Monday, May 21, 2012

Introducing the Crusty Old Dean Resolution Ranking System: The Ridiculous Bishops' Vote Compromise

Ah, it's like Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and a wedding reception gift table all in one:  Crusty Old Dean finally received his hard copy of the Reports to General Convention, otherwise known as the [sometime] Blue Book.

As COD's child put it when COD was leafing through a report:  "What's that book you're reading?"  COD:  "It's called the Blue Book."  Him:  "It's not Blue.  And it's a pretty thick book."  COD:  "Well said, sir, well said."

COD is slowly going through the reports and resolutions, savoring each like a truffle wrapped in bacon.  Over the next several weeks COD plans on noting some of the more interesting and/or relevant ones, and will do so with the


All resolutions will be ranked according to the following scale, based on a scientific survey of one person, me.

Axios!:  Meaning "worthy!" this is the cry of the assembly at ordinations in the Orthodox Churches when asked for their consent, thereby signifying their approval.  Resolutions receiving the coveted Axios ranking will be resolutions which are what the General Convention should be doing, exercising its fiduciary and missional oversight of the church.

Meh:  Coming from The Simpsons (though its origin is in dispute), "meh" is an term signifying general indifference.  Resolutions designated "meh" are ones which are relatively anodyne.

WTF?:  Truly astounding resolutions which are either a complete waste of time at best, or, worse, will make whatever situation they are trying to solve worse.

Let's start off with a good WTF resolution:  A028, from the Standing Committee on Constitution and Canons

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That Article I, Section 2 of the
Constitution be amended as follows:
Sec. 2. Each Bishop of this Church having jurisdiction, every Bishop Coadjutor,
every Suffragan Bishop, every Assistant Bishop, and every Bishop who by reason
of advanced age or bodily infirmity, or who, under an election to an office created
by General Convention, or for reasons of mission strategy determined by action of
General Convention or the House of Bishops, has resigned jurisdiction, shall have
a seat and a vote in the House of Bishops. Only Bishops having jurisdiction shall
have a vote on matters which, if adopted, would require a specific
appropriation of funds. A majority of all Bishops entitled to vote, exclusive of
Bishops who have resigned their jurisdiction or positions, shall be necessary to
constitute a quorum for the transaction of business.

To review: the question of voting for retired/resigned bishops has been one which the General Convention has labored away at tediously.  The first discussions on the question of voting for retired bishops came up in 1946.  Since then, a variety of attempts have been made to permit only active bishops to have a vote in the House of Bishops (HOB).  All of these resolutions, with minor variation in wording, would allow for all bishops actively serving as diocesan, coadjutor, suffragan, assisting, or in some other capacity or office (denominational staff, seminary dean, etc.)  to have voice and vote.  Bishops who had resigned their jurisdictions and were retired, not actively serving in any of the categories outlined, would have voice but not vote.  The wording in these various efforts changes slightly, but in essence here is the saga of the past 66 years to take away the vote from retired bishops (with a reminder that since this would be a change to the Constitution, it takes votes by both Houses at consecutive General Conventions, in essence a 1st reading and 2nd reading):

1946 -- failed in HOB in part because it was poorly worded

1949 -- passed both HOB and HOD

1952 -- on second reading, failed in HOD.

1958 -- rejected in HOB.

1988--  Resolution came from Standing Commission on Structure of the Church.  First reading, passed  59-46 in the HOB and overwhelmingly by orders in the House of Deputies (HOD).

1991 -- needed a second reading; failed in HOB on a voice vote.

1997 -- Introduced as a  "B" resolution, meaning it was proposed by the bishops. First reading, passed 108-72 in HOB.  Defeated on vote by orders in HOD, failed by 9 votes in lay order and 4 in clerical order.

2003 -- Another B resolution, another proposal from the bishops' themselves.  First reading, passed overwhelmingly in the HOB, 127-30 with 7 abstentions.  Passed in HOD.

2006 -- Up for a second reading -- not so fast!  The 2003 resolution was amended in the legislative committee...thus it was not a second reading, but a first reading of a slightly amended version of the one that passed both Houses in 2003.  So that makes it:

2006 -- first reading:  proposal passed in both Houses.

2009 --  second reading of revised proposal of 2003 effort.  Passed overwhelmingly in the HOD.  HOB didn't even vote on it, referred it to the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons.

So there you have it, at least the church has made a mess of this in every possible way:  it has failed in HOB, it has failed in HOD, it has failed narrowly, it has passed overwhelmingly, it has been referred to Committee.  There was some real energy behind it in the 2000s, when it passed both Houses in 2003, then in 2006 when, despite being amended slightly, it was again passed by both Houses, then made it to the HOD in 2009, which passed it overwhelmingly, only in a stunning move to have the bishops themselves -- who kept the whole issue alive with B resolutions in 1997 and 2003 and passed it in 2003 and 2006 -- not even vote on the matter but refer it.

