Wednesday, February 26, 2014

TREC Paper on Governance: Beware Sophie's Choices

There's your problem, TREC.
Crusty Old Dean greets with enthusiasm the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church's latest paper, this time on governance, which can be found here.  COD was not pleased at all with the poorly written, confusing, pointless, and historically illiterate paper on networks (that's a brief summary, read his thoughts more in depth here).  This paper, on the other hand, while the exact same length, is focused and offers some actual, substantive suggestions other than email list-servs.  TREC, were you just suckering us in, setting
the bar so low that this second paper would look even better?  Crusty was reminded of The Simpsons Halloween episode where Bart's Talking Krusty the Klown doll tries to kill him; when his mother calls the hotline, the technician notes, "There's your problem.  This doll was set to evil," and flips the switch on the back of the doll from "evil" to "good."  Whatever switch you have flipped, TREC, keep it where it is.

In its opening section, the paper starts of strong by laying out some guiding principles regarding the place and role of reimagining structure in reimagining the church as whole.  Retooling structures of governance can't save us, the paper notes, but says that perhaps retooling and rethinking can "foster innovation and adaptation" which are "already being explored and implemented at all levels of the church."  After apparently having never had a face-to-face encounter with a network in its first paper, TREC is aware there are groups all over the church doing all sorts of things.  This helps set the discussion on governance into an important framework.  No, we shouldn't think our governance can "save" us; but can it at best foster the adaptive changes we need to make at all levels of the church? Or at worst, can it get out of the way and not impede those groups which are moving forward with adaptive change?

What he looks like before all that makeup for Lent madness videos.
Further, COD is pleased that TREC finally seems to be fleshing out some of the proposals Crusty Old Dean laid out in a series of postings in 2011 and 2012 on this blog.  You can check out various musings in the archive from Fall of 2011 and up through Convention 2012, but a quick primer can be found here.  In addition, Crusty's sometime colleague and sometime nemesis, Scott Gunn, has been blogging on and off about this stuff since 2010.  Though he is Crusty's sometime nemesis (mainly due to the Lent[sic] Madness nonsense), nonetheless COD realizes we have more in common with our shameless penchant for self promotion of our own prescience, Cassandra-like though it may be (as if anyone has implemented any suggestions either of us have ever made).

The paper then lays out three different levels/structures of governance, and proposes some possible rethinking of them:  General Convention; Executive Council and the Church Center; and Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards (CCABs).

I.  General Convention

The TREC paper presents a twofold vision for General Convention:

a)  a mission driven convocation that connects leaders (though not networks, which Crusty finds odd; haven't they ever been to the Exhibit Hall?)
b)  a governing body that meets at the same time to get governance stuff done; pass budgets, elect leaders.

Crusty has talked about this before -- the way he has put it has been, "What if we flipped Convention?"  Right now we have an Exhibit Hall where groups, networks, and institutions doing everything from promoting peace in the Middle East to theological education to sales gather.  They come on their own dime.  Walking up and down the Exhibit Hall you can see lots of different groups doing lots of different ministries.  In addition, we have Episcopal Church Women, which holds a concurrent triennial meeting.  Though perhaps not quite the juggernaut it once was, back in the day when ECW raised the bulk of the money for the episcopal Church's missionary work, this was a network to be reckoned with on par to Convention -- and which still meets concurrent with Convention.

We also have the House of Bishops and House of Deputies -- which tend to get most of the attention and money.

The way Crusty has tried to get at the same concept of having a missionary convocation and a governing body has been to think about what it would mean to flip this process: instead of spending the bulk of our collective energy in HOB and HOD, what if we spent most of our time sharing ideas and network building? This happens already in the Exhibit Hall; what if we institutionalized and prioritized it?  Not an exact parallel to what TREC is putting forth here, but another way to frame the same question.

