Thursday, July 2, 2015

Behold Tricameral: House of Twitter & Initial General Convention WrapUp

Crusty is flying back from General Convention, with a couple of major issues still to be resolved.  What follows are two of Crusty's initial reflections on GenCon 2015, a fuller recap will follow later.

1.  He has come away even more convinced of the need for a unicameral body.   COD has written about this issue before on this blog, and a recap follows at the end of this post of his previous arguments.  But a different perspective on unicameral slapped Crusty in the face at this Convention:

Our current bicameral system regularly disenfranchises one house or the other.  Because legislation must by be passed in the exact same form with exact same language by each house, matters get complicated as the Convention moves on.  Should time run out
New hit of the summer! "Shut up and concur with HOD!"

before the legislation is passed in the exact format, it is listed as rejected by "non-concurrence."  This routinely happens to dozens of resolutions at each Convention.

Two examples from July 1 should suffice to show how bicameral disenfranchises one house or the other. 

The House of Deputies was taking up the liturgical and canonical resolutions surrounding the marriage rites.  The House of Bishops had discussed these previously and extensively and amended them.  As the Deputies began discussion, it was repeatedly noted that if they amended the resolutions, they would go back to the Bishops, who could, in turn, amend them again, then send them back to the Deputies, and if they were amended, they'd go back to the bishops, with the danger of the resolution not being approved by both Houses before the Convention adjourned on Friday.  One deputy stood up to say he was arguing in advance against any and all amendments that might come up for the reason that any amendments could complicate completing the work at this Convention.  Though this seemed to be skirt the metaphysical with the parliamentary -- can you speak against an amendment -- the sentiment behind it was clear.

The result: So the bishops got to discuss an important matter extensively and amend it to reflect their discussion and concerns.  The Deputies did not have the same opportunity.  Their debate was focused around expediency of concurring with another House's decision.

Likewise, while the deputies were debating marriage, the bishops got the resolutions on restructuring Executive Council and the interim bodies of Convention.  The exact same conversation took place: amendments were proposed, but the conversation repeatedly came back to the fact that if amended, they would go to Deputies, who could amend them, and so on, and the entire package could die from "non-concurrence."  The bishops made one amendment, asking that the chair and vice-chair of any and all commissions in the new structure be of different orders.  Another was defeated narrowly, and would quite likely have passed had this dynamic not been in place.  Then the bishops moved to reconsider even the relatively small amendment they had passed, voted to reconsider (which takes a 2/3rds majority), then voted down the amendment they passed earlier, not because of anything contained in the amendment, just because of the crunch in getting legislation through both houses and because they had passed any amendment at all.

So the Deputies got to discuss an important matter extensively and amend it to reflect their discussion and concerns.  The bishops did not have the same opportunity.  Their debate was focused around expediency of concurring with another House's decision.

Our bicameral system bascaclly tells both houses in the final 72 hours: if another house has passed this, shut up and pass it or it won't go through.   [As a reminder, For Crusty's broader argument on unicameral, the end of this post.}

2.  There was another element from this Convention which smacked Crusty upside the head.  Despite his arguments for unicameral, Crusty realized, in some ways, we had already moved beyond the discussion: this was really the first tricameral General Convention: House of Bishops, House of Deputies, and the House of Twitter/Social Media.  Back in the days of flip phones, all-paper
Conventions, and the clear beverage craze, if you were sitting in one of the Houses the way you knew
@MadamePresident, what is the matter before the HiveMind?
what was happening in the other House was to get up, walk over to the other House, and try to cop the most recent paper version of the daily calendar so you could find out what was being discussed and what was likely to be discussed later.  And that was only if you were able to get up and walk over there; Crusty has been to five Contentions only as staff and/or visitor, so was never chained to a chair in one or the other of the houses, and had the freedom to get up and see what the other house was doing.  This Convention's move to an all electronic paperless convention, combined with the explosion in social media even since the last Convention in 2012, made it possible to know what was happening at any given moment in either house.

Apart from greater connectivity, the House of Twitter did some other things.

--It allowed for the broader conversation in social media to impact what was happening in real time.  Back in the stone age, when Crusty was ecumenical officer, there would be at times complex ecumenical and interreligious legislation before the Convention.  If an issue arose in one of the Houses that he had information on -- a question that needed an answer, a concern about parliamentary procedure -- Crusty would have to jump up, frantically wave down a page, hand them a paper note, and ask for it to be delivered if he had something he needed to communicate, all before an action was taken that that information needed to inform.  With the House of Twitter, this was able to happen proactively, not reactively, and instantenously.

