Should General Convention meet as a unicameral house

We don’t have much by way of details yet, but scuttlebutt from the House of Bishops suggests that it may be worth discussing whether the Episcopal Church would be better served if General Convention abolished the Houses of Bishops and Deputies and met unicamerally.

What are your thoughts? I don’t have a well developed opinion on this issue in the abstract, and would like to hear from people who pay attention to this sort of thing.

Obviously, the composition of this body would matter. How many bishops, how many clergy, how many laity? Also, diversity might be an issue because if we are to include all of the bishops, or even all diocesan bishops in the new assembly, we start with a very white, very male and possibly rather old group.

Also, if the bishops continued to meet twice a year (as they do now) and the other members of the unicameral assembly met only at General Convention, power in the church would shift away from convention and toward the bishops’ meeting. I don’t currently object to the bishops meeting twice a year–Being a bishop is a lonely job.–but if it became the primary place at which policy could be discussed, formulated and then brought as a package to the convention, I think it would be very difficult for lay people and clergy to play a significant role in the governance of the church.

On the other hand, the Lutherans meet unicamerally, if I am not mistaken, and if it works for them (Does it? I don’t know.) maybe it can work for us.

Just to lay my own cards on the table, disclosure wise, my communications firm does work for the President of the House of Deputies, and, at the moment, four bishops.

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  1. Bill Dilworth

    What are the advantages of a unicameral body?

  2. TomRightmyer

    The CofE General Synod meets as one body but bishops, clergy, and lay vote separately – at least on major issues.

    Some years ago Bishop Fraser of NC suggested GC include one each bishop, clergy, and lay deputy.

    The Presbyterians have a system that requires at least some matters be approved at Presbytery level. Such a system might increase the support of dioceses for GC actions.

    Our present system worked well when the Episcopal Church was smaller and east coast. Maybe we’re going back to that.

  3. tobias haller

    One thing to note is that our “bicameral” nature is part accident and part evolution. Originally there were no bishops, of course, and the first constitution said that once there were enough to form a house they would meet separately, but not originate legislation — as a “house of revision.” Until there were enough to meet separately they were to meet with the deputies — in a unicameral setting.

    The Bishops being a “house of revision” soon changed, though it wasn’t until 1901 that full parity between the houses was established (having to do with arcane rules about vetos, pocket vetos, and overriding vetos.)

    I think there are a number of advantages to a unicameral body, some merely matters of efficiency, but some the theological virtue of all orders of ministry hearing each other in a single setting. It would still be possible to vote by orders (and “orders and dioceses” as the Constitution requires) and require concurrence in all three orders for passage — effectively replicating the current ratification but distinguishing clergy from laity in the Deputies (something I think a good model to assure that it isn’t just volume but consensus that carries the day — and that clergy and laity are of the same mind.)

    The Houses already sit together for a number of special matters, and I think following the model of a unicameral assembly, which is the norm for so many other church assemblies, including Anglicans.

    I don’t follow your concern about the “power shift” — since the bishops meet separately at their special interim meetings now. In fact, I think it might help clarify that they aren’t a “separate house” but part of a body, and have no authority to pass resolutions on their own, other than on the few matters that do fall to their attention.

    Your other concerns about the composition of the Bishops (age, race, gender) are there whether they meet separately or with the Deputies. Most Anglican churches only generally allow serving diocesans to vote; that would change the picture considerably; but that need not be part of a unicameral structure.

  4. I’m in favor of it, if for no other reason that to get folks literally in one room talking to one another. I think that a convention delegation from each diocese composed of the bishop diocesan, any bishop coadjutor or suffragan(s), two clergy, and two laity should be able to do what needs doing. If one is worried about diversity, that is best addressed at the time of each election (bishop or deputation), not by making sure we have enough.

    As far as the House of Bishops meeting separately, I would say just have them meet like any (large) clericus does–for fellowship, education, consultation, and spiritual strengthening. They would thus be a “College of Bishops” rather than the House of Bishops.

    This would be an easy and good first step in a process of reform. Since all committees would be “joint” committees, it should cut some of the administrative overhead and number of meetings.

