March 27, 2012

Episcopal Election Procedures for Pittsburgh

A few days ago, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh posted “Electing the 8th Bishop of Pittsburgh: Some Frequently Asked Questions” on its Web site. The FAQ was written by Jon Delano, who is Judge of Elections for the convention that will elect our next bishop. Everyone in the diocese who is interested in this election—that seems to be a lot of people, given the attendance at the recent walkabouts—should read what Jon has written. Additionally, you might want to read the rules of order for the election, which I have extracted from the document that includes the diocesan constitution, canons, and other material. You can find the rules of order here.

As a member of the Committee on Constitution and Canons, I was in on discussions about the rules of order for the electing convention, though I didn’t get to vote on the final set of rules. Jon did a fine job with his FAQ, but two matters deserve comment.

First, in response to the question “Do Clergy and Lay Deputies have a chance to discuss the merits of nominees with each other?” we find this sentence: “There will be NO such open discussion period at the special convention on Saturday.” I argued unsuccessfully against this policy, which encourages cliques to act in concert while preventing the body as a whole from doing so. The convention is a deliberative body, and preventing it from deliberating or allowing deliberation to be conducted only secretly in small groups hardly seems conducive to helping the Holy Spirit in our discernment. Among other things, such a policy gives more power to the clergy, who know one another well, making it easy for them to strategize, whereas lay deputies, who seldom meet, mostly do not know one another and would therefore have a more difficult time doing so. Nevertheless, Bishop Price has stated that the prohibition of general open discussion is not absolute and that, in particular circumstances, it might be allowed. In any case, the rules of order can be changed or suspended by the convention if that is the will of the convention.

Second, I found this statement disturbing: “Bishop Price and the Standing Committee (which has final oversight over the election process) requests that discussion be positive with respect to nominees and never negative towards any of the five who have put themselves forward for consideration.” In private, I’m sure people won’t feel bound by this admonition, but it could become an issue in the public discussion on the day before the election.

Surely, ad hominem attacks on any candidate would be inappropriate. What is a negative remark, however? Would a comparison of, say, educational accomplishments of two candidates, be considered a negative remark respecting the candidate with fewer degrees? What if there surfaced damaging information about a candidate at the last minute? Could it be revealed? (At the 2003 General Convention that gave consent for the consecration of Gene Robinson, a charge that Canon Robinson was associated with a pornographic Web site held up the convention while the allegation was investigated.) An absolute prohibition on “negative” remarks, if interpreted too broadly, could cause the convention to make a serious error. What might have happened had someone indicated at the 1997 convention that elected Bob Duncan bishop after his being nominated from the floor that there was objective evidence that Duncan was immoderately ambitious?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Lionel, and I do agree with you that spiritual discernment occurs as often in the midst of and passionate discussion as it does in moments of solitary prayer. Both are necessary, and I would hope that a call to a deep spirit of prayerful openness and listening wouldn't preclude an invitation to robust conversation as well--and that there may well be an occasion for some of that conversation to continue on the floor of convention in the intervals between ballots. I do believe Bishop Price has indicated that he is sensitive to this concern, and I would trust him to preside with a light touch.

    When it comes to the issue of negativity, I do think it is much more important to clarify and express why you would support a particular nominee than to start a South Carolina Republican Primary-style campaign to "go negative" on the ones you aren't supporting. Certainly though it makes sense that one might in the course of a discussion say things like, "I believe Nominee X's three convictions for assault and battery make me less inclined to vote for him or her, even though I would support his or her position on the war in Afghanistan." Etc. But I do believe the point Bishop Price was trying to make was that while it might make sense and even be appropriate to hope to persuade others to support the Nominee you support, a campaign "against" any particular Nominee would be unseemly. Each of our Nominees has been exceptionally generous in offering themselves for our discernment and should always I believe be spoken of in a spirit of gratitude and respect.

    Bruce Robison

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