Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Proposal for Restructuring the HOB and HOD:

This proposal should be read in conjunction with my original call to begin a process of reform and restructuring at the 2012 Convention -- for that posting, click here.

Crusty Old Dean apologizes for the gap in between the posting of my 2006 GC reflections, my initial call to suspend the Constitution and Canons, and only now getting to putting forward some of my thoughts on what new structures might look like. COD has been traveling this week, speaking at a conference of Lutherans, Anglicans, and Catholics (LARC) in Michigan. COD plans on rolling out a series of proposals over the next few weeks, beginning with the HOB and HOD this time around.

COD will interrupt this series of proposals on restructuring General Convention to post his remarks to the LARC group, if only to show that COD is equally critical in reshaping the ecumenical movement as his is with the Episcopal Church.

Enough already. As they would say in the great state of Wisconsin: Forward! (punctuation supplied by COD; not part of state motto)

A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR RESHAPING THE House of Bishops AND House of Deputies

1. Replace the current bicameral structure.

Bishops, clergy, and lay persons sit in a single, unicameral body. Resolutions are only presented to this body. They are discussed and debated in this body. When it comes to a vote, however, bishops, clergy, and laity vote separately. For a resolution to be enacted, it must pass in a simple majority in all orders. For the Constitution to be amended or the Prayer Book to be changed, it must achieve a 2/3rds majority in all three orders. We can also include a provision to permit 2/3rds vote on individual matters, which would most likely come through a suspension of the normal rules of order, which would itself require a 2/3rds vote.

We will name this new body with our historic name: it will be called, simply, the General Convention. Each order will have its own moderator: for bishops, the PB; for clergy, an elected moderator/president with a six-year term; for laity, an elected moderator/president with a six-year term. Clergy & lay moderators may be re-elected once. There will also be a Vice President in each order. There will be a single secretary for the General Convention, to be elected by the body as a whole according to rule laid out in a new Constitution and Canons, either a bishop, priest, or lay person, for a six-year term, re-electable once.

This reform meets a number of needs. It radically simplifies and shortens the entire legislative process. COD often found himself at General Conventions past humming the classic lines by Bob Dylan, "Me I sit here to patiently/waiting to find out the price/we have to pay to get out of/going through all of these things twice." In the current system, resolutions, even if assured of passage, must go through both houses. Even more mundane resolutions must be placed on and voted on two different consent calendars! It will also reduce the embarrassing and unnecessary phenomenon of resolutions dying because they could not make it through houses simply because time ran out. It would avoid the ridiculous parliamentary circus that engulfs Convention in its final 48 hours as it madly dashes to pass things, often unable to give important matters their proper attention (like the Title III Canons in 2003, which were simply punted down the line to 2006). In 2003, for instance, the House of Bishops had nothing to do on the last afternoon, and adjourned in early afternoon and gave blanket approval to anything sent to it by the HOD (the action itself of extraordinarily dubious validity, which was thankfully not tested).

It will also preserve the historic checks and balances in Episcopal polity, as well as the equal place of laity in the governance of the church. It is consistent with the polity of other churches. The model proposed is similar to way in which the General Synod of the Church of England functions. (Disclaimer: this should not be read as COD indulging in Anglophilism. As someone who has a copy on the wall of his office of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic in 1916 by the Provisional Government, COD is no Anglophile. COD also promises to relate some of his deadening interaction with the Church of England in later posts.)

There may be some concern that this does not give "equal" representation to the laity, who now make up 50% of the House of Deputies. I think we should not let this 50% number color the debate too much. In reality, bishops, clergy, and laity already vote separately on major issues: The House of Bishops has its own house, and in the House of Deputies it's called voting by orders, is required for some things, and can moved to vote on almost anything. So in a sense this is a streamlining and reworking of a principle we already have in place, that important decisions require the consent of bishops, clergy, and laity (and already requires a supermajority of clergy and laity). It is already how Standing Commissions and the legislative committees at General Convention function, where clergy, bishops, and laity sit, debate, and discuss together but vote separately. Besides don't get attached to that 50% because COD is also proposing

2. Proportional Representation

Dioceses would be represented in proportion to their membership, using a formula to be determined and developed. There would be a minimum number for each, just like there is in Congress. The current apportionment system reflects the situation of 1789, not 2011.

As part of this proportional representation, cut the House of Deputies to a much smaller number, perhaps 500. The current 800+ figure is an extrapolation of the no more than 4 clergy and 4 laity representation in the 1789 Constitution. COD doesn't care too much on the exact number of a smaller House of Deputies; it is just ludicrous that a church of 2,000,000 has over 800 representatives in the HOD alone. If the US congress had a similar ratio, there would be over 120,000 members of Congress (population of USA is 150 times greater than TEC membership; 150*800 = 120,000). We also have 200+ bishops eligible to vote in the House of Bishops (included retired bishops). It is often intoned that the House of Deputies is one of the largest deliberate, legislative, representative bodies outside of the Indian Parliament. This is just not right - literally and figuratively. For one thing, it's not true. The ELCA Churchwide Assembly has over 1,000 voting members. The United Methodist General Conference has over 900. BTW, the ELCA is at least twice the size of the Episcopal Church, the UMC roughly three to four times the size. Second, it's nothing to be proud of; to COD it only illustrates reveling in undeserved exceptionalism which has been part of the Episcopal Church's hubris.

Our current system is a holdover from the days when a handful (literally, in some places) of Episcopalians in some areas of the country feared being overwhelmed by other regions with more numerous Episcopalians. Regional differences and theological parties were also reflected.

