Saturday, December 17, 2011

Reforming the PHOD as well as PB

In looking over previous posts for restructuring the polity of the Episcopal Church, COD found himself pondering the role of Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies -- and found himself asking what reform is needed in the ways in which these posts are chosen.

Previously, COD noted in his reflections on the 2006 General Convention how the office of PB has shown some of the strains of its gradual development. Originally the PB presided over the House of Bishops, took consecration of bishops, and passed sentence in disciplinary cases. In 1919, it became an elected office and began the continuing evolution into what we would see as a Primate (i.e. the move to Most Rev from Rt Rev; becoming a full-time job; having more responsibilities and duties added). However, what are the implications of having a Primate elected only by bishops, and confirmed by Deputies? Is this truly representative of the church as a whole? COD proposed previously changing the way the PB is elected, requiring votes in all orders, not a vote by one order and confirmation by another.

But then COD thought -- what's good for the goose is good for the gander, no? What about the President of the House of Deputies?

The development of the office of President of the House of Deputies (PHOD) is also undergoing change and evolution. Originally, it was an office with minimal duties: presiding over the House of Deputies at Convention and making appointments to committees and commissions as defined by Canon, ruling on purely parliamentary questions which came up during the business of the House at Convention. The office, however, seems to be taking on more of a role in between Conventions -- simply tracking the actions and statements shows how much more of an active role the PHOD is having in the life of the church the past decade. This came to the surface at the 2009 General Convention, where there was a debate as to whether to add money to the budget of the PHOD -- so the PHOD can presumably do more in the life of the church.

At times COD wonders if the PHOD is moving along the same track as the PB -- evolving slowly, over time, into a kind of co-primate along with the PB. On the one hand, COD would not necessarily have a problem with this; the Episcopal Church has never really, clearly, had a #2 position. However, if this is how things are moving, there should be considerable care and attention given to these developments.

If the office is moving towards becoming a sort of co-Primate, there are some structural problems involved in selection and election. Contrasting the election of the PB to PHOD, we can see the differences. There is a Committee elected by the Convention, which consists of bishops, clergy, and laity, charged with selecting candidates for the office of PB. Thus all orders of the church have a representative say in choosing the candidates for PB (though in addition there can be nominations by petition from bishops). The PHOD, however, is nominated solely by clergy and lay deputies, at the Convention. The PB is elected by the HOB and confirmed by the House of Deputies; the choice of the PHOD is, again, solely by the House of Deputies, with no input or confirmation by the Bishops. The selection of the PB does, at least, involved input and representation from all orders of the church. This is because the church sat down and decided what kind of process they wanted into the election of the PB if the role were to change, with considerable debate and discussion in 1916, 1919, and 1922 at General Convention, and with a massive survey of the church undertaken to get broader input. The PHOD does not go through any kind of representative process for nomination; is not elected by the church as a whole; how therefore can it be a truly representative office? As structured, the PHOD is an office of governance, not representation -- to think otherwise would somehow be akin to thinking the Speaker of the House has some kind of mandate or role or could speak to anything other than presiding over the House of Representatives.

The solution, COD believes, is to scrap the current system in its entirety and elect officers that are truly representative. COD already proposed having a unicameral General Convention where bishops, clergy, and laity sit together, but vote separately in certain situations. The PB, to truly be a Primate, should be elected by all three orders of the Convention. Perhaps we should moderate COD's initial call in that same post for there to be a moderator elected from the clerical and lay orders. Perhaps, if the church as a whole so determines, we could also elect an office representative of the church in addition to the Primate from among clergy and laity combined. There are examples in other denominations: the ELCA has an elected Secretary, which combines some functions of the PHOD, the Canon to the Presiding Bishop, and the Secretary of General Convention. The Secretary has been either an ordained or lay person. The Presbyterian Church elects a Stated Clerk (head of communion/primate) but also a Moderator of the General Assembly, who has a role in governance and represents the church but is not the head of communion. With enough thought and care put into it, this could resolve a longstanding problem in polity ever since the establishment of the National Council in 1919: what is the church's #2 position? Is it the PHOD? Canon to the Presiding Bishop? Chief Operating Officer? Secretary of the General Convention? Structuring a clearly representative #2, drawn from clergy and laity (not bishops), with a clearly defined role and functions, could have the chance to bring some clarity to a longstanding source of confusion (with corresponding confusion in effectively doing the work of this church).

Sustained reflection, input, and deliberation should be a part of our process of reform of structure. We have already, for instance, seem to have made the decision that the House of Deputies and its Standing Commissions which produce General Convention legislation may be funded by partisan, outside interest groups (this particularly grieves COD because he is in favor of same sex blessings but appalled it is being bought by special interest money) without any discussion of the implications. We should not do the same and set policy on the role of the PHOD without discussion and deliberation: this Church spent over 20 years talking about changes in the office of the PB, with various reports, proposals, committees, and surveys reporting to almost every Convention from 1901-1922.

The office of PHOD in its current form cannot be a co-Primate; in cannot be anything else other than President of the House of Deputies as it is structured. For one, the office is not representative. Nor is the HOD in its current format democratic, for several reasons. On the one hand, small minorities can effectively slow down or block legislation through the system of voting by orders and because every diocese has the same number of deputies, regardless of size. Deputies pride themselves on being deputies, not delegates or anything else, thus though elected by dioceses in no way answerable to them other than running for re-election once every three years. Given these elements -- and others COD could go into -- the HOD could run the danger of becoming an oligarchy run by the patronage system of appointment if a purely governance office is given any other kind of authority or responsibility without overall reform and restructuring.

Instead of being representative, the PHOD and HOD could be an Episcopal Tammany Hall run by a cadre of General Conventionistas.

1 comment:

  1. A unicameral GC --That's brilliant!!! Thank you!

    Mark Harris sent me over here --glad he did. Good to "see" you, again, Tom!


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