The Price of Failing to Protect Missional Integrity

I wrote in Masc #49 that defending institutional credibility is incredibly important today. Missional integrity - keeping your institution focused on delivering on its core mission - is one of the three components of this I discussed.

The main risk to missional integrity today is politics. This was on display in the tech world last week when Basecamp announced it was banning political talk at work.

Basecamp, a company that makes productivity software, said on Monday that it had “made some internal changes,” including a ban on talking about politics at work.

“Every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant,” Jason Fried, Basecamp’s chief executive, wrote in a blog post. “You shouldn’t have to wonder if staying out of it means you’re complicit, or wading into it means you’re a target.”

This appears to be related to an excess of “woke” activism. After blowback from angry employees, the company offered a buyout to the entire staff, and one third of the staff decided to take it.

About a third of Basecamp’s employees have said they are resigning after the company, which makes productivity software, announced new policies banning workplace conversations about politics.

Basecamp is a small company but a big name. Formerly known as 37 Signals, company co-owner Jason Fried has been a major advocate for organic growth and not taking venture capital money. The other co-owner, David Heinemeier Hansson (often called just DHH), created the popular web framework Ruby on Rails. They’ve written a number of books. Jeff Bezos is an investor in the company.

Fried and DHH are both lefties. There’s no reason to believe their personal politics are especially controversial. You could probably even describe them as woke at some level. It’s enough to make you wonder how bad things must have gotten for them to take such a radical step. This is especially true given that when Coinbase did the same thing, the New York Times published multiple hit jobs on the company. It’s a good bet the anti-Basecamp hit pieces will start flowing soon.

Fried and DHH took their eye off the ball on missional integrity, and it’s cost them bigtime. I think they’ll get things back on track, but this is a big headache if nothing else.

If you think this same thing couldn’t happen to your church or other Christian institution, you are in denial. In fact, I hear all kinds of things about how politics is causing big divisions in churches, people to leave churches, etc.

Right now it seems to be two big issues: masks and wokeness. Mask debates will hopefully soon be past but woke politics will continue to be around.

The Basecamp example shows that woke activists are so committed to re-orienting the institution to promote their ideological line that they will even quit their jobs if they can’t do so. Note that Basecamp was not planning to engage in some other sort of politics. They were simply going to focus on the business of making software. But that was intolerable to these activists.

The same like likely true of woke activists in your church too. They will not relent on pushing their agenda, and can’t be placated with anything other than total institutional capitulation.

I suspect there will be quite a number of church splits and other major negative fallout from disputes over woke activism in churches.

I also suspect a number of pastors and other leaders who started dabbling in woke with the thought that they were trying to address legitimate issues on race will discover they have unleashed forces they did not understand and cannot contain.

Avoiding woke politics is difficult in part for the same reason Republicans got rolled on health care reform. Namely, you can’t beat something with nothing. Republicans never put forward a real health care plan of their own, preferring to simply oppose what the Democrats proposed. But with clear and obvious problems in the healthcare sector, and the public believing the system was broken, the do nothing approach wasn’t tenable.

Similarly, conservative or centrists opponents of woke takes on race rarely advance an agenda of their own. With clear, obvious, and massive racial disparities in society, a lack of any substantive point of view of their own largely dooms purely oppositional approaches.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t make woke activism any less dangerous to the missional integrity of organizations.

What about other politics, you might ask? I think they should also be avoided to the extent that an organization is not political in nature. But in most cases these days, it seems to be masks and woke that are causing the most disruption to organizations.

If you are running an organization, navigating this world and preserving missional integrity is your responsibility. Take a look at what’s happening at Basecamp and elsewhere, then make what you think is the right decision for your institution.

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