It was, I think, the consensus view that the search process had run smoothly prior to this weekend. The nomination of Scott Quinn by petition was a bit of a hiccup, but the petition process seemed necessary to assuring fairness.
Going into the final two events of the selection process, the discussion on Friday and the election on Saturday, It was clear that the clergy were largely partial to Dorsey McConnell, with some significant favorite-son support for Scott Quinn. The strongest lay support seemed to be for Stan Runnels. There was significant sympathy for Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, but it was accompanied by a skepticism that Pittsburgh could elect a woman, particularly an avowed liberal who might serve for more than two decades.
I believe that what had appeared to be a well-designed, well-run process, ran off the rails Friday night and Saturday. I have already reported on the Friday gathering. (See “‘Discussing’ the Candidates.”) Before I try to support my thesis, let me report on the voting that took place yesterday.
The voting began with 42 eligible clergy and 86 lay deputies present. Since election required a simultaneous majority in both the clergy and lay orders, 22 clergy votes and 44 lay votes were required to elect a bishop. The balloting is tabulated below:
|CLERGY||Ballot 1||Ballot 2||Ballot 3||Ballot 4||Ballot 5||Ballot 6|
|LAY||Ballot 1||Ballot 2||Ballot 3||Ballot 4||Ballot 5||Ballot 6|
To understand what happened, you need knowledge of the candidates, of the diocese, and of the procedures that were used.
Woodliff-Stanley was clearly the most liberal candidate, and McConnell was generally considered the most conservative of the candidates put forward by the Nominating Committee. Quinn was seen as conservative, tolerant of diversity but tainted by prejudices, both positive and negative, for his actions and inactions in the diocese over the years. (I set out the arguments against an internal candidate, in general, and against Quinn, in particular, in “Pittsburghers Nominate Episcopal Candidate by Petition,” “Additional Thoughts on an Internal Candidate for Pittsburgh,” and “Musings on the Candidacy of the Rev. Canon Scott Quinn.”) Michael Ambler and Stan Runnels fell somewhere in the middle, with Runnels to the left of Ambler.
Southwestern Pennsylvania is a conservative region. Under now-deposed bishop Bob Duncan, conservative clergy greatly outnumbered liberal clergy, though a strong moderate-to-liberal combination of clergy and laypeople saved Pittsburgh from at least some of the troubles of San Joaquin, Fort Worth, and Quincy following diocesan schisms. Because opponents of the Duncan program came together months before a split was effected, a larger fraction of the diocese remained with The Episcopal Church, but, unlike the other dioceses experiencing similar trauma, Pittsburgh did not become substantially more liberal thereby. Nonetheless, lay Pittsburgh Episcopalians are, as a group, more progressive than their clergy, many of whom are retired, part-time priests whose prime working years were in a different sort of Episcopal Church.
I will have more to say about procedures presently. I now want to look at the voting record.
The first ballot offered few surprises. Ambler’s poor showing was prefigured by his lack of apparent support the night before. The minimal support for Woodliff-Stanley was a bit of a surprise, but, as it turned out, those who said we could not elect a women may have been right.
The second ballot made it clear that Ambler’s candidacy was going nowhere, and Woodliff-Stanley’s star likewise appeared to be setting. Unsurprisingly, Quinn’s support declined. Among the clergy, most of the changed votes went to McConnell. On the lay side, votes gravitated predominantly toward Runnels. On this and subsequent ballots, a candidate in each order had sufficient votes for election, though the candidates were different until ballot 6. No one could figure out why Ambler did not drop out of the race, since he received no votes at all. His failure to bow out gracefully became increasingly perplexing.
On the third ballot, whose results were announced after lunch, support for both Quinn and Woodliff-Stanley declined, causing both candidates to drop out before the fourth vote. The clergy vote did not change very much, but Runnels’ support among the clergy reached its apogee. McConnell’s vote total enjoyed its biggest bump among the laity on the third ballot, gaining most of those votes at the expense of Quinn. It was pretty obvious at this point—arguably, it was obvious after the first ballot—that the contest was between the clergy favorite, McConnell, and the lay favorite, Runnels.
On the fourth ballot, the contest was literally between McConnell and Runnels. The lay vote for Runnels reached its high point, 48, on this round, but Runnels actually lost a vote in the clergy balloting. One layperson left the convention before the fourth ballot, so only 43 lay votes were needed to elect a bishop.The clergy preference for McConnell was stronger (69%) than the lay preference for Runnels (56%), but it was clear that without an explicit compromise or one side’s giving in, a consensus candidate could not be selected. The history of clergy voting suggested that the clergy were not likely to throw in the towel. Besides, at this point, it was clear that clergy had been lobbying their colleagues in favor of McConnell.
I considered proposing (or getting someone else to propose) that we have a general discussion about the situation in which we found ourselves, but I did not do so. The next ballot made it clear that electing a reasonably liberal bishop—something I though that those of us who had worked so hard to save the diocese from disaster deserved—was a lost cause. Five lay deputies, presumably watching the clock and wanting to get the matter over with, switched their votes to McConnell. Now, the switching of a single lay vote would elect McConnell. (Only 41 clergy votes were cast on the fifth and sixth ballots.)