  5. Gary Harke

    Or, one might emulate the United Methodists who, as I read Ihe Discipline, have a unicameral General Conference composed of lay and clergy delegates. (“The General Conference has full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional….” (The Discipline, para. 501) The kicker? “The bishops shall be the presiding officers at the General Conference” (para. 503), but they are not members of the General Conference and therefore do not have voting privileges.

    (Note: quotations are from the 2004 edition of The Discipline, not the more recent 2008 edition, so the paragraph numbers might vary.)

  6. Jim Naughton

    Tobias, I should have been clearer in spelling out that it is my assumption that a unicameral house would be smaller, perhaps significantly smaller, than the current House of Deputies.

    If the bishops end up accounting for a third to a half of this assembly, and they meet twice a year to organize, strategize, draft legislation and develop plans to promote it, they can arrive a General Convention with a fully formed legislative agenda, and simply need to pick off a little lay and clergy support around the edges to carry the day. That is a much easier task that winning over the majority of the House of Deputies, so I do think there would be the potential for a significant power shift. I don’t know that most of the bishops would necessarily be interested in exploiting this shift, but I don’t know how much political or personal capital they would want to spend in opposing those among their number who did want to exploit it. Especially if that person were whomever was Presiding Bishop at the time.

    I think Tom is right in saying that this problem could potentially be avoided if the bishops met as a clericus. But I am not sure that they would do that. Assuming that we hear more about this unicameral idea, this will be the second straight meeting of the House of Bishops from which emerged a proposal that would have a significant impact on the House of Deputies.

  7. John B. Chilton

    It’s probably worth taking a look at unicameral vs. bicameral more broadly and realizing there’s been plenty study of their relative strengths and weaknesses.

    A couple of links based on a quick search:

    Political scientists and students of legislatures have long debated the relative merits of bicameral and unicameral state legislatures. (Nebraska is the only single-house state legislature in the country; the others are bicameral.) This publication attempts to summarize the arguments commonly advanced on both sides of this debate. The arguments are arranged in categories as follows.

    Representation and Responsiveness: Which legislative system provides better, more responsive representation? For whom?

    Stability of the Law: Is a bicameral legislature inherently more stable, more restrained in its actions, and therefore more likely preserve a desirable steadiness and reliability in the law?

    Accountability of Legislators: Which legislative system better enables voters to hold their elected representatives to account for legislative actions?

    Authority of the Legislature: Which legislative system gives greater authority and effect to the decisions of the legislature and individual legislators? Could the legislature be too authoritative?

    Concentration of Power within the Legislature: Does either legislative system bring about an undesirable concentration of power inside the legislature?

    Quality of Decision-Making: Which legislative system makes for a better legislative process and better legislative decisions?

    Efficiency and Economy: Would a unicameral legislature be more efficient and less costly in conducting its work? How important is this, in relation to other considerations?

    Custom and Precedent: Is a unicameral legislature a radical departure from the fundamental institutions and traditions of American government?

  8. In our wide ranging, albeit brief, conversation at the House of Bishops about restructuring of the church, we were absolutely clear that we, as bishops, can do nothing about this outside of GC. And,in fact, given the toxic nature of the relationship between the two Houses right now, anything we suggest would probably be doomed to failure anyway.

    By the way, the ELCA unicameral Churchwide Assembly is, in my humble opinion, the most efficient and effective governance structure on this level among US churches today.

  9. A unicameral body makes it far easier to pass resolutions, bi-cameral provides reflective time. The House and Senate are the way they are with the expectation that the Senate will move more slowly in things to slow down a charging House.

    We can debate power shifting possibilities back and forth, but it is good to note that on two significant restructuring notions the HoB is coming to this GC loaded for bear.

    Any decision that lessened lay and clergy involvement or derailed their ability to digest and reflect would be a poor choice in my opinion.

    What is good to note is that we can indeed have lots of restructuring conversation at this GC w/o a special convention!

  10. Jim Naughton

    I don’t want to appear Pollyanna-ish, Mike, and I take most of the points you are making, but I am not sure that the House of Bishops as a house is loaded for bear. I think some bishops dislike legislative bodies. I think some don’t care for the amount of time that the governance of the general church eats up and would like to reduce it. I think some don’t like the President of the House of Deputies and some of the more legislatively effective (and less deferential) deputies, and would like to diminish their influence. But I think most of the bishops would simply like to get on with reviving the church. Some folks see the need for restructuring as an opportunity to fiddle with the balance of power, but I think (and fervently hope) that most are open to a wide ranging consideration of all options.

