Monday, March 08, 2010
Institutional Authority and Presidential Power
The First Presidency has always had tremendous power to shape policy and procedures in the Community of Christ. From direct power, to the indirect power of the bully pulpit, to the power of the Chair (I remember in 2004? when the chair recognized Larry Tyree to "discuss" the potential effect of proposed legislation requiring that ALL publications of the church be prepared in English, French and Spanish; no time limit, no rule of alternates - just a complete ignoring of Roberts Rules) to the power of lack-of-accountability (ie. no independent review of action; for example, in the previous example, the resolution passed; however, does anyone think it is followed? hint - it isn't).
However, World Conference was at least a time when the issues of the people could be heard and the First Presidency was required, at a minimum, to allow discussion and to be put on the spot to address these issues. Based on interpretation of the currently proposed Words of Counsel, the First Presidency is proposing legislation to eliminate this potentially uncomfortable situation. By amending the By-Laws to implement regional/national conferences to address issues deemed "inappropriate" for World Conference action, the First Presidency is keeping for itself the ability to determine what issues are addressed, when, and by whom.
Currently, World Conferences must be held on a timely basis (every 3 years). While leadership can decide on the theme and focus, individual mission centers can bring legislation for consideration so long as it does not conflict with the By-Laws of the Church. While the First Presidency could use and has used its authority to call certain items out of order, the parameters for doing so have traditionally been pretty narrow and the ruling occurs upon consideration of the resolution (after discussion groups and often, debate). However, the proposed modifications would greatly expand the ability, and subjectivity of the First Presidency to extinguish resolutions/issues, before they arise.
Recent proposed Words of Counsel indicate that certain issues "should be addressed by the World Conference" and others "are best resolved nationally or in other ways." This is interpreted by the First Presidency to permit them to decide, unilaterally, which resolutions are properly addressed by the World Conference. In his discussion regarding current proposed legislation, President Veazey said:
"At an appropriate time, the Presidency will share a statement about the status of each piece of legislation that could be affected by approval of the counsel. The Presidency will use the following questions to evaluate the legislation:
- Is this legislation in order according to our parliamentary rules?
- Does this legislation propose action contrary to the clear direction of the counsel?
- Does this legislation ask the World Conference to decide for the whole church what likely would be harmful in parts of the church if it is adopted as an official World Church position?
- Does this legislation propose action that would best be considered by a national or field (multinational) conference?"
Obviously, these points are much broader than the current gateway (does the legislation conflict with the By-Laws and rules) and provide much more latitude for the First Presidency to determine the nature of "harm" or to insert their own notion of what is "best" considered locally. To limit this subjectivity I submit that at a minimum, it should be a standing committee, rather than the FP itself that makes these determinations and a specific analysis be presented as to why a particular piece of legislation is being overruled.
Another obvious problem is timing. Currently, legislation must be submitted 120 days prior to World Conference. If, as will happen this conference, the consideration of the viability of resolutions is done after the deadline, there is no opportunity to correct, amend or modify the resolution into compliance. I think it would be appropriate to require a decision as to a particular piece of legislation within an allotted time, a period for challenge and hearing on the issue, and the opportunity to present an alternative resolution.
Finally, the pretext is that that these issues while not addressed at World Conference will be addressed at local conferences, either regional or national. However, according to the proposed By-Law changes, the ability to call these local conferences rest solely with the apostles and the First Presidency, with the FP holding a veto right. Moreover, there is no procedure for individuals or groups (such as Mission Centers) to offer legislation at these conferences, with the agenda being set exclusively by the apostles, with approval of the First Presidency. As such, while members may feel comforted that their legislation, while deemed not appropriate for World discussion, may be addressed at the local level, this is not necessarily the case and certainly, it is unlikely that their legislation will be taken up, even at the local level, in the form approved by the Mission Center.
The goal seem laudable. World Conference should be for World issues. Local issues should be addressed at the local level. However, the structure proposed by the First Presidency, has the effect of giving tremendous subjective power at the top to determine which issues are addressed at all levels and in what manner. This is not consistent with the notion of common consent. I have every reason to believe that the First Presidency will exercise this new power, if indeed they attain it, with fairness and objectivity. However, for leaders to be given credibility they must not only exercise power judiciously, they must avoid the appearance of impropriety. The risk of the proposed changes to the By-Laws don't mean that the First Presidency will now run the Church by fiat, but that every decision they make will be tainted with the knowledge that they could.
And this could be even worse than their actually doing so.