That's the legislative history.  The main argument against allowing resigned bishops having votes is that they are voting on matters for which they are not answerable -- they are not representative of any diocese or constituency, they are not responsible for implementation of matters they vote on, nor will they have to deal with any consequences of what they vote on.  NEARLY EVERY OTHER CHRISTIAN COMMUNION WITH BISHOPS, including the Orthodox and Roman Catholics and other provinces of the Anglican Communion, do not permit resigned/retired bishops to vote.  Heck, United Methodists do not let ACTIVE bishops vote at their General Conference.

The main arguments for allowing resigned bishops to vote -- well, that seems to change from Convention to Convention.  At one Convention, is was the whole "once a bishop, always a bishop" kind of argument -- though frankly that argument seems to miss the distinction between ontological character and function of office.  Retired bishops may confirm and ordain; COD doesn't recall "voting in the HOB" in the Prayer Book examination of a bishop as essential to the office.  After all, we don't let rectors emeritus stroll in and vote in the parish annual meeting, do we?   In 2009 it seemed to presented almost as a protest against age-ism, that somehow the wisdom of older bishops was being scorned.

Which brings us to the current resolution:  which, to COD, seems a truly bizarre affront to the office of bishop.  This resolution, as written, would still allow ALL bishops to have voice and vote on matters EXCEPT for when funds are specifically appropriated, when only bishops with jurisdiction would be permitted to vote.

This resolution gets COD's first WTF?? ranking. After twenty-four years, and numerous votes and endless discussion on this matter, this is the Solomonic compromise proposed?

Unlike the varying and changing reasons trotted out nearly every three years to keep retired bishops their vote, the problem with this resolution is clear:  it is unjust and contrary to our democratic polity.

Because we are unable to decide what to do about retired bishops, we are proposing, instead, to take the vote away from ACTIVE bishops?  Read the resolution:  only bishops with jurisdiction may vote on matters where specific funds are to be allocated.  Bishops with jurisdiction are coadjutors and diocesans.  Thus suffragan bishops, elected by diocesan Convention, are excluded.  Assisting Bishops -- whose appointment a bishop must get approval from the Standing Committee and the diocesan convention -- are excluded.  Bishops serving in other areas, such as ones who may serve on the DFMS staff (like our current Chief Operating Officer) and currently have a voice and vote, are excluded.

So bishops elected by or appointed or endorsed by representative bodies in our church (suffragan and assisting) are excluded, as are bishops serving in active ministry and given a vote according to Canon and the rules of the HOB.  These currently serving, active bishops who would be directly impacted by these votes with fiduciary implications are having their votes taken away.  For example:  as written, a bishop who resigned, was elected a seminary dean, and granted seat and vote in the House of Bishops according to the rules, would be unable to vote on a resolution which, say, changed the General Ordination Exams, or any other matter pertaining to theological education, if there was a monetary request involved -- even though her ministry would be directly affected.  Whereas retired bishops, unaccountable and representative to no entity, could still vote on everything other than fiduciary matters.  A similar argument finally swayed the General Convention of 1943 finally to give vote to suffragan bishops.  Established at the 1910 Convention, for 33 years suffragan bishops did not have vote in the HOB (in part because some of them were African Americans and thus there was an extension of the de jure segregation of the church to the HOB) until the 1943 Convention.  One argument cited in the Convention Journal was that it was unjust to permit retired bishops to vote but not active bishops.  Are we repeating a similar process, so that in order to safeguard the vote of unaccountable bishops we are restricting voting rights for active bishops?

Congratulations, first WTF resolution:  you earn this ranking as a resolution which actually makes a problem worse, not better.  Reject this utterly preposterous resolution.  Address the issue properly or don't address it at all.


  1. If it were up to me, when we shrink General Convention, we'd give voice and vote only to bishops with jurisdiction. And when people start howling about that, I'd point out that General Synod in the Church of England seems to do at least as well as General Convention, and over in England not even every bishop with jurisdiction gets a vote.

    Purple does not give you automatic voting, and more than black gives a priest automatic voting.

    Excellent rating system, btw.

  2. Agreed, 7WD - COD would be OK with a CofE style for GC modeled from GS.

  3. This retired, assisting bishop has always supported only "bishops with jurisdiction" voting (or even attending, for that matter) GC. Save a few bucks for the church, move things along legislatively. Alas...the Deputies can't even agree to take our vote away if retired!!

    Chris Epting

  4. Well, it was the bishops who derailed the best chance for this in 2009, after it had passed HOD it in 2006 and 2009. Seriously, only letting only bishops with jurisdiction vote on all matters is a much better compromise than this thing.

  5. I love this rating system, and think you picked a wise place to begin. As a first time deputy and still a noobie priest (5 years ordained this summer), I'm thankful for COD and 7WD for sharing you wisdom.


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