  11. tobias haller

    Jim, if it comes to the size of the Synod, I’m in favor of a somehwat smaller HoD in any case, and would support a move to making the maximum number of deputies 3 in each order. That would leave us a single Synod a tad larger than the size of the current HoD,

    Another thing to note is that most legislative committees now meet jointly but vote separately, a big economy and efficiency — and part of my frustration with the separate houses now comes from the experience of how well the joint committees seem to be able to encourage conversation and improve understanding — and avoid misunderstandings. Having everyone in the same room, especially for a legislature that is really a Synod that meets only once every three years (unlike a sitting legislative body) is a big plus.

  12. tobias haller

    Let me also add I did not conceive of the bishops meeting twice a year to draft legislation, etc. I think they have the right to meet as a clericus of sorts, for fellowship, but have a limited ambit of legislative responsibility, as it now stands, and that should remain the same. Being part of a unicameral syond does not, it seems to me, convey any altered ability to draft legislation — or at least any more than they can, and do, now. I don’t see that as a needed change, and our current ABCD range of sources for resolutions would work under uni- or bicameral settings.

  13. Jim Naughton

    Tobias, I think the joint committees work so well because power is well balanced. If we didn’t have two houses and could pass things based on simple majorities, I don’t know that that would be the case. I am not saying this is an argument against a unicameral house, just that in moving to a unicameral house, you might lose the advantage you are citing as evidence of the virtues of a unicameral house.

    I think much of this hinges on what percentage of the assembly is composed of bishops, and since we don’t have a sense of what has been proposed, it is hard for us to know whether we would be comfortable with this proposal or not.

    But help me here, are you really arguing that the group that gets to caucus twice a year–in meetings chaired by the CEO of the church–has no tactical advantages over the group that doesn’t caucus and whose members may have little contact with each other between conventions? I am not imputing any nefarious motives here. It just seems to me that the structural advantage that would accrue to the caucusing group –in any legislative body–is obvious. So I sense I am misunderstanding you somehow.

  14. FrSimmons


    I think the tone of most of your posts, i.e., using terms like “tactical advantage” is keeping the whole discussion in a house vs. house mode. The bishops represent the people of the dioceses as much as their lay and clergy deputations do. They are elected, after all, and have to deal with the ramifications of GC legislation on a daily level, unlike most of the deputies. Perhaps we can ramp down the “evil bishops trying to usurp power” rhetoric. It does not serve you well. To think the bishops just sit around crafting legislation at the HOB meetings denies their public reports of their daily happenings.

    That being said, I am a supporter of the houses being separate, but always meeting at GC in joint session, sharing a unitive legislative process that eliminates waste of time. That can probably be accomplished within rules or order rather than a constitutional change. Either that, or we need an empowered conference committee.

    David Simmons

  15. tobias haller

    Jim, most of the legislative committees have only a handful of bishops and lots of deputies… so that’s not an issue.

    As to voting, I think as I said we would want to have all voting by orders — easily done, and what, for example, the English diocesan and General Synods do.

    I agree there’s no point saying yes to a proposal until we see the details. My version would be Bishops and 3 clergy and 3 lay from each diocese. I think that would work.

    I still don’t get your concern about the bishop’s “caucusing” — the change to a unicameral house doesn’t have any effect on what is done in the interim. The bishops meet now in between sessions of GC, and there is nothing to prevent resolutions coming out of their reflections — not as a body but as individual bishops — and that wouldn’t change. My point is that since they do not represent the whole “legislative body” their caucusing is just that — and I don’t think there is any uniformity among the bishops, as bishops, than there is among the deputies as deputies. I mean, look at all the restructuring stuff that is emerging: without being unicameral. I don’t think being unicameral would make for more of that, but less… or at least I’m not understanding why you see that there would be a difference. Besides, caucuses are just that — and they only carry the day in the whole assembly if the rest of the people agree. The bishops would not, under any conceivable plan, be a majority — and with each order voting separately and concurrence in all orders being required — as is the norm in synodical government — I don’t see the problem as a reality. Perhaps the separate voting is the element you missed here? That is central to a Synod’s working. (Witness the recent votes in the C of E…)

    I think it’s important to realize that Synods aren’t like other legislative bodies, for a number of reasons. That has to be borne in mind when looking at the issues John Chilton raised — as some of them don’t apply, and others apply in spades.