On ballot 6, McConnell picked up one redundant clergy vote. Runnels lost 8 votes. Five went to McConnell, assuring his victory; one, oddly, went to Ambler; and 2 simply vanished.
What happened? A liberal-conservative split clearly remains in the diocese, and it is, in part, a lay-clergy split. The laity, in any case, whether out of boredom, impatience, or naïveté, threw in the towel. Not only was I severely disappointed by this, but it made me think that the candidate we really needed was Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, who had the strongest skills and record of bringing divided communities together.
The sad reality is that Bishop Price, perhaps inadvertently, but surely with the complicity of others in charge of the search process, threw the laity under the bus. We were offered the poisoned Kool-Aid of Anglican niceness. Our bishop constantly asserted that an episcopal election is not a “political” process. We were implored to call the five priests standing for the election “nominees,” rather than “candidates.” We were told not to say anything “negative” about any of the “nominees.”
Of course an episcopal election is political! Any process by which a body of people selects a leader is, by definition, political. That the electors are Christians does not make it something other than political. The process can only be more or less successful in reflecting the will of the electoral body. If one believes in the democratic process—the election of bishops, perhaps more than any other element of our polity, distinguishes The Episcopal Church from most of its Anglican sisters—one should be interested in making that process as effective as possible. Among other things, electors should have as much information as possible and be able to exchange that information freely.
On March 27, 2012, I wrote this in my post “Episcopal Election Procedures for Pittsburgh”:
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.Need I say that my worst fear was realized? Had it been allowed, I would have wanted to tell lay deputies to stay the course and to prevail upon the clergy to consider the will of their flocks, particularly since many of them would have to live with the decision made at the convention long after many of the clergy voters would be long dead.
Rather than beginning the convention with a brief version of Morning Prayer and ending with a Holy Eucharist at the end of the day, business was conducted in the middle of a Eucharist service, something I have always found manipulative, a way to encourage Episcopalians to do exactly what we often say our church does not demand, namely, checking one’s brain at the door. Moreover, it took valuable time and made those watching the clock that much more eager to elect a bishop, whoever that might be.
The hope, of course, had been that the discussion Friday night would have somehow substituted for substantive consultation at the convention itself. In my aforementioned post, I had this to say about that meeting:
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.Well, it did. I am aware of at least one instance in which a parishioner, in one of the breakout sessions, heard a disturbing statement from one of the candidates. Repeating the statement and expressing concern about it would have been legitimate, but this person was concerned about being accused of making a “negative” statement and kept quiet. (One speaker was told by the bishop that he was skating close to the edge of the “positive” ice.) Additionally, statements were limited to two minutes, which rattled some people, cut off several, and no doubt discouraged others from speaking. In any case, no real “discussion” was allowed to take place. The actual needs of the diocese, particularly those relating to reconciliation, were little discussed. The session may have been useful to bookmakers, but it was virtually a waste of time for everyone else.
How could the process have been better handled (or better handled in the future)? Primarily, we should drop the pretense that an election is not an election, with all that implies, and is instead some mysterious and holy piece of magic. We are deciding in whose hands to place substantial power, both over the diocese and the wider church. If we believe the decision is that of the Holy Spirit—something I doubt anyone really believes—then we should simply draw lots and be done with it. Otherwise, we should recognize that we have responsibility for an essentially political process and should do our best to design a good process.
More than anything else, I believe that laypeople involved in choosing a bishop need a way of consulting with one another effectively while the election is in progress. Perhaps clergy and lay electors should discuss the election and vote in different rooms, coming together briefly between ballots to talk in plenary session. In any case, I hope that the next time Pittsburgh has an episcopal election, procedures will look different from what was done this time around.
All that said, I am on record orally, if not in writing, as saying that I could live with any of the candidates proposed by the Nominating Committee. I am not recanting that declaration, and I hope that Bishop McConnell will make a fine and fair Bishop of Pittsburgh, perhaps eventually leading the diocese to be, as Ruth Woodliff-Stanley suggested we could be, on the cutting edge of The Episcopal Church.
Update, 4/24/2012: I perhaps gave the impression that Bishop Ken Price was responsible for all the election procedures used by Pittsburgh. He was not. Various other diocesan leaders share that responsibility, as does the consultant we engaged from outside the diocese.
Dioceses do not hold episcopal elections often, of course, and an outside consultant can help the diocese do the sort of things other dioceses have been doing. Both good and bad ideas can be propagated this way. The idea of conducting the election in the context of Holy Eucharist was, apparently, advocated by our consultant. Whether justified or not, I know that some deputies felt manipulated in that they could not sign the necessary forms for The Episcopal Church certifying the election until they had taken communion, suggesting a unity that they did not feel after the sixth ballot. I’m not sure that conducting the election in the context of a Eucharist is such a terrible idea, but, under Bob Duncan, conventions always ended with a Eucharist, and many people left before the service because they were so angered by what had happened during the convention.
Finally, I should correct an error. It was not the bishop, but the president of the Standing Committee who told a speaker on Friday night that she came close to violating the ground rules for the evening.