Lionel Deimel, who has been active in the new life of the Diocese of Pittsburgh relates his thoughts following the election of their next bishop. Pending consents from the other dioceses, Pittsburgh will enter into a new stage of their life.
It was, I think, the consensus view that the search process had run smoothly prior to this weekend. The nomination of Scott Quinn by petition was a bit of a hiccup, but the petition process seemed necessary to assuring fairness.
I believe that what had appeared to be a well-designed, well-run process, ran off the rails Friday night and Saturday. I have already reported on the Friday gathering. (See “‘Discussing’ the Candidates.”)
What happened? A liberal-conservative split clearly remains in the diocese, and it is, in part, a lay-clergy split. The laity, in any case, whether out of boredom, impatience, or naïveté, threw in the towel. Not only was I severely disappointed by this, but it made me think that the candidate we really needed was Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, who had the strongest skills and record of bringing divided communities together.
The sad reality is that Bishop Price, perhaps inadvertently, but surely with the complicity of others in charge of the search process, threw the laity under the bus. We were offered the poisoned Kool-Aid of Anglican niceness. Our bishop constantly asserted that an episcopal election is not a “political” process. We were implored to call the five priests standing for the election “nominees,” rather than “candidates.” We were told not to say anything “negative” about any of the “nominees.”
Of course an episcopal election is political! Any process by which a body of people selects a leader is, by definition, political. That the electors are Christians does not make it something other than political. The process can only be more or less successful in reflecting the will of the electoral body. If one believes in the democratic process—the election of bishops, perhaps more than any other element of our polity, distinguishes The Episcopal Church from most of its Anglican sisters—one should be interested in making that process as effective as possible. Among other things, electors should have as much information as possible and be able to exchange that information freely.
How could the process have been better handled (or better handled in the future)? Primarily, we should drop the pretense that an election is not an election, with all that implies, and is instead some mysterious and holy piece of magic. We are deciding in whose hands to place substantial power, both over the diocese and the wider church. If we believe the decision is that of the Holy Spirit—something I doubt anyone really believes—then we should simply draw lots and be done with it. Otherwise, we should recognize that we have responsibility for an essentially political process and should do our best to design a good process.
More than anything else, I believe that laypeople involved in choosing a bishop need a way of consulting with one another effectively while the election is in progress. Perhaps clergy and lay electors should discuss the election and vote in different rooms, coming together briefly between ballots to talk in plenary session. In any case, I hope that the next time Pittsburgh has an episcopal election, procedures will look different from what was done this time around.
All that said, I am on record orally, if not in writing, as saying that I could live with any of the candidates proposed by the Nominating Committee.
Read it all here.
What is your experience of bishop elections? If you are from Pittsburgh, is this how it was for you? What would you suggest for the process of election? Do you think bishop elections can work or not? Why?