Monday, June 25, 2012

Legislative Discipline

(This is NOT the fourth in the promised series of four posts on major General Convention issues, but just some thoughts that came to me while driving through Illinois cornfields.)

This will be my fourth General Convention. If memory services, each has been slightly shorter than its predecessor. With travel days, the 2003 convention consumed two weeks on my calendar. This one has me in its grip for only ten days.

At one level, shorter is better. It's certainly less expensive, which is the force driving the change. But the problem is, nothing seems to have been done to trim the agenda, which means that there will be an even bigger rush of business than usual in the last two days, bishops and deputies will be frazzled, tempers will be short, and the quality of decision making will tank.

This got me thinking. Thinking about the Blue Book (which is actually pink this year) in particular. The Blue Book, which is about three inches thick, with letter-size pages, contains only the 'A' resolutions, i.e. those submitted by various interim bodies--Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards (known in geek parlance as CCABs). So it does not include 'B' resolutions (submitted by bishops), 'C' resolutions (submitted by diocesan conventions), and 'D' resolutions (submitted by deputies). These are now piling up in the General Convention office, and a number of trees will give their lives so we can all have a look at them when we arrive in Indianapolis a week from tomorrow.

Many times we have heard a member of one of the CCABs (I think particularly of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, but it happens with others as well), when questioned about that body's work, say something like, "We're just doing what General Convention asked us to do," and then cite the resolution that, sure enough, asks them to do what they're doing.

But if we drill down another level, and ask "Who asked General Convention to ask them to do what they're doing", we begin to get a little dizzy from walking in circles. In the great majority of cases, it was an 'A resolution that got the ball rolling, which means that it was probably the same CCAB that ended up being charged with the responsibility of doing something. So it's usually not some grassroots groundswell on an issue that puts it in front of convention, which then assigns it to a CCAB to work on, but, rather, a small group of laity, clergy, and bishops who not only have a presumptive interest in, if not a passion for, the subject matter at hand, but probably also a subconscious instinct to participate in group self-preservation. What if a CCAB exhausts its mandate, runs out of stuff to do? Will it just go quietly into that good night? Not likely. It will attempt to ensure its continued existence by proposing 'A' resolutions that have a privileged status by appearing in hard copy in front of all bishops and deputies weeks before the convention, and which will then create work for them by which to justify their continued life.

So ... what if we do this?: Restrict CCABs to proposing resolutions that are "action items," not requests to study this or develop that. If General Convention wants to give them that sort of work, let the impetus come from somewhere other than the interim body that will likely be assigned the task. This would make it more difficult for a small coterie with vested interests to place items on the General Convention agenda. Then we might be able to keep shortening General Convention, and still have the energy to devote attention to matters that arise organically from the life of the church, not in the legislative hothouse of a CCAB.

5 comments:

Martial Artist said...

Your Grace,

You write: "What if a CCAB exhausts its mandate, runs out of stuff to do? Will it just go quietly into that good night? Not likely. It will attempt to ensure its continued existence by proposing 'A' resolutions that have a privileged status by appearing in hard copy in front of all bishops and deputies weeks before the convention, and which will then create work for them by which to justify their continued life."

Of course, what you are describing what virtually all (that is probably a generous assessment on my part) bureaucracies do. It is in the nature of the beast. If you don't believe me, try reading the 125 page (octavo) book Bureaucracy, by Ludwig von Mises. It greatly illuminates the problems with almost all non-market inttitutions. You should be able to obtain a copy through Interlibrary Loan, if you don't know any Austrian school economists.

Pax et bonum,
Keith Töpfer

C. Wingate said...

This certainly makes sense. In the case of the SCLM there has been a lot of "who is going to use this anyway" remarks about the current proposals which suggest a lack of pressing need for the work.

The Underground Pewster said...

Once a General Convention convenes and people begin to wade through the masses of resolutions, and have to listen to ammendments, motions, people at microphones, etc, you can guess what the quality of the "legislation" that comes from sure an event will be. Is it any wonder that we are in the shape we are in?

Jim said...

I think it is an excellent idea. I have another. In this age, nearly 100% of those elected have or can obtain internet access. Let's use it intelligently.

First, we can save trees with an online document repository. Second, we can begin GC three weeks before the meeting for purposes of submitted amendments and clarification. Let tin he responsible committees begin the process of writing omnibus resolutions well before the first gavel.

FWIW
jimB

Jon said...

I mostly like your idea, although it would be worthwhile to go through the list of CCABs and eliminate any that are doing work that can just as effectively be done in other ways.