Well, folks, the time has finally come for me to go public with regard to my experience with the Simpson University board. To give you some perspective, I have waited seven years to share my plight.
In the story I’m about to tell in later blogposts, my aim is to explain how important Christian boards are and how critical it is for stakeholders to require them to stay on mission and uphold good ministry standards. Board members are people, yet boards are typically seen as invisible non-persons who automatically do what is right. Very few believers are theologically taught to think about the board as a human group. We think instead about leaders, such as Bill Hybels, for example, who serve as the ministry’s “face.”
But now that evangelicals and an onlooking world share a national awareness of the dysfunctional governance board at Willow Creek Community Church, I hope all of us agree on the very urgent need for a critical mass of believers to raise the bar for Christian boards in general. The Simpson board, in particular, needs to be held accountable by everyone who knows about the school.
Like the Willow Creek board, the Simpson University board is subject only to itself and is therefore unaccountable for independent actions it takes. Granted, Simpson is affiliated with the Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA) denomination as its corporate parent, but since Simpson owns itself as a separate legal entity, the C&MA allows it to operate autonomously.
The word autonomous means “self-ruled.” But when autonomous boards fail to self-rule in submission to the authority of policies they create and beliefs they say they have and laws that God requires us to obey, they are better described as zombie boards or cancer boards who abdicate self-rule and cling to self-destruction.
In his comments on the failed self-rule of Willow Creek’s elder board, Scot McKnight, carefully explains:
The problem of autonomous churches is autonomy at the top: too much authority in the inner circle at the top and voicelessness for too many.
Autonomy at the top breeds powermongering . . . The evidence of powermongering is silencing and bullying . . .
Granted, Scot McKnight is speaking here specifically about the board at Willow Creek, but his commentary is apropos for other internally ailing organizations who may seem perfectly healthy on the surface. The bureaucracy at Simpson, for instance, has been characterized for years by Simpson’s attempt to silence truth and bully its whistleblowers. To the detriment of what should be Simpson’s mission, Simpson has rewarded those who bowed to unchecked power, hushed their own opinions and proved their sense of loyalty to “the team.”
Here again, Scot McKnight offers insightful commentary:
What the power brokers think of first is protecting the institution, which is (sad to say) protection of the power at the top . . . Advancement is [therefore] given to those who clearly are on ‘the team,’ but many know that “team'” in such churches [or Christian organizations] becomes an inside group of power brokers . . . Success in such churches is shaped by loyalty to the autonomous pastor and his retainers.”
I found out the hard way that a goodwill word of intended helpful criticism heard at the overseer level may be interpreted, at best, as “disloyalty to the team.” If a benevolent critique pertains to the Simpson president or any “yes” persons, the majority of the board may unsparingly and unthinkingly regard it as an act of high treason. I see no psychological space for the concept of self-criticism in the Simpson University board.
One Simpson board member in 2015 tried to urge the full board toward improvement, but his efforts were in vain; thus he felt demoralized and quit prematurely before his board term was completed. When in 2017 a different Simpson board member unsuccessfully tried to ask the board to “repent,” he told me, and I quote, that he “definitely kicked a hornet’s nest.”
So you see, during the seven year span (2011-2018) in which all this time I have been prayerfully waiting for the right moment to go public with my story (that I am here laying the groundwork for), a few others have arisen and exerted their energy toward calling the Simpson board to accountability. Yet all to no avail.
Meantime, the Simpson University faculty voted “No Confidence” in Simpson President McKinney (2013), and “No Confidence” again in Simpson President Dummer (2016), and also “No Confidence” in the Executive Committee of the Simpson board itself (2016). Yet unlike the Willow board, the Simpson board so far has not resigned.
To the contrary, the Simpson board has praised its autonomous presidents, even as the university has steadily continued to decline. When Simpson’s accreditation was demoted to “probation status,” on March 15, 2017, the regional accreditor told officials at the school that unless Simpson makes “significant progress,” it will lose its accreditation altogether. The deadline for improvement is encroaching. In October 2018, Simpson’s progress will officially be monitored, and if by the due date, things aren’t looking up with regard to the university’s financial capacity, Simpson may suddenly collapse.
But who, I ask, will care?