And also with blue: Blogging through General Convention resolutions
If you are a church geek, I have good news. This blog is FINALLY about to begin an epic and brief exploration of resolutions proposed for action by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, set to take place in Baltimore, MD in a few weeks. Frankly, I’ve had trouble mustering the energy for this project, partly because I wondered what might be happening this summer, since we already postponed a year. Moreover, getting necessary work done seems a bit more exhausting than it used to before the pandemic. I’ve had less energy for side projects.
If you follow Episcopal Church governance matters, you know that a few weeks ago, through intervention by our church’s Executive Council, the plans for General Convention were tossed out, due to concerns over COVID transmission. I for one am grateful that we didn’t proceed with business as usual. For whatever reason, there was no backup plan, so church leaders have been scrambling to adjust our planning for a shorter, leaner convention. You can read the details elsewhere.
Now that we have a plan of sorts, I’ve been digging into the resolutions more earnestly, and I finally decided to blog some of them. We’ll see how many I get through. In previous years, I blogged through the so-called Blue Book reports. I should add here, that this book has not always been blue, but the current secretary of General Convention has kept the Blue Book blue, for which I’m grateful. By the way, you can read my exclusive breaking-news article in which this blog told the world for the first time which shade of blue this year’s Blue Book would be. Spoiler alert: it’s St. Giles Blue.
This year, because of the short timeframe and because I’m keen to cover as much ground as possible, I’m going to blog the resolutions by legislative committee rather than by “interim body.” What does that mean, you say? Between conventions, various committees generate reports and resolutions, and this is called the Blue Book (again, it’s actually blue these days). These resolutions are then assigned to various committees which meet during or, this year, before General Convention that decide whether the resolutions should be killed off or modified or recommended and so on.
I’m not going to be providing commentary on the (very important!) written reports by the committees, task forces, commissions, agencies, and boards that generated resolutions and reports. Especially if you are a deputy or bishop, you should read these reports on your own.
I will be blogging each legislative committee’s assigned resolutions. Basically, I’ll start with a few committees whose resolutions I think are important for one reason or another, and then I’ll keep going until I finish or General Convention comes, whichever comes first. As of this writing, there are 344 resolutions for us to consider. In 2015, I managed to blog through 276 resolutions, and in 2018, I covered 244. Since I’m not writing about the written reports in the Blue Book, I’m hoping to get through a few more resolutions.
In 2012, my series was titled simply, “Blogging Blue.” In 2015, my series was called “Tangled Up in Blue.” Last time, after crowdsourcing the name on Facebook, I titled the series “Blue’s Clues.” This time I crowdsourced on Twitter, and the Rev’d Bowie Snodgrass was the first to suggest “And also with blue.” She has been sent a copy of my latest book, Easter Triumph, Easter Joy: Meditations for the Fifty Days of Eastertide.
In any case, And also with blue is the name of this year’s series. It’s a bit of a misnomer, since I’m not technically blogging through the Blue Book, but I hope you’ll just go with the flow in the name of tradition. We’re good at that in church, right?
My intention in this series is twofold. First, it helps me in my own careful reading of the reports and resolutions. In a sense, these blog posts are my notes, to which I will refer when I am serving as a deputy this summer. Second, I hope this might be useful to other deputies, bishops, and observers. Often, very brief resolutions have a back story that’s not readily apparent. I’m no expert, but sometimes I know the back story — or potential side-effects — and I can share them. For what it’s worth, I’ll share my thinking about why I’m likely to vote for or against a resolution. My hope is that you, dear reader, will comment here regularly, because I often learn a great deal from the comments. Sometimes this leads me to change my thinking entirely.
I am NOT telling anyone else how to vote. If you are a deputy or a bishop, you’ll need to do your own work to figure out how to vote. This is how I think I’m likely to vote, based both on the information I have and on the text in front of me. Between now and voting time, I will certainly learn things, and the resolutions themselves will change. So, it’s not just that I’m avoiding telling others how to vote, but even that I will surely vote differently based on better information, insights gained in conversation, revised text, and, perhaps most importantly, prayer.