Think of what the Oceans 11 gang could have done at GenCon.
--In addition, apart from debate in real time, the House of Twitter continued to meet even while the other houses were not in session.  A tremendous amount of networking, organizing, and strategery took place facilitated by social media in ways that were not even achieved in 2012.  For instance an
organized effort to network to amend the budgetary process consisting of numerous networks and
doznes of people was conducted almost entirely through social media and electronic means. And succeeded where previous efforts to amend the budget have failed (though at the time of this writing it still needs to go through the House of Bishops).

--The House of Twitter allowed the large number of people at Convention but not in either of the official houses to have some connectivity to what was happening.  Frankly, the HOD and HOB are not set up to include the broader attendees in any way, shape, or form.  For instance, the Convention spent nearly three hours in joint session which included sitting in in small group discussion that none of the hundreds of people in the gallery could hear or see.  Even alternate deputies weren't included at times. For a church that talks a lot about all the baptized, and hospitality and welcoming, unless you are a bishop or deputy, General Convention doesn't really care much about you.  When he was ecumenical officer Crusty had to beg just to get hard copies of the legislative calendar to give to invited guests so they could know what we were discussing.  But your input and participation are welcome in the House of Twitter.  While debating one question, a deputy quoted from tweets that people were sending in about a resolution on digital evangelism.  A tweet by yours truly was also quoted by a deputy.  Groups coordinated legislative strategy with people who weren't even present in Salt Lake City but watching livestream from home and connecting through social media.

The House of Twitter has the real potential to bring about exactly the kind of transparency we claim to be about in the church.  While social media is discussed almost to the point of becoming a meaningless shibboleth, at this Convention was saw its real and tangible impact.

These were just two initial reactions to General Convention 2015.  Once it's all over, Crusty will provide a more detailed recap.  A summary of his unicameral house argument follows below.  

To recap quickly from previous blog posts:


a)  All orders are in the same room together discussing and voting on issues in the life of the church everyplace else but General Convention.  Laity and clergy at the parish level; bishops, laity, and clergy at diocesan Convention level; and elsewhere at General Convention, clergy, laity, and bishops sit jointly in legislative committees.

b)  It will streamline the process, our bicameral system takes an inordinate amount of time.

c)  It has long term possibility of breaking down some of the other eccentricities of system, for instance:
    --the House of Bishops would need to stop meeting in private
    --it could help break down some of the suspicion and mistrust if we are talking with each other and not about each other.

Con (and counterargument):

i)  Clergy and laity might be concerned about speaking their mind if their bishop is present.

  --counterargument: it would be my hope we could move to a place where trust can be built.  If not, there are options: clergy, laity, and bishops could sit in separate sections in a unicameral.

ii)  bishops would dominate the discussion.
  --counterargument: frankly, in my experience in the church, dominating the discussion is not solely the purview of the episcopate, or even the clergy.  I've been in meetings where it's been laity who have not allowed clergy to get a word in edgewise.  Besides, there are ways to prevent this in unicameral rules of order, like saying that discussion needed to alternate between clergy, episcopal, and lay orders; or by always starting discussion with the lay order; and so on. 

iii)  it would remove checks and balances.
   --Counterargument: the checks and balances could be preserved in the system developed.  Crusty would never suggest one-person, one-vote on all issues.  We could write it so that a certain percentage of any one order (say 25% of any order?) could move to vote by orders, meaning all three orders needed to approve something by majority vote; write in that for Constitution and Prayer Book changes, a supermajority (2/3rds in each order) required.

iv)  unicameral, including a reduction in the representation in the House of Bishops, would reduce the diversity of representation.

This is an imporant and serious issue and deserves more extended discussion.  The issue of diversity in the General Convention breaks down for Crusty in two ways.

--The onus is on the dioceses to lift up, recruit, and put forward a diverse slate of deputies regardless of the size of Convention.  As consultants to episcopal searches has pointed out, slates in episcopal elections have shown diversity in recent years (though clearly it is room for improvement), the problem in diversity in the episcopate has been the candidates elected by the dioceses, which the search and nomination process cannot control.

--Crusty has said repeatedly he would be in favor of canonically legislating diversity and representation, as some other denominations have done.  If we reduce the size of Convention from 4 in each order to 3 in each order, we could, for example, legislate that at least one must be a person of color (clergy or laity) and one must be under 40.   (We also clearly must reduce the number of bishops with vote, to be sure -- COD has argued that only active bishops should have vote and seat, like in every other province of the Communion and every other episcopally ordered church in Christendom.)