  16. Jim Naughton

    David, where, exactly, do I suggest that the evil bishops are trying to usurp power? If you could point to particular passages, it would enlighten me. The term “tactical advantage” does not imply that someone is nefariously attempting to use the advantage, merely that such an opportunity to take advantage exists. I can’t tell you how weary I am of people imputing motives to me that I do not have, and then giving me advice on how I should speak.

  17. Jim Naughton

    Tobias, I am not saying that the legislative committees are well balanced. I am saying that because each house needs the other to get anything done, people tend to cooperate. If one house didn’t need the other house, but just a few of its members to get things done, I think the dynamic might be different. Maybe better, who knows. But different.

    You are right that the change to a unicameral house has no effect on what is done in the interim. It has a significant effect however, on the forum in which final decisions are made. I am having a hard time understanding why you can’t see that a proposal that comes to a unicameral body with the endorsement of somewhere between one-third and 40 percent of that body already in place, wouldn’t have a better chance of passing than competing legislation.

    I understand that neither house is of one mind on a given issue. But on these restructuring issues, I think the temptation to advance the interests of one’s house or office at the expense of another’s house or office is formidable.

  18. Dave Paisley

    And… we wonder why the Episcopal Church is becoming irrelevant.

    The deckchair rearranging continues apace.

  19. tobias haller

    Jim, I guess I’m just not getting something here. Voting by orders preserves the ‘need to cooperate’ because the bishops alone, or the clergy or laity alone, can’t carry the day — you need a majority in each order to carry any motion. This is done now by having two houses divided by order — they vote and deliberate separately on each resolution. The only difference with a unicameral house involves the deliberation — which I see as a good thing, as all get to hear the discussions. Going to unicameral does nothing to advance any particular subgroup’s “cause.” There are many resolutions that pass resoundingly in the House of Bishops which fail in the House of Deputies. Everyone moving into the same room for deliberation does not appear to me to give an advantage, unless the arguments are persuasive. As long as each order votes separately, and all three have to assent for passage, I think the scenario you describe is unlikely, as one order being very sure of itself (assuming such single-mindedness is possible in our HoB) is no guarantee the others will go along.

    There is the concern that people might not speak their mind or vote their conscience in the presence of their bishop — but that is a different matter. I have heard this raised in the past as a reason not to have a unicameral synod. This is where clergy and laity can learn to speak up and speak out — and not just among themselves! Learning to behave as colleagues with bishops might be just what the deputies, and the bishops, need! It seems to work fairly well in the legislative committees, where all have a voice, and often the wisest and most persuasive statements come from lay and clergy members.

  20. Jim Naughton

    Tobias, I think it was me who wasn’t getting something. I don’t know that voting by orders is part of the plan, so I had’t really been factoring that in. If it is, it eases some of my concerns, at least in theory. In practice, as I watch it in the Church of England, I remain somewhat uneasy.

  21. Bonnie Spivey

    I think, but with a big OCICBW, that Lutheran congregations own their own churches. Does this make any difference in the discussion of their unicameral structure?

    If our system works, if only in that it is more inclusive to all of our members, then I don’t think we should give that up. Also in MHO I think we have worked hard to achieve that inclusiveness.

  22. tobias haller

    FWIW, I think this would be unacceptable without the vote by orders. My experience is that’s what we do in the legislative committees: we meet, discuss, have the open hearings as a body, but when it comes time to vote, we vote separately. Sometimes we disagree, and it is reported as such (since this is not the final vote, but the committees’ recommendation.) It seems to work well at that scale. How it would work for the whole GC is another thing, but the Lutherans manage it with 1,025 people in the same room, which is about what I’d guess our combined Houses would come to, even without a smaller contingent of deputies (which I don’t think should go below 3 and 3).

    Thanks for raising this issue, as I think it offers some real possibilities for growth in maturity and collegiality — among all of the people, which the separate houses have not encouraged. To put it mildly…

  23. I suspect that some of the “evil bishops” sense is leftover from the process or lack thereof with B033. The HoD, which was largely unsympathetic to the Windsor Report stuff agreed only because ALL the big purple guns came out to persuade.