Much of the time, I’ll try to give a sense of why someone might differ from my view, but I am not pretending to be unbiased. I clearly do have biases, and here are a few of them:
I favor resolutions that are
- likely to encourage discipleship, whether among individuals, congregations, dioceses, or our whole church.
- effective at supporting evangelism.
- appropriate to the scope of General Convention’s authority.
- potentially efficacious (that is, they actually might do something).
I tend not to favor resolutions that are
- feel-good efforts to address a problem, especially when that feel-good “solution” comes at no cost to us.
- outside the scope of what General Convention should be doing, in my view.
- poorly thought out, or likely to have unfortunate and unintended consequences.
Here’s another set of biases that given my approach: I call myself an orthodox Christian, meaning that I say the historic creeds, celebrate liturgies of our church, read scripture, and proclaim the Good News of God in Jesus Christ without irony and absent any crossed fingers. Now, that said, I am quite liberal on political and social issues. So at times, you’ll see conservative (in the old-fashioned sense), progressive, and traditional views here, sometimes mixed up together.
My sense is that General Convention spends too much time on fairly pointless legislation, so I’ll be likely to vote against a fair number of resolutions. For historical context, in 2021 I thought I would vote yes on 65% of resolutions. In 2015, it was 52% yes. And last time in 2018, I was more positive again at 63% yes.
One bit of disclosure. I serve at Forward Movement, a ministry of the Episcopal Church that inspires disciples and empowers evangelists. Among other things, we are an official agency of the Episcopal Church. We have partnerships with several other entities in the Episcopal Church. If there are resolutions which materially impact us or our partners, I will endeavor to disclose those potential conflicts fully here.
Under the rules of the House of Deputies, abstentions are not allowed. So if there is a resolution that causes a material conflict of interest with my work, I will request permission to abstain from voting, or I will absent myself from the floor during the vote.
When you read blog posts or social posts urging support or rejection of particular pieces of legislation, I urge you to consider who is saying what, and why they might be saying it. Sometimes people have (undisclosed) interests.
We are almost done here. I want to note one more thing. I love General Convention. To be fair: I don’t always love the way we run it, and sometimes I don’t agree with the decisions we make. But I love how it embodies some deeply held values of the Episcopal Church.
- Our governance is democratic and, ideally, transparent. Anyone can tune in to our (online this year) committee hearings and register to speak. Nearly everything we decide as a church is voted on. The budget, the resolutions, the minutes, and the proceedings themselves (by live stream) are publicly available. Minority interests are meant to have their say on all matters.
- Lay people, along with bishops and priests & deacons, are involved at every level of governance.
- All that we do is undergirded by worship. Even this year at our shortened convention, every day of General Convention, there is public worship. During the time of worship, the considerable legislative machine grinds to a halt so that any deputy or bishop can set aside time for the worship Almighty God.
As I wrote last time, you can expect several things in this series.
- An index of resolutions with links to the texts themselves and to my (possibly half-baked) opinions in a whole series of posts.
- A sense of how I’m likely to vote, based on what I now know. Trust me when I say I’ll keep an open mind, and I may vote quite differently based on new information, persuasive arguments, textual changes, or my caffeination level. Again: I’m not telling anyone else how to vote, just sharing my own intentions.
- Candor. I will call them like I see them.
- A survey of all the A resolutions and as many B, C, and D resolutions as I can muster. For those who don’t know, A resolutions come from churchwide groups; B resolutions from bishops; C resolutions from dioceses; and D resolutions from deputies.
And that’s it. I welcome suggestions and questions in the comments. Sometime in the next few days, look for the first of what should be twenty or more posts on Episcopal Church legislation.
Church geeks of the world, unite!
NOTE: This post is a slightly revised reprise of the introduction post from 2018.