In Defense of Debate

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This entry was originally posted July 15, 2009 as part of the website “Slouching Towards Anaheim.”

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” -Winston Churchill

The House of Deputies has been running pretty slow lately. I hate to say it because I think President Bonnie Anderson is a wonderful person, but I think she needs to learn how to tell people to sit down and shut up.

And there are a few people in the House of Deputies who need to be told as much.

President of the House of Deputies is an unspeakably difficult job, and I’m not sure why anyone would want it. But I’m happy for Bonnie and I think she’s done a number of wonderful things. Plus this is her first General Convention as President, so I feel like she should be forgiven a few mistakes now and again.

But unfortunately the HoD has started to rebel against her and it’s hurting everyone. All told we’ve wasted hours through parliamentary procedure because people feel the need to take a “point of personal privilege” whenever they want to whine about something, or worse, when they have a question that any Senior Deputy could have answered (Senior Deputy status is given to those who have served at seven or more General Conventions. They are clearly indicated with yellow ribbons on their name tags as well as big yellow bows on the posts that indicate deputations with senior deputies in them. It is very easy to find them).

We’ve had to enact all sorts of special rules just to try to get things done in time. We cut down the amount of time any one person can talk from three to two minutes, we limited total debate time to twenty minutes, and we ruled that amendments can only be made after the first five minutes of debate. And of course passing these takes up time because not everyone agrees that they are good ideas. We just started on the agenda for day five this afternoon. It’s day seven.

I like to think that we’ll all learn from this, and that three years from now when we meet again, both Bonnie and the deputies will have taken some time to study their Rules of Order a bit more. There’s always too much to do at General Convention and we’ll never be completely on time, but it’d be nice to get down to being only one day behind.

I want to make it clear that this is not Bonnie’s fault. I’m also not against debating. But things would be going a lot smoother if people reconsidered how often they need to be in front of the microphone.

For example, today D025 came back to us, as amended by the House of Bishops. We all knew it was coming, we all knew the amendments meant nothing. And we still had people lined up at the microphones, pouring out the same old garbage that we’d already spent hours (and really, years) debating. The resolution was truly the same as it had been two days earlier when we had passed it with a strong majority, in a Vote by Orders none the less (see “Vocabulary”). Yet there we were again. Debating again. Voting by orders again. It was ridiculous. I spent most of the time with my head in my hands, hoping that each new person to approach the microphone was there to call the question and end debate. No luck.

Of course the resolution passed again, as we all knew it would. Still, it was time wasted. It’s time to move past our own internal debates and move the focus back to mission.

Speaking of not quite getting the point, D025 certainly put us in the news. A quick internet search gave me plenty of results, everything from The New York Times to The UK Guardian to the LA Times to my personal favorite, the Yakima Herald. If you’d like to read a few for yourself, I recommend a google news search, sorted by date, for the words “episcopal anglican gay.” There’s nothing like a keyword search to get you straight to the point.

I made the mistake of starting to read the comments section of the New York Times article. There was nothing all that surprising. Commenters tended to fall into one of three categories: 1) Supporting the inclusion, saying it’s about time and good for the Episcopalians, 2) Reminding us that homosexuality is a sin and that there’s a special circle in hell waiting for us, and 3) Generally saying that both the decision and the religion are outdated and obsolete.

Reading a few of the Category Two comments got me thinking about the conservative members of the Episcopal Church, and what we can do to ensure that we haven’t simply switched which group we are alienating. I think it is vitally important that conservatives stay in the Church. If we become, as some have cautioned, a “liberal fundamentalist” church, then we run the risk of following each other rather than Christ.

We need argument. We need dissension. I am proud to say that on several occasions this week I have allowed myself to be swayed by a good and reasoned argument. I think this is a sign of my own mental health. I have long believed that the Episcopal Church’s ability to include so many members with such radically different ideas is its greatest strength. I stay in the Episcopal Church because I know it’s okay if no one agrees with me. I love that.

If we allow our conservative brothers and sisters to leave without so much as a fight, then we are only hurting ourselves. They keep us thinking. They keep us honest.
I would like to close by highlighting the importance of assessing people as individuals, rather than by the groups they belong to. The following are two quotes from The New York Times comments section. While both hold the same belief that homosexuality is a sin, they are clearly very different people. I think the first has already left us, and I deeply hope that the second sticks around.I suddenly realize that even now I am writing as though everyone who reads this is a liberal, which I know is part of the problem. If there are any conservatives out there reading this, I beg you to stay with the Episcopal Church. I would personally love to talk to you. The fact that you have stayed with us this long shows an incredible amount of patience and understanding, and a commitment to the faith that we could all learn from.

William Gill, Esq.
Montgomery, Alabama
“The Episcopal Church USA lesbian leader claims that “individual salvation is a Western heresy.” That statement, along with this latest development of formally approving “gays” into Christian ministry confirms the final death knell to the Episcopal Church USA. That denomination is completely fallen away.”

Omaha, NE
“Homosexuality is a sin according to the Bible. Man having fallen from God’s grace is a sinful being. There are plenty of sins other than homosexuality. Bishops are human just like the rest of us. They are sinful beings and it matters not that they are gay or straight, both are sinful. What is important is whether they are truly repentant of their sins and seek the forgiveness of God and try to amend their sinful ways.”

What seems to be the problem for most members of the church is that living an open homosexual lifestyle is to be openly unrepentant and not acknowledge that sin. Some will deny that homosexuality is a sin at all. That is why there is such upheaval in the church and the worldwide Anglican Communion.

As an Episcopalian, I and others want to be forgiving and accepting of all who seek forgiveness and repentance. Gay priests/ministers/bishops fly in the face of that. I also know in my heart that there are plenty of straight priests/ministers/bishops who sin in other ways that are less openly defiant, and they are not repentant and continue in their sinful ways. Should the latter be treated any differently than the former?

The Episcopal Church continues to pray for guidance in addressing this issue. The true sin would be to adopt a course of action that would destroy the Church.”

(In light of what was said in the first comment, I feel I should point out that we are not the “Episcopal Church USA,” we are in fact an international denomination, and that as far as I’ve heard the Presiding Bishop is not gay.)


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