While approving of this in principle, Crusty would also caution against still seeing governance as the primary mode of being -- for instance, in point #3 the paper notes "if the primary focus of General Convention is to be a missionary convocation..."  What if we truly flipped this and said, "we will have a missionary convocation, with General Convention meet concurrently" and actually prioritize the mission networking component?

Crusty approves of kicking around proposals to restructure General Convention, including restricting the vote to active and not retired bishops.  Good luck with any of these, however -- for example,  the Episcopal Church is the only church in Christendom which permits retired bishops to vote, and has been trying to change this for nearly 20 years, with little success, in part due to our polity (changing this requires changing the Constitution, which requires votes at two successive Conventions, including vote by orders in the HOD).

COD thinks we also need to step back from some of our hubris concerning General Convention.  At times it is asserted it is the largest deliberative body except for the Indian parliament.  Not only is this not true (the ELCA Churchwide Assembly and United Methodist General Conference are nearly the same size), this is nothing to be proud of.  With under 2,000,000 Episcopalians we have up to 880 persons in the House of Deputies.  If we had similar representation for the US House of Representatives, it would have over 130,000 members.  Yet while General Convention is large,  compounds its problems but also not being representative.  It skews overwhelmingly old and white, well, because the Episcopal Church skews old and white.

As an example:  an African American colleague once told Crusty, "Reducing the size of General Convention is racist because it will lead to the reduction of African American and minority representation."  Crusty replied, "I refuse to accept that."  A bit startled, the person repeated their statement.   Crusty replied:  "Structures to reform Convention are not racist.  By that measure, Convention itself as configured right now is racist because it is overwhelmingly white and old in a country increasingly diverse.  Rather, sadly, the Episcopal Church is shaped by its legacy of centuries of racism, which is why we do not reflect the society around us."  The person replied, "If we cut delegations form 4 to 3, then it means fewer people of color will get elected, you know that as well as I do."  I replied, "Actually, I think it means your diocese is racist, not this proposal, if it cannot elect people of color.  If we need to rectify the church's endemic racism, then by all means let's write in representation requirements."  Person replied:  "We can't have quotas, that's contrary to the gospel."  Crusty replied, "So is racism. And we already have a quota for equal representation of clergy and laity in House of Deputies."  Other churches have representation quotas, for persons of color and for representation of lay persons.  Crusty proposed, for instance, in his series of posts from 2011-2012 that we have quota for have a majority of lay persons over clergy in Convention (right now we have a quota for equal representation in the House of Deputies).

Crusty refuses to accept the charge that reducing the size of Convention disenfranchises anyone, and thinks accusations of this sort are either cynical ploys to swing opinion or people who believe their
So long as we can all agree not to grow mustaches like that.
own histrionic rhetoric.  Beware those presenting zero-sum games or Sophie's choice arguments when it comes to restructuring governance; COD can assure you these are those deriving the most power, privilege, and authority from the current system and fear losing that, and willing to smear perfectly good people with unwarranted accusations of racism, classism, and clericalism.  While critical at times of Convention's structure, COD knows that people involved in governance are good people, giving of their time and expertise, and wishes at times some of these folks would give others the same benefit of the doubt and not leap to ridiculous hyperbole.

COD would have liked to see some discussion around another way to streamline Convention -- namely, to have a unicameral structure, or, perhaps like COD proposed (and the Church of England has in General Synod) having orders sit and debate together but vote separately.

