Four Thoughts on Transparency

Here are some interesting ideas for discussion:

Thought 1:

I have asked at least 6 Bishops if they plan to release the vote count of what they propose.  All have said, they did not know and have not decided that yet.  I think it is very important that we know the vote count.  If whatever comes forward is a 33-31 vote (out of 64 Bishops), that is a very thin margin to try and pass something at General Conference.  If it is 38-26, you have a 60%/40% split, a strong majority.  If it is 43+ to 21- then it is 2 to 1 or better and you start to get into a clear consensus.

A clear consensus or at least a strong majority will be a powerful voice at General Conference.  I have heard from several Bishops that they aspire to consensus, but it is very hard.  Agreed.  Finding consensus at General Conference will be even harder if we are not sure where the Bishops stand.

Thought 2:

I have asked the same 6 Bishops if they plan to release how each Bishop votes.  They have all said emphatically, No!  We do not do that, especially on controversial issues.  I wonder about that.  Who is being protected here?  From a transparency perspective, why would they not stand up individually and say, this is how I voted and why?  And, if they stand in the minority, will they support the majority position?

As a former elected official, every vote I took was public, controversial or not.  And, I had to stand on my record for re-election…which, as you may have heard, did not go well!  One could make an argument that the Bishops are elected officials…and all the US Bishops are in office for life.  Why is it a violation of “covenant” to say, “Here I stand?”  And if some Bishops reveal their votes and some do not, then we have redaction politics to figure out who is who.  This seems unnecessary.

Thought 3

The Bishops are planning on a “listening tour” of sorts this Fall in each of their conferences.  Are they going to lead these conversations and just present both sides without revealing their view?  And, why ask lay and clergy what they think if the Bishop will not reciprocate?  It seems odd.  Particularly if the plan they propose is to agree to disagree, they could model that.

Thought 4

Will the Bishops advocate for their position?  Will the Council of Bishops hire a team to go out and promote their position or will it simply be presented and the Bishops step back?  I have mixed feelings about this.  On one hand, if they like their plan they should sell it.  On the other hand, once they submit the petition, it becomes the property of the delegates of the General Conference.  The vote count will say more than any publicity.

What do you think?  Should we know the vote count?  What about who voted how?  I think this is an interesting topic.

13 responses to “Four Thoughts on Transparency

  1. Well, Here’s my thoughts. I taught my high school journalism students that if they had an opinion they needed to own it with their name. If they could not put their name on it, they had no right to publish. I think that needs to be the standard for all votes. We cannot be cloaked in secrecy if we are to move forward and establish transparency.

  2. The plan put forth ought to have clear consensus and it should be “sold” as being the best path forward. If not, then 2019GC will be chaos.

  3. I believe Bishop McKee in North Texas has already done some listening and has also already shared his opinion. My guess – some bishops will share and some will not. I have more respect for those who share even if I disagree with their opinion.

    • Thanks. I was fortunate to meet with many and our UMC bishop. He said it is confusing and complicated. All I know is, the current law book excludes some from both sides of the eucharistic table. As just a high baritone in the choir, I was sent to vote at AC about 7 times and I got an education on exclusion

  4. Yes, I don’t believe there are secret votes at any elected level, except in the case of personnel matters. This is not one of these.
    BTW – I’ve had some bad experiences with “listening” sessions. I’ve found that the listening is generally to get more info so the presenter can sell an argument better. The problem with listening sessions is that presenters don’t listen.

  5. I’m not convinced that the Bishops’ vote needs to be public. The ultimate vote is of the General Conference; everything else up to that point is preparatory. I can imagine (perhaps without warrant, I’ll grant) that some bishops will be very sensitive to the commitments of their conference constituencies, as well as to the polarization among those constituencies. For a great many people, the issues, the debate, and thus the vote is binary and without nuance. It is a zero-sum game. If a Bishop is genuinely conflicted and weighs multiple items in the vote, that complexity will be lost/ignored to many who view this matter as only a matter of win/lose. A bishop who votes one way may want to bring the complexity and ambiguities to her/his conference, hoping to influence thoughtful members of the conference. But if their vote is known, it is much more likely that potential for thoughtfulness will dissipate in partisan, binary commitments. It seems to me that there is more opportunity for influential dialogue if the Bishops’ votes remain private.

  6. I think the Bishops need to publicly own their votes. And the General Conference vote needs to be very open as well. There is so much secrecy today. I dont feel that churches can afford to continue on that path.

  7. I think that the bishops need to be open about their vote and able to share their reasoning. That’s the leadership the General Conference is asking for. Folks in their Annual Conferences may agree or disagree with their position but they will know their bishop has the courage of his/her convictions.

  8. I appreciate all your questions and, while understanding there are important issues on both sides of the transparency questions, I would support at least knowing the vote total and would expect individual bishops to stand up for their own decisions. My main concern is your last issue. While the final decision should, and will, reside with the delegates the whole point of this endeavor was to turn to the Council of Bishops for decisive leadership. Putting the vote total before the General Conference and retreating into the episcopal shadows will not meet this standard. Traditionally bishops are not supposed to interject themselves into General Conferences’ decision making process. This is not a traditional time. General Conference has asked them to take extraordinary leadership. I find it hard to believe that General Conference will endorse an abrupt change of course unless it is strongly advocated by the Council of Bishops.
    All your questions are connected by the overall question, “Will the bishops own the guidance they offer to the church.”
    Thank you for your leadership!

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