    That cost the HoB some trust capital. Since the restructuring /reducing discussion has mostly been about reducing participation from the HoD side I can see how folks might feel a little ennui.

    Having a joint voting session each day might speed things along by conjoining the two Houses dispatch of business.

    I do however think we ought to note that within the Anglican Communion and the Covenant in particular there is a drumbeat to center more authority in Bishops and Primates. This is problematic for me.

    I do not think we have “evil bishops”, but I do think they sometimes get “purplexed”.

  24. Gay Jennings

    Has anyone thought about who would be the presiding officer of a unicameral legislature? Would it automatically be the Presiding Bishop? Or could there be three presiding officers of equal rank – presiding bishop, lay person, and cleric (deacon or priest)? And who would elect the Presiding Bishop? I would assume it would be the entire unicameral body either by simple majority of the whole house or perhaps by orders with a simple majority necessary in each of the three orders. And would this happen before the 2015 General Convention so that the unicameral body would elect the next presiding bishop? Food for thought.

  25. Chris Hamby

    I think discussion is great in a “inside baseball” kind of way but the the simple solution is easy: elect better Bishops and deputies. I honestly do not care if I call each and everyone one of you out on this but I believe you all have thought more how to frame your attack or defense rather than spending time thinking how your Church can engage more people and accomplish more mission.

    As long as the bread is good does it really matter how it is made?

  26. Jim Naughton

    Good point, Gay. Another issue that would need to be worked out is who would appoint the members of the interim bodies and legislative committees.

  27. Jim Naughton

    Chris, you have no idea how we spend our time. Don’t pretend you do. One feature of these kind of conversations is that people who think they are somehow above the conversation weigh in to assert their moral superiority over those trying to work through a difficult issue. Many of the people who belong to the Episcopal Church have come from other denominations, and were attracted in part by precisely the kind of polity issues we are trying to work through here. This kind of inside baseball stuff isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. If it isn’t yours, don’t drink it, but try to avoid looking down your nose at those who do.

  28. Chris Hamby


    I think my intention was lost. Sorry you feel that as I am not looking down my nose but rather asking why we are sawing sawdust. Tobias has a point too…different houses gives different voices to come to the top.

    I beleive these issues are important to how the Church is governed but it seems like the discussion is wanting change just to change. Don’t get me wrong, I love the site, but Jim your posts and responses, always seem to have a veild agenda. They probably do not in reality but it sure comes off that way.

  29. Jim Naughton

    Chris, I thought Tobias and I (who are friends in real life) were having a helpful conversation. It was, at any rate, helpful to me. I think the church is about to undertake a big change in the way it governs itself. I don’t want the authority of the laity to be lost or diminished in the process of that change being made. That’s my agenda. One reason I don’t want that to happen is that I believe the laity and clergy drive much of the positive change in the church’s official stances on the issues that are important to me–inclusion of women, inclusion of LGBT people, social witness to the gospel. On top of that, I distrust authority in the hands of people who are not accountable in some way to the people over whom they exercise that authority.

    On top of that, I think that despite all of the seeming contention within the church, we are actually conflict avoidant and have a difficult time sustaining conversations about sensitive issues in public. So I attempt to have conversations in which uncomfortable issues can be discussed in an open way. These conversations happen behind the scenes all of the time, and I think we are better served if they take place in public. Increasingly, though, I think that people are not really up for this, and it may be that it is more trouble than it is worth. I am still making up my mind about that.

  30. tobias haller

    Gay, originally the “Presiding Bishop” only presided. Today even the PHoD does much more than simply preside over the house and appoint committee and interim body members. As to practicalities, shared presidency over the assembly — as happens now with the P and VP in each house — is a simple solution. Same with the election of PB, again, all voting being by orders, as a synodical rule.

    Chris, I think this does address real issues in our church, not least the growing divide between our bishops and the people of God. There needs to be an integrated and organic leadership in the church, and the duelling houses — in part an accident of history as I noted way back — is an impediment to the mission of the church. The joint legislative committees have been proof of the virtue of the orders working together; a good “trial use” that has borne fruit in greater efficiency and understanding of the issues facing us. This is certainly not change for the sake of change.

