WHAT DID HESTON MEAN WHEN HE SAID: “BLOOD MAKES POOR MORTAR?”
These words were spoken by Charlton Heston playing the part of Moses in Cecille B. DeMille’s epic film, “The Ten Commandments.” Truer words have ever been spoken. This is exactly what happened last year when nearly a score of ministers were pink-slipped, had their stipends revoked, or given a retirement option of taking a meager $20,000.00 payout that would make them ineligible for full Social Security benefits or Medicare health coverage. Those who balked at this plan were given a veiled threat that included being reassigned to another district or having more churches added to their pastorates.
It appears that very little consideration was given to what the repercussions of their actions could cause to those who were thus affected. Some who pride themselves on using the corporate model to solve our financial dilemma fail to realize that God has not called us to emulate corporate America, but to seek His wisdom and counsel. A former conference president in our union wisely advised: “In times of financial disaster, cut programs, not people.”
I wonder if we truly appreciate the skills many of our conference’s ministers have acquired over the decades managing churches mired in red ink and safely navigating them safely through the turbulent waters of fiscal collapse. We can safely aver that if one of these men or women were placed as the C. E. O. of a fortune 500 company; they could do a commendable job. Imagine their having these kinds of resources at their disposal when they have been accustomed to accomplishing so much with so little for so long. The first question you should demand an answer to is:
THE MOST DISTRESSING PART OF THIS WHOLE SCENARIO is that we were not called together so that we could devise a strategy that would not have necessitated our cutting or ousting anyone. Solomon states: “. . . . in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” (Prov. 11:14) The Lord’s Messenger observes: It is seldom wise for decisions to be made by a few.” This is certainly not the first time our conference has faced a financial challenge. We have been here before. What did we do in the past that prevented us from the kind of carnage we are presently experiencing? At one time one of our sister conference in this union solved their financial crisis by assigning a Pastor to visit all of the churches and explains what the consequences of failing to act would entail. In one year that conference paid off a debt of over $1,000,000.00. In Life Sketches, Ellen G. White writes: “We need fear nothing for the future except we forget the Lord’s leading in our past history.”
What could we have done to prevent the slaughter of the innocents: those who had nothing to do with the present fiscal quagmire? A second question that needs an answer should be:
WE COULD SELL THE PROPERTY that we own throughout the conference. It could be sold more easily if buyers could make monthly payments. I have been in meetings where union officials have informed us that over $300,000.00 in reversion funds would not be received because we had overspent that much on the campground. We must painfully acknowledge that we cannot continue to sink millions of dollars into a facility that we use, primarily; once a year. We are like someone who owns a Rolls Royce but can’t afford fuel for our luxurious automobile. The camp meeting concept was conceived in the nineteenth century as an evangelistic tool. (According to Volume VI of Testimonies of the Church) The Lord’s Messenger never envisioned its being at one locale decade after decade. The exorbitant amounts of money we have poured into our campground could have been used to retain workers to continue the progress of the gospel message and to hasten the return of our Savior.
The attitude of many appears to be cut away the subcutaneous fat from the conference budget by ousting older workers. However, the greatest sin of which God ‘s people are guilty is ingratitude.” Who are those workers who made the sacrifices that enabled this conference to reach its present status? Who were these Black and unknown bards of long ago who went to the post office expecting to receive a check and found a box of Message magazines instead? Who were these people who received unsigned checks, or worse; ones that bounced? Who were these men who had to build churches themselves if they desired to have a new one? Who were those older workers who had as many as six churches and if the treasurer’s report of even one of these churches was not in the office would not receive a check, literally living out of the ingathering can until the 6th or 7th of the following month. These workers learned the secrets of constructing churches without financial assistance from any higher church organization, when the revolving fund did not even exist. Ask some of our older workers and members how debilitating it was to be told year after year: “send in your ingathering overflow and we will assist you to build a church.” This vow though often repeated, was almost never fulfilled. How many workers had to leave this conference to receive salaries that coincided with union scale wages and saw a policy book for the first time in their lives when they arrived in their new areas of service? Older workers here have persevered through numerous salary freezes but because we never believed in retroactive pay like Lee Iaccocca of Chrysler fame, the salary loss sustained could never be recouped.
If the first and second questions are answered truthfully then the third question is a no brainer:
MANY CLAIMED that older workers are often more sickly than younger ones and therefore can be cut from the roster for tremendous savings. No one ever pauses to ask, why are they so sickly? We have traveled the vast highways and byways of a conference that is larger than many of the world’s nations, deprived of proper rest, long board and business meetings that lasted into the wee hours of the following day. An ancient warrior of the cross wrote that one of the stressors he fated was: “the care of all the churches.” (2 Cor. 11: 28) The lyrics of a Christian song intone: “Sometimes living takes the life out of me.” Now here’s the final question that concerns workers and pastors:
THE A. A. R. P. MAGAZINE warns that stressors shorten the life span, and one should not have to commute more than twenty miles daily to maintain optimal health. What minister could meet this criterion? Now that we know why older workers are sickly, we must remember that none are immune to disease or illness. We should remember also that our church does not require any ministerial candidate to pass a physical before being hired. Think about what our ministerial workforce was called upon to do in the past: such as erecting tents in one hundred degree heat for camp pitch. This required vigorous fitness. One worker confessed that he left camp meeting every year to spend a week in the hospital. The Brethren were often reminded of the possibility of losing the life of one of our ministers during camp pitch, and if each man had to pass a physical before camp pitch; not ten men in our entire conference could pass.
These Four Questions Lead To A Final Conclusion:
IN THE CORPORATE world if there are to be layoffs or plant closures those who are to be affected usually are given advanced warning so they can adjust to missing a significant portion of their income. Most of those who were given the old heave-ho in April of last year were not even given a full month of severance payments before receiving their final checks. In this republic that we call the United States of America, the founding fathers produced a flag. The background was white, with a serpent portrayed on its face with a simple caption that read: “Don’t tread on me.” We will one day have to stand before the Judge of all the earth after “treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.” As Moses faced the Master Builder, he eloquently stated to him in the Hollywood film the Ten Commandments: “Blood makes poor mortar.” — C. C. Rider