GC2012: The energy and passion of unexpected moments

The Rev. Marshall Scott reports:

At any given General Convention, perhaps the most interesting questions is, “What are

we really going to argue about?” That might seem an odd question. After all, before the

Convention begins there have been meetings and conversations and unnumbered blog

posts to discuss the issues.

But, in my experience much of speculation doesn’t play out. Oh, the typical stuff is

certainly debated. However, there are always a few issues, a few resolutions, that get a

surprising amount of attention and generate a surprising amount of energy.

We had one of those events today on the floor of the House of Deputies. The resolution in

question was D034; and this is how it came to the floor:

Resolved, That Rule of Order 34 of the House of Deputies be

revised to read as follows:

When any member is about to speak or to deliver any matter to the

House, the member shall, with due respect, address the President,

state name and Diocese, and confine any remarks strictly to the

point of debate. If the member is speaking about a resolution

calling for the expenditure of any moneys, including the proposed

Budget of The Episcopal Church, the member shall also state the

percent of diocesan income that deputy’s diocese has committed to

The Episcopal Church for the current year.

Now, this is not a matter affecting the whole Church. It’s a change in Rules of Order of

the House of Deputies, the specific applications of and beyond Roberts Rules of Order by

which the House structures its work.

And the first part, at least, seems so very straightforward. Debaters who take off on

tangents can take a lot of time in the very limited time of the House.

But, of course, that wasn’t the problem. It was that second point, calling on Deputies to

announce the contributions made by each Diocese to the work of the Episcopal Church.

Indeed, the legislative committee recommended rejection of the resolution.

Deputies spoke on both side of the issue. Some went ahead and announced their

Diocese’s contribution to the Episcopal Church, and others didn’t. It was noted that

different dioceses would have different reasons for not paying the full asking to the

national Church (currently 19% of the diocese’s previous year’s revenues). One Deputy

also noted an inconsistency in the resolution itself: a Deputy who reported the diocese’s

percentage would be going off on a tangent relative to the point of debate.

However, what energized most speakers was a concept understood but not put into

words: that this was an effort at public shaming. It’s not that there was no precedent for

accountability about the annual asking. Most of our dioceses have some requirement

that a congregation that hasn’t paid the annual assessment must provide an explanation

and a plan to pay to be admitted to the diocesan convention with seat, voice, and vote.

The thing is, this is done discretely, perhaps even in private. Most of the time the plan is

accepted, and the congregation is seated without much ado, and without public exposure.

There is no such provision at the level of the General Convention. One could argue that

there should be. There are some dioceses that fall short for economic reasons. There

are others that withhold for political reasons. Having some process to examine those

reasons, and perhaps require some consequences, might be worthwhile. Having some

accountability and some expectations for participation in the House of Deputies might

make sense.

But what brought the heat today was this recognition that this was public shaming, even

if those words weren’t spoken. Those who weren’t paying in full for economic reasons

didn’t want it. Arguably, those who don’t pay for political reason didn’t want it (although

it wasn’t an issue that was raised. Even most of those who pay in full saw the tensions

inherent in the public nature of these announcements.

And so the matter was rejected. Once again, that was the recommendation of the

legislative committee; and so all was well.

Well, not quite all. This is an idea that I expect will return, if perhaps in another form.

Still, it was interesting. The known topics, the identified issues haven’t come up yet. This

was unexpected. But this brought energy and passion to the debate on the floor of the

House. It was interesting to see that happen. So, what will the next surprise be?

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