for which I attended any of the business meetings) greatly strengthened my respect and my love for the Church of the Nazarene. I feel strongly that our leaders are honestly facing the most pressing challenges before us. We are not retreating or hiding or retrenching. Instead, as a whole, we are boldly leaning into the future and doing the hard work of reinventing ourselves while still faithfully pulling forward our essential traditions. More than ever, I am glad to be Nazarene.