By Kirk Petersen
It’s all too easy for an outsider with no skin in the game to make snarky comments about the sausage-making inherent in any large legislative process. Ridicule is the lowest form of commentary.
It’s also kinda fun, so let’s have at it.
The 802 voting members of the House of Deputies have weighty matters to consider at the 80th General Convention in Baltimore: Electing a new president; confronting the church’s historical complicity in slavery and the oppression of Indigenous people; responding to dramatic changes in abortion laws; and other essential expressions of the Episcopal Church’s values and priorities.
And then there’s Resolution A148.
Said resolution, unlike some others, is admirably simple and clear. It amends Article I, Section 2, of the church’s Constitution to replace a reference to “Suffragan Bishop” (SB) with “Bishop Suffragan” (BS). The accompanying explanation notes that this is to conform with usage elsewhere in the Constitution and Canons.
OK, fine. Voice vote, bang the gavel, and move on, right? Uh … no.
Because this is a constitutional amendment, it requires a vote by orders — a mechanism in the House of Deputies that has the effect of making it more difficult to pass a resolution by requiring separate majority approval of the lay and clergy orders. By its very nature, a vote by orders cannot be conducted by voice.
A148 came before the house in the morning session of July 10, as the first resolution that required a vote by orders. The parliamentarian described how a vote by orders works: Each of the 107 dioceses gets one vote in each order, so the chair of the deputation queries the other members and electronically reports Yes, No, or Divided for each order. A Divided, or tie, vote has the same effect as a No vote.
The 100-plus members of the House of Bishops had already approved A148 in a more streamlined vote, as there is only one order in that house.
BS advocates will be relieved to learn that A148 passed easily, gaining 96 percent approval in the clergy order and 99 percent approval in the lay order. This was a second reading, because constitutional amendments must be approved by two consecutive General Conventions. That’s right: The houses went through the same exercise in Austin in 2018. (For anyone particularly interested in BS, the vote total from the 2018 resolution, which probably had a different resolution number, is accessible through the Archives of the Episcopal Church. Finding it is left as an exercise for the reader.)
So the BS adjustment in A148 has been fully approved, and will be reflected in the next edition of the Constitution & Canons. But wait, there’s more.
Twenty minutes later (or maybe it was 20 hours), the deputies passed another BS constitutional amendment, Resolution A151, making the same change in Article IV of the constitution. For a description of the process, reread the relevant previous paragraphs of this article.
The vote total on A151 was even more lopsided: 99 percent approval in the clergy order, and 100 percent approval in the lay order. Apparently some of the dissenters from A148 discovered an increased tolerance for BS.