As to other GC restructuring proposals...Crusty approves of efforts to streamline the legislative process; it is simply ludicrous and wasteful to spend the first 48 hours or so of General Convention meeting in committees to do things like combine 10 resolutions that say the same thing into a single resolution.  In the ELCA, for instance, their Church Council (similar to Executive Council) can send resolutions directly to the Churchwide Assembly.  Crusty, however, thinks the paper punts on the biggest question of all, establishing a "screening process" to permit "only the most important resolutions."  This is essential, since the only method of organizing or prioritizing is to take resolutions in the order of the number of their legislative committee.  Thus in 2006 Crusty, when he was ecumenical officer, was waiting for the House of Deputies to approve Interim Eucharistic Sharing with United Methodists, who had already approved this in 2005.  As the clock was approaching 6pm, the House of Deputies was debating an utterly useless resolution to promote the teaching of evolution in school, which nobody remembers, had no effect, and helped no one -- whereas only Convention can approve Interim Eucharistic sharing.   We could not, however, move to take up resolutions in anything other than the order of their committee numbers without moving to suspend the rules of order.  This is why so many resolutions fail because of "non-concurrence", because Convention wastes so much time with worthless resolutions and often has little ability to prioritize.  Yes, there needs to be a process -- but it was to be in the service of an overall vision of Convention.  There are lots of proposals that have circulated in the blogosphere, given that this paper lays out three different visions for Executive Council alone, would it have killed them to float some ideas about the "screening process", which must be at the core of any proposal of reform of General Convention?

Similarly, the paper limits its discussion of the budgetary process to one sentence, saying it should move to the biblical tithe as standard for diocesan giving, and that dioceses should be held
Follow the money, TREC.
accountable.  The money is at the crux of this, since diocesan assessments and endowed money funds everything from Convention to church wide staff to appropriations to overseas dioceses -- to restrict budgetary proposals to one sentence, and that only on the giving side, it oversimplified to the point of almost not being worth mentioning.  The question of funding is one which impacts all aspects of the proposals in this paper, and confining it to this small of a discussion limits the utility of the paper as a whole.

Crusty also wonders how we can empower committees to do things they can already do (#7 and #9 here.  Committees already can kill, combine, defer, and reject resolutions before they ever get to Convention floor, for instance.

II.   Executive Council and Church Center

Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also?  Crusty is intrigued that a good deal of ink and the most concrete sets of suggestions seem to flow from the Executive Council discussions, where no less than three different alternative scenarios as presented.

Before getting into this section, COD would have hoped TREC could have prefaced it in some way, instead of leaping directly into proposals.  Part of what makes the issue of the relationship of Executive Council to the PB and to General Convention and to CCABs so fraught with freight is the existential nature of the issues involved -- yes, COD used "existential."  He is a Dean, after all, and has to throw out things like "hermeneutic" and "ontological."  But in this case the usage is apt:  some of the confusion surrounding governance as it relates to the PB and Council cuts to very nature of Council's existence. Formed in 1919, Council was an effort to collect and coordinate a variety of work being done by different organizations of the church, at a time when there nothing even remotely like diocesan or denominational staffs as we understand them, and where much of General Convention's work was done by ad hoc task forces.  The 1919 Convention was an effort to create structure where there was little, and the National Council was an effort to provide coordination, and, yes, oversight of everything from world mission to radio ministries to work among colored people.

What then happened, though, is that alongside this incarnation of Council there slowly, gradually evolved over the years a corporate structure, with a full-time PB and a staff in New York, and while General Convention, in turn, began to grow, develop, and formalize its own structures.  The Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations, for instance, wasn't formed in 1976, when it combined three different committees of Convention, one of them dating all the way back to 1862.  Formed for a particular purpose in a particular time, every level of the church from congregation to diocese to denominational staff to General Convention has evolved.  So what is Council, one of the first efforts to create structure, in a world of evolved structures of governance?

TREC notes they are "not of a single mind", and propose three different alternative models for Executive Council and relationship to PB and staff.

Alternate I:  Essentially increase power of Council at expense of PB and Church Center; for instance, there is a CEO, appointed by both PB and PHOD with consent of Council, who can be fired only by the Executive Council; restructurings must be approved by Executive Council; all employees are employees of the DFMS (not employees of the PB, for instance) and the EC is the Board of Directors of DFMS, so all employees work for Executive Council.  Alternative I wonders in somewhat cryptic fashion "There is no provision in our Constitution or Canons for a performance review of a PB, or for dismissing a PB except through an ecclesiastical disciplinary proceeding under Title IV of the Canons."   Great, the last thing we need is Executive Council firing the PB.  

