4/07/2010

Fr. Tony on the supposition that The Episcopal Church is a democratic institution.

Fr. Tony Clavier's avatarTony Clavier writes thoughtful pieces over at the Covenant-Communion website. His latest, "The Presiding Bishop Writes" is well worth the read. There are several problems with the essay - the comparison with the Synod in England takes little account of the territorial problem of the size of The Episcopal Church, there are a variety of ways in which the entrenchment of leaders takes place and we are not alone in this, etc. But the basic question is a very very good one. We should look again at how we do our synodical work.

As to the validity of elections, in the delicate balance between too much Provincial authority and too much diocesan authority there is always room for complaint. In the same church we elect by valid processes very different sorts of people as bishop. The are so different that the assumption that they will be willing to be together is unwarranted except by pledged vow to take their places in councils of the church.

I do take issue with one statement, for which I will hazard a guess a local critic will arise and soundly beat me about the ears. Clavier says,

"Unlike secular government, there are no opinion polls to assess theviews of parishioners. Deputies are not known to travel around dioceseshearing the views of parishioners. There is no culture of parishionerscontacting deputies, no “town hall meetings,” and little fear of losingone’s seat. Thus the checks and balances of a democratic system areunknown."

In this diocese it is the custom for the General Convention deputies to report back to diocesan convention the work and experience at GC. This is done in small groups. There is never enough time, but there are always some probing questions and considerable feedback following. In the work up to the next Convention we spend time again in workshops looking at the issues we believe are coming up. As to the fear of losing one's seat, there is a fair amount of turnover in our deputation and some attention is paid to the order of election as a result. A number of us were not returned in the past two rounds. The "checks and balances of a democratic system" are not unknown, even if they are also not universal in application. Some of us (myself included) have made real effort to get about the diocese, speak to lay and clergy leaders and otherwise check in. It is fairly easy in Delaware, a small state and diocese.

That off my chest, I do recommend Clavier's article. Go and read.

6 comments:

  1. One may of course point to a number of flaws with the General Convention system. And one flaw in the PB's argument.

    The convention is limited to those who can afford to attend. It is hard to think of how it could be otherwise given the time needed. GC's business simply won't fit in a weekend and we are a bit spread out. Travel and other expenses are simply part of the need.

    I can conceive of a GC meeting using something like NetMeeting. I can not however point to a version of that or other software that is actually ready to support the process at this writing. Our kids may well use such software later in the century. We are stuck here and now without the bandwidth, software or platform solutions to do it electronically. National Council meetings we could do, conventions not yet.

    In Chicago where I pray, the deputies do get out and talk to parishes that want to hear from them. They find that number disturbingly small. Last time one of them came to our parish the turn out was embarrassing. We are a transitional sized parish (about 200 ASA) and there were all of 6 people including the rector at the presentation.

    Which leads to the flaw in the PB's logic. It is probable that the majority of TEC's members have no idea who bishop elect Glasspool is, or why they should care. It is not their diocese, their congregation that is involved. The simple fact is most of the members do not pay that much attention. Ask yourself if the parishioners know who the deputies are?

    It is probably more correct to say the majority are not aggrieved enough to object to or interested enough to support Los Angelos.

    FWIW
    jimB

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  2. I read his article. I do not see how the lack of polling results in a lack of democracy. One does not follow from the other.

    In our secular elections, opinion polls do not determine the outcome, nor do they assure ones voice is acted upon(it merely provides amplification). That some parts of even Delaware may be run as a fiefdom does not indicate that the will of the people is not being done.

    The process of governance is not questioned until the “wrong” results issue. But, how do we know the results are “wrong” as opposed to “not the result looked for or wished for?” Of course the system works for those in power. It always does. The Diocese of Pittsburgh, in a stunning display of democracy, elected to leave. While many questioned the propriety of the action, no one questioned the voting results. The system worked just fine for them.

    At any rate, Fr. Tony makes an awful lot of assumptions that then serve as facts upon which he builds his argument. He does this is such a way that slimes the vast majority of the folks who attend convention and make it their business to know what the folks in the pew are thinking.

    Perhaps Delaware is an outlier. You are to be commended. I am just as certain there are places where the process is controlled by a coterie of insiders.

    Let’s agree to agree that whatever the process, the Holy Spirit speaks.

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  3. Interesting comments attached to his article. I do not know him or the commenters, but the last commenter, one James Wirrell, expresses his opinion that delegates to diocesan conventions are mostly retired people and 'social misfits' who are likely to be underemployed and more pliable to their clergy's opinions. I daren't ask what he considers a 'social misfit.' But because he prefaces his comment by disavowing that he is being mean, I tend to believe just that. He is being mean.

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  4. Every have something stick in your mind and bug you. There was something else seriously wrong with Fr. Clavier's argument and it took me a while to spot it.

    The presiding bishop does not argue in her letter that the decision to consent to the election is supported by the majority in TEC. She wrote to be very precisely:

    "Know that this is not the decision of one person, or a small group of people. It represents the mind of a majority of elected leaders in The Episcopal Church, lay, clergy, and bishops, ...."

    If one assumes that the elected leaders are the bishops and sc members -- a fair assumption -- she is precisely correct. Which point I think allows me to suggest the essay is an attack on a straw man.

    FWIW
    jimB

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think you could also say of our synod that only certain groups of people have the time or motivation to attend.
    I have heard it alleged that there is not a lot of room for dissent on LGBT issues in TEC, but nobody has given me concrete examples of this.
    I think Jeffert Schori's letter is actually accurate and the tone is calm but TEC are clearly not going to budge and will do their thing, it was that imperative sentence "Know that this is not the decision of one person..." that showed the strength of resolution to me.

    ReplyDelete

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