  31. Chris Hamby

    You made my point for me. Who exactly allows these “distrustful” people into power? Is this more of a problem of not vetting potential leaders properly before elections?

  32. Jim Naughton

    Chris, I think anyone who has power is tempted to misuse it. It doesn’t have to do with the particular character of any individual person. Humankind is fallen. Systems of government need to be balanced as a result.

  33. E B

    In addition to the structural issue that Jim raises, a mechanical one comes to mind: Why do we need to meet in person? While virtual can never fully replace direct interaction, in this day and age of video conferencing, chat rooms, etc., it is not clear to me that the resources we put into meeting spaces, hotel rooms, and air fare are warranted. And my sense is that when we meet in person we do what Episcopalians do best — form committees and socialize. Perfectly valid outcomes, but perhaps a bit of a throwback to the days when business was conducted at a much slower pace.

    Eric Bonetti

  34. I can understand the desire to reduce costs and establish a more efficient governing body. However, I think that there are serious pitfalls in this proposal. The most significant one for me is the intimidation factor that comes with having a lot of bishops in the room, all wearing purple shirts. This is compounded by the fact that retired bishops are given seat and vote currently. If that were to continue, their numbers in the new legislative body would be seriously disproportionate. Neither the Anglican Church of Canada nor the ELCA allows retired or resigned bishops to vote. And in the ELCA there are no suffragan or coadjutor bishops, so their numbers are far more reasonable as compared with the whole legislative body.

    I do think that there needs to be some rethinking of how dioceses are represented in their deputies delegations. That very small dioceses with 20-30 parishes have the same number of deputies as Virgina, Texas, Massachusetts, and New York seems unrepresentative to me. I can be corrected, but I believe that in Canada (and perhaps also in the ELCA) the number of delegates from each diocese is more proportionate. So ideally I would propose that we move to a tiered system: 3 clergy and laity max for the largest dioceses, 2 for the middle, and 1 clergy and lay delegate for the smallest (or maybe between 4 and 2 if 1 each is deemed not enough). That could make a big difference and reduce costs, especially for dioceses that have trouble supporting large delegations. Or, less ideal but probably more agreeable to some would be to reduce all delegations to 2 or 3 clergy and lay reps. But, I don’t see how having them sit as separate houses would provide considerable savings.

    I also think this proposal would change the nature of the offices of the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies. As I have understood them, the Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church presides over the House of Bishops, not over the church. That’s why she (or he) is not an Archbishop. That seems to me an important distinction for us here in the US. I have always appreciated the fact that constitutionally the Presiding Bishop and President of the Deputies are equals. I would hate to see that lost, especially in this age in which there seems to be a global push for centralized episcopal and primatial authority.

    That there needs to be a change is manifestly clear. That we should jump to a unicameral body–at least without first addressing other issues like the numbers of bishops who can vote and the size of deputations–seems premature.

  35. barbara snyder

    I for one am happy to see these issues being discussed. I know very little about any of it, and it’s a good education.

    From my point of view: carry on, please! It’s quite interesting, even though it’s – as Jim puts it – not quite my cup of tea, in general. It’s good to know something about these things, though, and I’m grateful to be able to look in on a conversation like this.

  36. Jim Pratt

    A follow-up to Matthew Cadwell: In the Canadian General Synod, synod sits unicamerally, except for the election of a Primate. Most voting is by house (with clergy and laity together constituting one house), but a vote by orders, clergy and laity voting separately, can be requested. Retired bishops have seat and voice, but no vote, and rarely attend.

    The Primate and the Prolocutor (elected from among the clergy and laity) share presiding duties.

    From my experience as a member of GS in 2004, it functions well. Clericals are generally not worn (most delegates know who the bishops are anyways, so they don’t need to wear purple to stand out), and there’s a sense of democratic equality rather than hierarchy. (of course, the bishops did by one vote defeat SSBs in 2007, after approval by laity and clergy, so it’s not perfect).

    At present, the Canadian church is looking to downsize General Synod. The current system of allotting delegates is based on the number of licensed clergy in the diocese, which favors those with an active vocational diaconate or large numbers of locally raised non-stipendiary clergy. Objections have been expressed to alternative methods (average Sunday attendance, Easter attendance, number on parish rolls), so change is going to come slowly.