So Alternate I is asserting Executive Council's authority over the PB.

Alternate II is the opposite:  asserting the PB's authority to appoint people like the COO, Treasurer, Secretary of Convention, who may be dismissed solely at PB's discretion, with staff working for the PB.

Crusty prefers Alternative III, and put forward a suggestion like this previously.  In TREC's Alternate III, the PB is not required to resign as bishop diocesan or suffragan, remains Chair, PHOD remains
Will people in Alternate Universe Exec Council have weird beards like in Star Trek and South Park?
vice-chair.  It suggests that Executive Council hire a General Secretary who may also serve as Secretary of the General Convention.  Crusty approves of much of this, but has recommended instead that a General Secretary be elected from any order.  As it stands, neither the PB nor PHOD have credibility as an elected CEO.  The PB is chosen solely from among the bishops, and only confirmed, not elected, by the House of Deputies.  The PHOD is nominated by, and elected solely by the House of Deputies, drawn from among only deputies, without even confirmation by Bishops.  Crusty would endorse an elected General Secretary drawn from any bishop, priest, deacon, or lay person in good standing anywhere in the church, to be a truly representative officer elected by the church.

With regard to size and makeup of Council, Crusty is concerned in this case with reduction of Council's size impacting representation.  Yes, I know, Crusty gave example above of reducing size does not necessarily mean reducing representation -- but here Crusty is looking mainly to the proposal for Provincial representation.  By all means, reduce the number elected by Convention from 12 lay, 4 bishops, and 4 clergy to 6 lay, 2 bishops, and 2 clergy.  That still preserves strong lay representation.  Reducing provincial representation from 18 to 9, with no quotas for clergy/lay, has the potential to impact lay representation.  COD would prefer preserving the 18 elected by provinces and keeping the 1 lay and 1 clerical representative, and explore the possibility of a stronger Executive Committee -- preferably not one where some members met in secret and developed their own budget proposals, like in the 2009-2012 triennium.


TREC rightly notes the mess here.  We have nearly 60 various Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards, everything from General Convention Standing Committees to things like Forward Movement.  There are too many, and there are confusing lines of oversight, reporting, accountability, and collaboration.  Crusty agrees there needs to be a better system for linking CCABs through Council (though having gone to his share of Executive Council meetings, COD has found that, despite the intention here for Council to take oversight of CCABs, that Council has mainly been interested in its own pet projects and often seemed to care little what CCABs were doing).  The question of interim bodies cannot be taken in isolation from the kind of mission-focused impulse laid out in the vision for General Convention.  How can CCABs be in the service of the kind of missional convention TREC has put forward?

However, the proposals here don't seem to make much sense.  Why eliminate all standing commissions except the three mentioned here?  For what reason?  How does this flow from the interaction between governance and being a missionary convocation?  Why not have three Standing Commissions:  one on Governance, one on Domestic Mission, one on International Mission?  Or some other streamlined structure that reflects the vision for adaptive change?

COD is concerned by the proposal to establish task forces as needed to carry out mandates of General Convention, appointed solely by the two presiding officers.  This has the potential to create just the kind of overlapping mandates, turf battles, and confusion about accountability and reporting that this report says it is trying to avoid.

Crusty also wonders how TREC proposes to convince the church to do what it already could be doing, something it suggests but offers no proposals for in several places.  It says that all interim bodies should post their minutes online. They already should be doing this.  It says they should "adopt new technologies."  They could be doing this already.  How TREC, how?

In general, Crusty thinks the TREC paper on governance is thought provoking and moves in the right direction, and a marked improvement over the first.  COD still wonders how or whether TREC will be able to move the conversation forward, whether it will make concrete proposals in form of legislation, or whether it will dump things at the feet of Convention.  As the paper notes, structure cannot save the church.  But if there's one thing structure can do, it's stymie change.

1 comment:

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