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PRESIDING BISHOP WRITES

In her letter to the Primates about the confirmation of the election of a same-sex partnered priest to be Suffragan of Los Angeles, the Presiding Bishop argues that the consent process represents the majority viewpoint of Episcopalians. Laying aside the matter of whether such an election should be determined by “majority opinion” when it defies the present Canons of TEC, the matter of whether TEC is a democratic institution is open to question.

In an age of instant communication institutions which once seemed democratic can be anything but representative. Our General Convention is peopled by those who can afford to attend, in terms of getting time off from work, having the means to enjoy the opportunities offered by expensive hotels in expensive cities (even if dioceses are able to foot the bill for rooms, travel etc) and who themselves attend diocesan conventions with enough regularity to be electable. A significant group are old hands, savvy in the arcane ways of Convention rules, known to each other and to the administration. It all sounds rather like Congress. Unlike secular government, there are no opinion polls to assess the views of parishioners. Deputies are not known to travel around dioceses hearing the views of parishioners. There is no culture of parishioners contacting deputies, no “town hall meetings”, and little fear of losing one’s seat. Thus the checks and balances of a democratic system are unknown.

One house of Convention is peopled by purple personages elected by diocesan conventions but thereafter enjoying tenure without fear of recall! There is something at best optimistic and at worst disingenuous about claims that the policies adopted by GC or the Executive Committee or the PB represent grass-roots opinion.

At least some of the Primates evaluate the PB’s letter with these facts in mind. They are the more irksome when overseas Provinces are criticised for their alleged lack of democracy. I have attended meetings of the English General Synod. My visit to York a few years ago was very instructed. Bishops and delegates were housed at York University, ate meals together, mingled, and met as one House for all business. Members of Synod are elected by their peers and by parishioners in discreet constituencies. Direct election of members of synod is the general practice around the Communion. Synodical government is the established practice everywhere and by all. I would go as far as to suggest that our form of governance is more of the type to be found in those provinces which grant a disproportionate authority to primates or bishops, although of a different genre of limited democracy.

TEC could easily adopt a system more representative of the people in the pew, by the simple devise of sending important legislation to deaneries, diocesan conventions and the provinces before final deliberation by General Convention. However reform is unlikely because the present system works for those in power.

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