Monday, July 13, 2009

"Who Has the Pulse, Bishops or Deputies?"

That's part of the title of an interesting piece written by the Rev. John Ohmer. He thinks that the House of Bishops better reflects the views of the rank and file in the Episcopal Church than the House of Deputies.

Here's a teaser:

One irony of the General Convention is that the House of Bishops is more representative of the folks back home than the House of Deputies.

Conventional wisdom is that the House of Deputies, made up of lay people and local clergy who have to stand for re-election every three years, has the pulse of the people back home. Thus the cacophonous, sometimes raucous nature of the House of Deputies as diverse constituencies battle it out in a Convention Center of ideas.

Meanwhile, the thinking goes, the House of Bishops, made up of men and women who are elected to serve, even in retirement, until death, gather in carpeted, quieted rooms voting their consciences at round tables, secure in the knowledge they can ride out an unpopular vote back home.

But the reality is different.

Read it all.

Also, read Fr. Ohmer's additional reflections on this topic here.


Bill Carroll said...

I'm going to take a stab at this, which I don't mean to sound as aggressive as it might.

It doesn't much matter, since the members of both houses are chosen to lead. We shouldn't confuse the democratic elements of our polity with a desire to engage in direct democracy. What we have is episcope focused in the bishops but shared with lay and clerical deputies. All ordained ministry lifts up in an iconic and focused way gifts that are present by the Spirit's grace throughout the body.

At a congregational level, I have to confront this sense that we are somehow run by a congregational meeting all the time. We are an egalitarian body but not a democratic one. We have an apostolic order, focused in the rector as representative of the bishop and vestry as representative of the elected lay leadership. We sometimes have to make unpopular decisions for the good of the body. The body has a role in guiding the leadership and in choosing them, but it also has a responsibility for supporting their discernment within the limits supplied by conscience.

I think it is wise that neither deputies nor bishops can act alone, though I am really hoping that the bishops will take their lead from the deputies this time. In 2006, they strong armed the deputies, to the harm of the Church.

Bryan Owen said...

I basically agree with your reflections on polity, Bill, and I appreciate you sharing the opinion that the HoB should take the lead from the HoD.

Having said that, I do find the basic observation of this piece - that the HoB is more in synch with the grassroots views of the Episcopal Church in this General Convention than the HoD - both interesting and important. That observation may or may not be true across the board. I suspect, however, that is very much the case in my own Diocese of MS, and especially among the laity.

I wonder, though, if we can really say it doesn't much matter who has the pulse of the broader Episcopal Church. If basic changes in theology and practice are enacted by General Convention that fly in the face of the pulse of the broader Episcopal Church such that these changes are not received as "decisions for the good of the body" but rather rejected as decisions that harm the body, can we really say that doesn't much matter?

I ask this, not to take sides in the ongoing ideological warfare within our Church, but rather to note the importance of reception in the life of the Church. As I recall from reading Jaroslav Pelikan's magisterial Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition, there were other early Church councils that met in addition to the seven ecumenical councils. But the outcomes of these councils did not become a matter of core doctrine and practice because they were not received by the rest of the clergy and laity of the broader Church. IOW, the outcome of these other councils' deliberations were not in synch with the pulse of the broader Church.

Joe Rawls said...

I have a hunch that many of the folks who are elected deputies are politically astute (that's how they got elected, after all), strongly committed to particular viewpoints on the issues, and, apparently, lovers of meetings to the point of masochism. In the Dio of Los Angeles they tend to get reelected deputies and are also active in other diocesan affairs. So I think there is a strong element of self-selection which the system allows, if not encourages. These people will tend to be different from the typical pew-sitter.

Bryan Owen said...

There's much truth in what you're saying, Joe. General Convention is, after all, a political process just as much as (if not more than) a process of theological or moral discernment. Plus, many of the rest of us simply don't have the time or resources to devote to this stuff.