Frank Lockwood of Bible Belt Blogger thinks there is something significant about the fact that language about governmental transparency has disappeared from the introductory copy on the IamEpiscopalian.org Web site. Mark Harris does not.
Neither knows why the change was made. Nor do we. But, here, for what it is worth, are a few thoughts on transparency in the release of information regarding the consent process for Bishop-elect Kevin Thew Forrester of the Diocese of Northern Michigan.
Bishops and Standing Committees who told reliable reporters whether they voted for or against the Rev. Thew Forrester were well within their rights. It was, after all, their vote, and, as a news blog, we are always grateful when someone shares information with us. However, there is a significant difference between what an individual is permitted to do and what an organization is required to do.
The consent process is open for 120 days. Neither the Episcopal Church nor the diocese in which the election took place is required to provide a running tally to the public during that time. There may be arguments for doing so, but there are also, certainly, arguments against doing so. Imagine, for instance, a consent process that goes down to the wire. Is it really in the Church's interest to have the last few bishops or standing committees aware of their potential to make or break a candidacy? Is it in the Church's interest for those last few voters to become the subject of churchwide lobbying campaigns?
The Church would want to consider these questions carefully before deciding to produce a running tally. There has been no time to do that in this instance. We've never had an episcopal consent process in which reporters contacted each diocese and immediately reported on how its votes were cast. To expect the Church to decide, in the instant, to change a longstanding policy of announcing results either when a candidate is confirmed or when the 120 day period is over is unrealistic.
Information regarding this election became public faster than any previous election because so many standing committees were willing to be open with the media. Somehow the Church still finds itself criticized for failing in transparency. The charge is unpersuasive.
As those of you who have been following our coverage of the appointment of a thus-far-unnamed panel of theologians assembled by the House of Bishops Theology Committee are aware, the Episcopal Church even has its fights about what kinds of information should be made public in public. The ability to be openly disputatious may seem an odd sort of blessing, but it is a blessing nonetheless.