Come to the Light

by Doug Kelly, Head of Staff

“There is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed: nor is anything secret, except to come to light.” – Jesus, Mark 4:22

I saw the film “Spotlight” at a theatre last week. The film, which has garnered numerous Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, takes the viewer into the journalistic investigation of Cardinal Law, the Archbishop of Boston, by a special team at the Boston Globe, called Spotlight. The film portrays Spotlight’s 2001 and 2002 probe into the Cardinal’s cover up of priests’ spiritual and sexual abuse of parishioners.

I highly recommend the film. Yes, it’s a disturbing subject: that leaders of a church, in this case Catholic bishops, abandoned their post in not holding priests accountable and practiced musical chairs in transferring dysfunctional priests to different parishes. (In the Presbyterian Church we quit this practice with our clergy bad apples over 50 years ago.) Praise God that the Catholic Church is reforming and beginning to come into the light around this practice.

This leads me to the real strength of the film for us Presbyterians: secrecy kills. Without trying to pick on my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters and certainly not our local Seattle priests who I think are just outstanding, let me remind you that our whole Presbyterian process and governing structure is built upon the idea that God works best when issues and concerns are brought into the light.

Two practices at Bethany help us to avoid secrecy. The first is corporate decision making. John Calvin when he started the Reformed church in Geneva almost 500 years ago had a mistrust of authority being placed in the hands of an individual bishop. His idea was to have a collective bishop, what he called a presbytery, a group of ordained elders and clergy together. Our theology is built on the idea that people discern the leading of the Holy Spirit best in groups and that it is when decisions are brought into the light of the group – a local church Session or a presbytery – that discernment happens. (This, of course, means slower decision making.) When there is an allegation of financial mismanagement in a local church, inappropriate governing procedures or sexual misconduct we don’t hand this off to the executive presbytery but form an Investigative Committee or a special commission. (I am a member of an Investigative Committee in Seattle Presbytery right now.)

The second principle at Bethany is transparency. “There is nothing hidden,” Jesus says, “nor anything secret, except to come to light.” The Clerk of Session’s monthly article on Session proceedings is part of our transparency effort. The publication of next year’s operating budget and the January 10th Q & A forum are an attempt to bring our church finances into plain view. When I arrived here three years ago I quickly had our facility manager remove all window blinds on office doors because what we do as a staff is transparent.

Is there something at Bethany that you feel needs more transparency? I hope you’ll let me know. I hope you’ll let the Clerk of Session know so that he can bring it to our decision making body. Sometimes we need spotlights, but its best to simply start off with practices in the light.

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