The Political Captivity
of General Convention
By Victoria Heard and Jordan Hylden
hatever General Convention will look like in2015 and beyond, it will be ashadow of its for-merly huge self. There is no money. The Rt. Rev.Stacy F. Sauls, chief operating officer of the Episco- pal Church, is right: this church spends too muchmoney on administration and governance and too lit-tle on mission. The money is gone, and endowmentsare depleted; Episcopaliansare far older and roughlya third of thetribe has vanished since the high-watermark of 1965. A good crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Majorstructural proposals for change are circulating,including one that Sauls first presented to the Houseof Bishops. But rather than spend much time ondetails, we want instead to step back and ask morebasic questions about how we make decisions as achurch, as the people of God.We believe thepast General Convention structurehas slavishly copied in ecclesial ink the politics andlegislative processes of American culture. Episco- palians are fond of saying that the men who wrotethe U.S. Constitution also created the church’s Con-stitution and Canons. It is an exaggeration but atelling one: General Convention looks and acts toomuch like Congress and not enough like a council of the Church. Joseph D. Small, longtime director of theology,worship and education ministriesfor the Presbyte-rian Church (U.S.A.), wrote in the March issue of
about what he called his church’s“democratic captivity” — its reliance on seculardemocratic procedure rather than proper theologicaldiscernment to order its common life. This, heargues, has been a key factorin aggravating hischurch’s divisions. To such observations, we canonly concur. In this spirit, we wish to provide fourcentral suggestions for the General Convention of the future.
cernment, Not Procedure
During the 2006 General Convention the Most Rev. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, signed up tospeak at a joint committee hearing. Before long itbecame clear that his turn would never arrive, as hewas speaker No. 542. Someone agreed to change places so that the emissary of the Archbishop of Canterbury could speak. The archbishop was asgreen as any first-time deputy about how GeneralConvention works. Any experienced deputy can attest that those whoknow how to work the system are far more effectivethan those who are not. But skill with
Robert’s Rulesof Order
has no correlation with Christian wisdomand spiritual insight. Ours is a system that rewardsskilled and bold parliamentarians, who know how tomodify an issue to meaninglessness or bury it in anunfunded study. Quiet voices shaped by Christianaction, prayer,and Scripture often go unheard.
2. People, Not Politicians
The House of Deputies is comically immense: rep-resenting barely two million people, it is a hundreddeputies larger than the Parliament of India, whichrepresents 712 million. Afirst glimpse of the seniorhouse is like seeing the Grand Canyon for the firsttime. A sense of absurdity comes with the realizationthat every diocese haseight votes in the House of Deputies. The Diocese of Texas, with its 27,042 inchurch on an average Sunday,has the same eight votes as the Diocese of Fond du Lac with its 872. Adifferent way to seeit: a communicant of Los Ange-
THE LIVING CHURCH • June 3, 2012
Scott A. Gunn photo