A principle on political resolutions at General Convention

blah blahAs I’m blogging my way through the “Blue” Book and looking at other General Convention resolutions, I keep running across resolutions on political matters. We’ve covered everything from Korea to fracking. No, the latter one has nothing to do with Battlestar Galactica fracking. Alas. But as usual I have digressed.

Some people feel that we should never speak on political matters, because “politics and church don’t mix.” Nonsense. Read the Gospels, and you encounter politics at every turn. On the other hand, there are some who feel that General Convention must speak on every issue of the day, that it is our duty. I’m afraid that this seems a bit like nonsense to me as well.

Christians, as individuals, have a responsibility to engage in the political process to work for justice, freedom, and peace. Thus the church — as the ekklesia — will of necessity get involved in political matters at times. However, there are plenty of ways the Episcopal Church can speak in the political landscape without involving General Convention. For example, the Presiding Bishop can speak on our behalf. It is her job, after all. See Canon I.2.4(a)(2). Individual Episcopalians or diocesan bishops or clergy or lay leaders can speak out. We could use social media to get thousands of Episcopalians to sign petitions. So General Convention isn’t our only option. And it may not even be a good option.

I have several concerns about General Convention passing resolutions on this or that political matter.

  • I’m not clear about the point of some of them. Do we really think President Obama or the United Nations will change policy because we said so. “Holy cow, Mr. President, that resolution made it out of Committee 9, we’d better change course!” Nope.
  • I think the divisive side effects of the resolutions are greater than the positive effects of education or efficacy in many cases.
  • We have more important things to do as the General Convention. If we have some spare time on the last day, let’s debate the arcana of global fair trade agreements.
  • We do not have the expertise to specify policy on many issues about which legislation is proposed.
  • Most of the resolutions are US-centric. As our presiding officers rightly remind us on a regular basis, we are not an American church.

All that said, I think we can speak on some political issues. But here’s my principle.

Let us tell the world what we are going to do about political problems, rather than telling the world what they should do about political problems.

So rather than tell corporations to mind the environment, let’s pledge to have environmentally sustainable congregations. Let’s stop killing so many trees (ahem, General Convention legislative binder. *cough*). Rather than tell President Obama to do this or that about various Middle Eastern crises, let’s divest or invest or travel or boycott or something. Let’s stop calling for an end to the boycott of Cuba and instead set up travel programs to take people there. You get the idea.

And, for the love of God, let’s stop telling other governments what to do. What possible business do we have telling the government of North Korea what to do? How are 800 deputies and 200 bishops going to monitor the use of drones in warfare? Why should we wade into the complexities of the US tax code (remember, we are an international church!)?

You know the person who constantly tells other people what to do? How much do you listen to such a person? Well, that’s us. We are that person you tune out. Blah, blah, blah.

So one more time, repeat after me.

Let us tell the world what we are going to do about political problems, rather than telling the world what they should do about political problems.

9 Comments so far

  1. Miss Jan on May 24th, 2012

    Preach it!

  2. Laura on May 24th, 2012

    I’m totally with you on this.

    I think I’ve mentioned this incident before, but a few years ago the youth of my parish developed a resolution that would encourage every congregation to change one (1) light bulb in their building to a compact fluorescent light bulb. You would have thought we were asking them to kill their grandmother. We had more debate over whether or not to pass this resolution than we did over Israel/Palestine. Suddenly, there were LOTS of concerns to be raised. It did finally pass. But it perfectly illustrates your point. It’s very easy to tell THEM what to do; when WE have to change, well, then, that’s not so easy.

    How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb? A convention, apparently, but only if it’s someone else’s light bulb.

  3. Steve Pankey on May 24th, 2012

    Thank you Scott for this post. If I might be so bold (as I usually am), I offer a suggestion for how to implement your policy. Here in Alabama, our State Constitution is archaic, racist, and cumbersome; requiring amendment (we have over 800 of them) even for a small municipality to change the way their utilities are controlled. A statewide constitutional amendment that really only impacts a very small group. In an effort to push toward a new constitution, those who favor such an action have taken on a practice used successfully in Louisiana and are voting “no” on every constitutional amendment, no matter what. The long term effect is the limiting of local govenment effectiveness which, in turn, causes them to put pressure on the state for help/change.

    I think we could effect change on resolutions political and, quite frankly, often local in nature by eschewing our politcal correctness and voting “no.” Not, “no, we don’t think AIDS is bad,” but rather “no, this is not the business of this Convention.”

  4. Lisa Hamilton on May 24th, 2012

    Amen!

  5. Melody on May 24th, 2012

    You’re right on, as usual. We ought always to look at the plank in our own eyes before we worry about the speck in someone else’s. If we took seriously what we could do, rather than worrying about what other people should do, we’d get a lot more done. We can make statements about what WE, as the Episcopal Church believe (ie We believe apartheid is wrong) or what WE, as the Episcopal Church, are going to do (change lightbulbs, divest, whatever), but let’s stop trying to tell others what they could/should be doing. In the US, that’s what we go to the polls for– taking our faith into the booths to inform who we elect to enact policy for us. Let’s stop trying to do that at General Convention, and instead encourage every Episcopalian to vote.

  6. Chuck Till on May 24th, 2012

    This happens at diocesan conventions too. Every resolution brought before a convention has a direct cost of time and energy and also an opportunity cost in the sense that the convention could be doing something else. The resolutions are often divisive and almost always unproductive — except that they assuage the egos and consciences of those who propose them.

  7. Anne Rudig on May 24th, 2012

    Amen brother Scott! Let’s bring some common sense to GC77.

  8. Irv Cutter on May 24th, 2012

    Scott, I especially agree with your point about the divisive effect of political resolutions. TEC is a broad church, and the political stands that GC takes drive a wedge between proponents and church members who hold different positions.

    I have zero interest in GC considering resolutions that adopt particular stances on issues. But I’d love to see resources that can help people understand an issue fully, so they can make theologically-informed decisions about what stands they’ll take. That sounds like a good a good project for Committees and Commissions: develop tools that individuals or churches or dioceses can use to examine contemporary issues through the lenses of the Bible, tradition, ethics, etc.

  9. [...] The Rev. Scott Gunn, Executive Director of Foward Movement and Clerical Deputy from Rhode Island, suggested a similar strategy to affect change in the way General Convention does business. His hope is to [...]