Tuesday, June 23, 2015

An Analogy That Falls Short

The 78th General Convention began to get under way in Salt Lake City today.  Legislative committees held their initial meetings and began taking steps toward affirming, amending, or rejecting various resolutions coming before them.  These resolutions may adopt positions of the Episcopal Church, amend canons, or amend the constitution. The first two types of resolutions require action of only one General Convention, while a constitutional amendment requires the approval of two General Conventions.

Literally hundreds of resolutions will be reviewed by the 22 legislative committees.  My legislative committee – Governance and Structure – already has 40 resolutions before it.  That is three days before the deadline for submission of all resolutions.  So, more are to be expected!

A primer of General Convention procedure might be helpful.  I will also add an editorial comment.

It has been noted that the General Convention, which has its roots in 1789, is similar in structure to the Congress of the United States.  There are two houses, the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops.  The House of Deputies (analogous to the House of Representatives) actually predates the House of Bishops (analogous to the Senate), because the original General Convention came before there were Bishops in the American Church.

The House of Deputies is comprised of one-half laity and one-half clergy.  Each diocese is allowed four lay deputies and four clergy deputies (whether priests or deacons).  There are 110 jurisdictions in the Episcopal Church, making the House of Deputies’ membership 880 at full participation.  Dioceses and jurisdictions (a jurisdiction would be exemplified a non-geographic entity, such as Navajoland) are also allowed to elect four lay and four clergy alternates.  Mississippi elects a full slate of deputies and alternates for each General Convention, though not all dioceses or jurisdictions do so.

The House of Bishops is populated by all Bishops in the Episcopal Church, no matter their status.  Diocesan Bishops, Bishops Coadjutor, Bishops Suffragan, Assisting Bishops, and resigned (the preferred term instead of retired) Bishops all have voice and vote in the House of Bishops.  All Bishops present on Saturday will be eligible to vote in the election of the new Presiding Bishop.

Resolutions which are to be considered by General Convention first face the scrutiny of the legislative committees.  Different resolutions go to different committees, depending on the subject matter.  When those resolutions are acted on by their legislative committees, they are placed on the agenda for either the House of Bishops or the House of Deputies (the house of first consideration depends on which committee they come from; some go to the House of Bishops first, some got to the House of Deputies).

The resolution is then considered by the house of original action. When a resolution is approved by the house of original action, it must then go to the other house for action (Resolutions approved by the Deputies goes to the Bishops and vice-versa).  The other house may approve the resolution as passed by the other house, amend the resolution, or vote to kill the resolution.  If it is approved as passed by the other house, it is considered adopted by Convention.  If it is amended, it must go back to the originating house for consideration of the amendments.

In order for a resolution to be adopted by General Convention, it must be approved by both houses in the same form. Otherwise, it is not adopted – no matter how far it gets, without agreement.

There are various rules of the House of Deputies which make enactment more complex, such as voting by orders, or voting by roll call, or a recorded vote by orders.  That is going a bit into the weeds.

My editorial comment: This model does mimic the United States Congress.  That appeals to some and not to others. However, the analogy to the United States Government ends there.  It ends there because there is no “balance of power” or “checks and balances.” 

There is no Executive Branch or Judicial Branch which serve as a counterbalance to General Convention.  Our polity has not provided such a balance.  That leaves many issues of enforcement and interpretation up in their air.  How will the resolutions be enforced?  Who will enforce them? How will they be interpreted? Who will interpret them? 

Valid questions which need to be addressed. 

Issues which will be on the forefront of this General Convention: 

The election of the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
The report of the Task Force for the Study of Marriage and associated resolutions
The report of the Task Force for the Reimagining of the Episcopal Church and associated resolutions

More tomorrow.  Please keep the General Convention and the Mississippi Deputation in your prayers.    

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