Message Tab

Will cronyism replace meritocracy?


I want to begin this editorial with a definition of terms. First, “cronyism” is defined as “a partiality to long-standing friends, especially by appointing them to positions of authority, regardless of their qualifications.”

In essence, cronyism occurs within a network of insiders – the “good ol’ boys,” who confer favors on one another.

“Meritocracy” is actually the antithesis of cronyism and refers to “a system of government or any other organization wherein appointments are made and responsibilities assigned to individuals based upon demonstrated talent and ability or merit.”

Government service has been fraught with examples of cronyism for years. In 2002, a survey from the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management found that only 36.1 percent of federal workers thought promotions in their work units were based on merit. They believed that connections, partisanship, and other factors played a role.

If cronyism is commonplace in governmental service in general it is certainly true in the political arena specifically. In fact, since John F. Kennedy became president in 1961, about one-third of all ambassadorships have gone to campaign donors or other politically connected individuals, according to the American Academy of Diplomacy.

There are those who contend that George W. Bush appointed cronies to strategic governmental positions and that some of them were incompetent and even complicit in setting the stage for the meltdown of our financial system.

President Obama promised a government of transparency and accountability, but his administration is filled with appointments that look like a rogue’s gallery of cronies.

For example, one of the most prestigious appointments a president can make is Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Obama appointed one of his top election fundraisers and a fellow Chicagoan to the plum diplomatic post of U.S. ambassador to London, despite having campaigned to end a culture of cronyism.

Louis Susman, the new ambassador to the UK, raised more than $500,000 for Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign and inauguration and is a longtime Democratic donor. He has been nicknamed “the vacuum cleaner” for his ability to suck up donations for liberal politicians.

Favoritism or cronyism has always been a complaint in government service. Indeed, the old saying is true: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Or as one blogger put it, “It’s not what you don’t know; it’s who your college roommate knows.”

The truth is that cronyism has strong moral and ethical implications. Does cronyism involve discrimination? Does it respect the rights of everyone or does it violate the rights of certain individuals?

Cronyism or favoritism gives benefits to some people without a justifiable reason for singling them out; and discrimination imposes burdens on people who are no different from those on whom burdens are not imposed. So both cronyism and discrimination are unjust and wrong.

Furthermore, to place someone in a responsible position that they are not equipped to effectively fulfill often has a negative impact upon untold numbers of people.

Some have intimated that cronyism has crept into churches and denominations just as it has found its way into the corporate world and politics. Most of us can probably think of examples where that has doubtlessly been the case.

However, with three agencies seeking leadership at the present time and with dramatic changes being proposed for those three agencies by the GCR Task Force, our selection committees and governing boards must make absolutely sure they are choosing the most godly, honorable, respected, qualified individuals for those strategic positions. They should be individuls who are willing to lead with absolute openess and transparency. Southern Baptists should not settle for anything less.

In the next decade our denomination can be launched into a great era of unprecedented evangelism, missionary involvement, and church planting. The situation is desperate. The world is waiting. The divine mandate is clear. The future hangs in the balance. The opportunity is at hand.

God-called, Spirit-anointed, highly-qualified leadership is the key.

Cronyism has probably blighted more careers and entities than it has advanced; and it must not replace meritocracy at this critical time in the history of our denomination.