Wednesday, September 28, 2011

2011.09.28 Secrecy and Transparency

I think that too much secrecy and too much transparency are both unhealthy extremes in human systems, individual, family, organizational.

Both secrecy and transparency as strict policies preclude the obvious middle way—MODESTY.

SECRECY is not the same as confidentiality because it is often fueled by fear more than it is by respect.

TRANSPARENCY is not the same as freedom of speech or right to know because it too is often fueled by fear rather than respect.

I know systems get trapped in extremes of behavior and then try to change but too often change happens quickly and reactively not allowing proper time to discern and discriminate about right choices in different situations. So we set policies!

Parish search committees in the Episcopal Church, for example, are rife with secrecy mandates. Such policies when rigid become paranoid.

I remember visiting a parish for an interview, asking about bathroom privileges (my sarcasm) and being whisked in and out quickly with the comment. “Someone might see you.” I’ve never relieved myself so fast in my life.

Rigorous secrecy is injurious to clergy interviewees who are sequestered and only meet a committee and perhaps a vestry before they appear on their first Sunday. Behold! Clergy never get a chance to experience a community at worship and the community never gets a chance to hear a sermon or see a priest celebrate.

It is also unfair to congregations who have no opportunity to ask questions or shake a hand or listen to a voice. They have a vote but no voice.

Transparency in the extreme however is also not a good idea because political gossip and lobbying easily hobble the discernment of the search committee and may prejudice a candidate.

The process is really quite sinful when it’s too blind. It disallows participation even at a modest level of both parties in what in the Church is still called, for better or worse, a “marriage” between a priest and her/his congregation.

A modest appreciation of the needs of both parties in filling such a key position as rector is possible. Other traditions hold open meetings, including mutual opportunity for respectful questioning between parishioners and each finalist. And some invite each finalist to preach and, yes, go to coffee hour for schmooze time. Imagine!

The modesty approach is worth looking at in the Episcopal Church because there is much boo-hoo talk about what we call “failed searches.” WHAT ARE WE AFRAID OF?