  37. Rev. Thomas Ferguson

    I proposed precisely this back in October on my blog back in October. I didn’t think it up, the Church of England General Synod does something likes this. For us advantages are streamlining the legislative process and acknowledging we already in essence do this in legislative committees and Standing Commissions. If done it also needs to be done in conjunction with other reforms in polity.

  38. FrSimmons


    My comment was hyperbole, but surely you don’t claim to be neutral in this “HOB/HOD Conflict Narrative?” (Which I find fictional, divisive and ultimately unhelpful.)

    Complaints about people imputing motives to you is beneath you. You are a blogger who expresses opinions in your posts. You DO have motives, right? If so, expect your readers to impute them to you.

    “Tactical Advantage” is a military term. It implies that the two houses are at war, as opposed to two parts of the same system moving in the same direction. While that certainly describes the current situation, it does not describe the ideal or even the norm. If we are to “fix” this system, we need to use a metaphor better than one of military conflict, and by all means, we need to see one another as working towards a mutual goal. Language is important, as it frames the whole governance debate.

    Perhaps the advantage of the unicameral system might be that it would eliminate all of this perceived house vs. house bickering.

    David Simmons

  39. Jim Naughton

    David, the fact that I have opinion and am not a neutral party does not mean that I hold the opinions you attributed to me. You can’t misrepresent someone’s opinions, and then reprimand them for the opinions that you attributed to them and expect them to say, Thank you for the moral instruction, Father.

    I don’t know if you read much politics or much sports, but I find the phrase “tactical advantage” used in that literature with some frequency.

    If the General Convention becomes a unicameral legislature–a development about which I don’t now have a strong opinion–then new alliances and antagonisms will sprout up. The members of competing alliances will seek tactical advantages over one another, and those of us who need to describe what is happening will continue to have need of that phrase.

  40. FrSimmons


    The personally-directed snarkiness (“Thank you for the moral instruction, Father”) is uncalled for and offensive. What’s next, Ad Hominem?

    I didn’t say you shouldn’t respond to and correct those who you feel misrepresent you. I simply pointed out that your statement about “I can’t tell you how weary I am of people imputing motives to me that I do not have, and then giving me advice on how I should speak” is unrealistic. That’s what public discourse is, especially on the internet.

    My point on the metaphor is this. As long as we continue to use metaphors that cast the relationship between the two houses as a conflict, the longer it will remain so.

    We don’t have time or money to continue this pet squabble between our houses of government.

    David Simmons

  41. Jim Naughton

    David, is it possible you don’t realize how condescending your comments have been from the start? You write as though it is your job to hold other people accountable for their manners, but that you are above being called to account yourself.

    You wanted to score some debating points by misrepresenting me. I have responded with what I think it understandable irritation to this tactic, which I do not regard as fair.

    You have responded by continuing to misrepresent me and continuing to lecture me.

    On top of that I think the notion that this paragraph somehow perpetuates divisiveness, when it is a hypothetical examination of an abstract situation does not stand serious scrutiny.

    “But help me here, are you really arguing that the group that gets to caucus twice a year–in meetings chaired by the CEO of the church–has no tactical advantages over the group that doesn’t caucus and whose members may have little contact with each other between conventions? I am not imputing any nefarious motives here. It just seems to me that the structural advantage that would accrue to the caucusing group –in any legislative body–is obvious. So I sense I am misunderstanding you somehow.”

    I am happy to let you have the last word here.

  42. FrSimmons


    I think it is quite possible you read my comments as condescending, since I’m an ordained person and there seems to have some issue there (Back to the “Thank you for the moral lecture, Father” quote. That’s quite frankly a pretty cheap shot, which I find hard to believe was typed into a bulletin post at the cafe.) Since I have spent the majority of my ministry as a lay person, I don’t assume I know more than you simply because I have a collar. I believe I was simply being challenging, in the same way I always was as a lay person. Is it possible you are reading a challenge to be condescending because i’m clergy? I thought we were having a debate between equals.

    My point all along, is that when we use the language of “structural advantages” and “tactical advantages,” we imply that church governance is a kind of Marxist struggle. I believe we need to find different language that sees it as a collaborative process rather than a clash of opposites. Appealing to the fact that such language is used in sports or secular politics does not help, because I don’t really like the idea of our governance being based in either of those metaphors.

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