Dead brains aren't cheap

The writer, as elder Melvin Rhodes' wife, attended the UCG general conference of elders March 7-9 in Louisville.

By Diane Rhodes

LANSING, Mich.--When we got back after the conference in Louisville, I got a very short E-mail from a friend, a one-liner that read, "What did you do when Dixon Cartwright was ejected from the conference?" (See the article about the ejection beginning on page 1.)

That took me right off guard, just like the eviction itself did. I sat there, waffling, trying to concoct an answer that wouldn't sound wimpy, but all I could do was remember the confusion: not being sure just who was being ejected (at one point I thought it was Bill Stough only), not being able to see clearly from where I sat and the embarrassment of the whole affair.

When the voice (which I thought at the time was Mr. Stough's) stated its intention to stay and be bodily removed, my reaction was, "C'mon, can't you just leave and settle this later?"

Smug voice

We who write for The Journal felt foolish and ill-represented by this incident. A smug voice from a chair behind me said, "See? That's why I don't have anything to do with The Journal."

It seemed like an eternity until the guards arrived and escorted the two Journal representatives out.

What did I, personally, do? Er-well-nothing. Well, what could I have done? What could anyone have done?

First, it should never have happened. What was there to be accomplished by such a petty, vindictive move? When that point of order was made, everyone seemed to go brain-dead: the council, the ministry, the guests, the victims.

When had it been announced that the Q&A was a closed session? The announcement was made for the balloting (business) session, earlier in the day, to be closed, as I remember it. Dixon had been involved with the UCG-AIA from day one. The Journal had been at every other conference of United-AIA, and Dixon had no reason to believe he was not welcome at this one. He had talked with a council member that morning and the balloting session had been mentioned as closed, but the Q&A was not mentioned at all. That was his "tacit" approval for being there.

The council could have taken this opportunity to settle that question. No thought to take charge of the matter was demonstrated. Council members were caught off guard and tongue-tied. I understand that. So was I.

The Journal reporters were stunned by the unexpectedness of the incident and dug their heels in. Maybe they should have stood up and asked for clarification as to which sessions were closed, or maybe they should have asked why they should be banned from the Q&A when they were never banned before. Something more than a flat refusal to leave would have been helpful and would have perhaps jogged the audience into functioning mentally.

Ugly can be scary

And what about the rest of us? Someone should have stood up and at least asked for the situation to be made clear before the whole crowd. I consider this a personal failure. Surely one of us could have stood up and asked for clarification right then and there in the interest of sparing a brother some pretty stiff embarrassment.

But, no, we all sat there. Silent. The exception was, of course, those who clapped enthusiastically as the reporters left. I feel ashamed as I rerun the incident through in my mind and consider how I should have reacted, how God's Spirit should have come into play.

Most of us are not inclined to make a scene (although not all of us, obviously). It is just not done. However, there is a time and place for everything, even an ugly scene. Maybe a scene needs to get ugly. We're so afraid of ugly. Paul did not hesitate to upbraid Peter publicly, and I'm sure it was not pretty. The church survived, and so, I suspect, did their friendship.

One more thing: You know, it's ironic. At our Feast sites we totally cooperate with the "world's" press and crow with pride when reporters write something nice about us. What on earth are we afraid of about a newspaper run by a converted person, one of our own who goes out to others in various offshoots of our former association, most of whom are also brothers? What are we afraid of him printing? What have we got to hide?

I know we would all just like to put this behind us and pretend it never happened. But it did. The question is: Have we learned anything from it?

To me the whole incident brought home some important principles. First, this blew to pieces our publicly stated policy of openness. It made us look like hypocrites. We would probably have been happy to have a reporter from the local Louisville paper write something favorable about us, but it most likely would have been somewhat superficial because the Louisville press doesn't understand us at all.

Are we afraid of a brother seeing something more true below the surface? Or are we just so sensitive we can't take any criticism?

Second, the incident in no way demonstrated any love-of Christ or man. The conference was supposed to be a gathering of people with God's Spirit. What will stick in most people's memory? The fact that the incumbents were reelected as a vote of confidence in our council of elders and in support of their recent decisions? I fear not. What overshadowed the positive achievements of this conference is (a) that we were afraid of litigation from some of our own brothers and (b) the needless humiliation inflicted upon several others.

Third, there was a lack of decisive leadership all round, except maybe the person who raised the point of order in the first place. Too many were anxious to distance themselves from The Journal and its representatives. Again, why? Do we publicly display one code of conduct and, when in more-private surroundings, display another? Apart from that, the whole thing was being videotaped, anyway.

I hate to beat this to death, but there is another important aspect that seems to be ignored here. If we in the ministry (the "shepherds") are not thinking, believe me, the sheep are! We have lost people over this needless, badly handled incident for the above reasons.

Just in case anybody has forgotten, with no members there is no church to administer. We are accountable to God and them, because, whether we do or do not show the right leadership, they can be saved without us. It is the corporate body of United-AIA that needs them, not the other way around. Selah.

Overall, we felt the conference took steps in the right direction, but this incident will leave a needless, ugly, self-inflicted scar on United-AIA's reputation.

And we were all responsible.

Brethren, no matter what our fine points of doctrine, in all things there is a right and proper way to conduct ourselves. The question is do we, individually, desire to nurture and maintain the level of humility necessary to sincerely look at our actions on a day-to-day basis and make adjustments as necessary so we can grow in grace and knowledge?

Every wrong can be made right, and every one of us in that room that day knows how.

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