The result is a current system which is undemocratic and unrepresentative. The dioceses of North Dakota, Idaho, Western Kansas, Nevada, Utah, and Eastern Oregon, just to name a few, have six times as much representation as the diocese of Connecticut in the House of Deputies, which has more parishes and members than all of them combined. Not to mention the amount that the diocese of Connecticut remits in its diocesan assessment to the work of the church while still having the same representation of much smaller entities. In addition, we already have de facto proportional representation in the House of Bishops: larger dioceses with multiple bishops have more representation than small dioceses with one bishop, or even those with none. (But don't get too attached to that, COD has a plan for reorganizing the diocesan structure as well.) For now, COD finds it hard to take seriously an Episcopal Church which rails against taxation without representation in the broader Anglican Communion while countenancing an undemocratic and unfair apportionment system in its own General Convention.

COD firmly believes that the system should have opportunities built-in to make sure that issues which are important to smaller dioceses are not ignored or overshadowed by larger ones, and COD has a plan for that, too, to be revealed in time, lest COD be accused of being some city-slicking, out-of-touch, coastal Episcopalian urban elite (would that COD were). COD is not ignorant or unaware of problems which face different kinds of dioceses; the mother-in-law of COD is a (previously Canon 9) deacon from Idaho and COD was married in the Church of the Ascension in Twin Falls.

Thus lay representation would be based on the number of baptized members. Clergy representation would be based in turn on the number of members of a diocese, again in a proportional system. Thus hypothetically a diocese with 2,500 or less would be guaranteed X number of clergy and Y number of lay representatives; 2,500-5,000 would have X clergy and Y lay representatives, and so on. Do not hold COD to those number thresholds. The only D's COD ever received before becoming a D were the D's he received in Algebra II and in Geometry. Mathematics is not COD's strong suit. All active diocesan, coadjutor, assisting, suffragan, and other bishops granted vote by the House (e.g. when the Ecumenical Officer was a bishop from 2001-2009) would have voice and vote. Retired bishops may attend but do not have vote and have no voice unless specifically called on and recognized by their chair. The ratio of laity to clergy would be 3-2 in each diocesan apportionment, and thus 3-2 in the Convention, so that clergy, which make only make up 50% of the current HOD, would outnumber clergy in the revised GC. This proposal would not include bishops, but no fear - we will reduce that number so that only diocesan, suffragan, coadjutor, assisting, or other active bishops granted a vote will have voice and vote.

3. Streamlining the Legislative Process

The current legislative system simply does not do an adequate job of making sure the Convention uses its time wisely. Resolutions may come from different sources: Commissions and/or Executive Council; Bishops (requiring a certain number of sponsors); Deputies (requiring a certain number of sponsors); and Dioceses. Bishops and Deputies (B and C resolutions) may submit resolutions up to 5:00 pm on the second (sorta third) day of Convention.

The deadline for submitting resolutions at the Convention should be moved up a day: it is technically the 2nd day of Convention, but in reality it is the 3rd day. As currently structured, people arrive. Then there is a whole day when only legislative committees meet, the PB and PHOD make opening remarks, and legislative committees meet again -- kind of Day 0 since the technical "1st" day again consists mostly of legislative committees but also has some plenary time. The technical 2nd day sees a little more legislative sessions of the Houses, but still budgets a lot for committee meetings.

Convention thus has not much to do for the first 48 hours while people spend their time in Joint Legislative Committees. COD would move that filing deadline up to the end of what is now termed the "1st day" and make what he calls "Day 0" when everyone is there but in legislative committees almost all of the time into the new first day by seeing that Convention actually has some work to do.

COD proposes the following legislative streamlining:

--The deadline for all reports from CCAB (Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards) is November 1, including all resolutions they are referring to Convention.

--Executive Council then holds two meetings, one in November/December and another in February/March. At these two meetings
In its own Committee structure (more on that later, COD has plans for Council) discusses all the resolutions from CCABs. It has the power of a legislative committee: it may combine and amend resolutions, and will also take initial votes to recommend or not recommend their passage at Convention. It will act as a sort of Super Joint Legislative Committee.

--Any resolution referred by a CCAB that are passed on to Convention by by Executive Council does not go to a legislative committee at Convention, but directly to one of the Houses. Such a resolution has already been vetted by two representative bodies of the church, and does not need to go before a third. Any resolution, according to a process laid out in the Rules of Order of the (new) General Convention, could be sent to legislative committee by a process to be laid out, so that if Convention does want to vet a resolution for a third time, it may.

This will allow for Convention to get to work right away instead of twiddling its thumbs waiting for legislation to trickle in.

This is just an initial salvo in how to restructure General Convention so that it is is more representative of the church and more streamlined in its functioning, while still preserving essential components of our polity.

More thoughts in weeks to come.


  1. Why the 3-2 ratio of clergy to laity in the revised General Convention? And, I think the proportional representation for each diocese might also consider the amount paid on their assessment to DFMS, as well as population.

  2. All that math made COD's head spin -- I meant 3-2 *laity* to *clergy*. Since laity make up about 95% of the church, figured they should at least make up 60% of the General Convention.

  3. What's the rationale behind voting by orders?

  4. Was in the original 1789 Constitution - an effort to require overwhelming consensus to make substantial changes.

  5. Ah, so instead of one majority, which could be skewed and achieved by one particular group it had to essentially meet three overwhelming majorities split among the orders.

  6. Wow, I am just on parts 1 and 2, but great ideas! Very well thought out. It must have been a fun exercise, but I'm just floored by the amount of thought put into it. Were that I was a delegate so I could vote for you for PHoD so you can propose it :)