Thursday, April 08, 2010

UPDATED: “Mr. Chairman, I appeal from the decision of the chair.”

As I’ve discussed, the biggest problem with the Community of Christ First Presidency’s proposed legislation to have regional/national/cultural conferences to consider issues “not appropriate” for discussion at World Conference, is the lack of any checks and balances (common consent). The Prophet (in consultation) would determine which legislation he/she feels would be better off not considered, and then the Prophet would have the unilateral ability to call (or not call) regional conferences to considered the issues (not the legislation) as proscribed, again, unilaterally, by the Prophet.

On April 7, the Presidency revealed its proposed policies on conditions for membership and re-baptism. These policies were initially promised by the end of March and the timing is more than just inconvenient. Most delegates have left their jurisdictions for World Conference and are unable to confer with their local groups on the ramifications.

More troubling than this delay, however, is the Prophet’s stance on the proposed legislation (20 items) relating to homosexuality. He has said that, if the Words of Counsel are approved, he will, at an appropriate time, make a determination as to whether this legislation should be ruled out of order. To wait until Conference or even after approval of the Words of Counsel, is highly irresponsible and borderline conniving.

As opposed to the issue of Conditions for Membership, the Words of Counsel’s guidance on the issue of homosexuality is extremely vague. It speaks generally about being sensitive to different cultures and against making global decisions of morality, but there is very little (none) actual specific guidance. Nonetheless, in his questions and answers related to the topic, President Veazey has made clear that he will review, and potentially call out of order, legislation that he perceives will be in contravention of this Counsel.

But how the President plans on interpreting the Counsel to rule items out of order is extremely critical to determine whether the Counsel should be sustained. The bigger issue, however, is the problem with parliamentary procedure.

You see, in the April 7 Q&A the Presidency addressed the question of the erosion of common consent by saying:

If the Presidency rules legislation out of order based on the principle that deciding a specific policy for the whole church will likely cause harm in some nations, the World Conference has the option of appealing to see if that decision reflects the will of the delegates.

So the Presidency is placing the future of common consent – the doctrinal equivalence of a democratic institution – upon the will of individual conference delegates to (a) understand nuanced parliamentary procedure, (b) use this procedure to challenge the Prophet to his face and (c) convince a majority of the other tourists/delegates to join in challenging the chair based on this parliamentary procedure.

Having attended many World Conferences and being well aware of the delegates’ general understanding of parliamentary procedure and willingness to challenge the Prophet, I submit this is not a very fair maneuver on the part of the Presidency.
But if this is what President Veazey wants to do, then he should certainly give some advance notice of his intent to invoke the new Words of Counsel to rule items out of order. Why? Because of the nature of appealing orders of the chair.

Roberts Rules of Order states:

An appeal may be made from any decision of the chair (except when another appeal is pending), but it can be made only at the time the ruling is made. It is in order while another member has the floor. If any debate or business has intervened it is too late to appeal.”

So once the ruling has been made, a delegate must immediately appeal, before any other business intervenes. Without advance notice of what the chair is likely to rule, a delegate will have to immediately recognize an ruling has been made, immediately determine whether this ruling is appropriate, immediately find someone willing to second the appeal, immediately fill out his/her legislative card with the number 16 (appeal), immediately jump to his/her feet to get to the cue and immediately formulate a cogent argument to voice to the face of the Prophet that he screwed up. A daunting task indeed, and one that the President should be sympathetic to.

So we must assume that all legislation regarding homosexuality will be ruled out of order by the chair, anytime after the Words of Counsel are approved. This is not wild speculation either. The current schedule offers time before legislative session to consider all of the proposed resolutions in specifically designated dialogue sessions – all of the resolutions, that is, other than those 20 that relate to homosexuality.

When considering an argument against an out-of-order ruling, you must understand the basis for the ruling. You can’t argue the merits of the underlying motion, but the merits of the President’s decision. This decision is said to be based on the following:

Is this legislation in order according to our parliamentary rules? (BTC: this should be already cleared by the Mission Center prior to enacting the legislation, so there should be no problems here)

Does this legislation propose action contrary to the clear direction of the counsel? (BTC: not sure what this means. Again, its hard to imagine any homosexuality issue being in “contrary to the clear direction of the counsel” when nothing in the counsel was very clear on this issue)

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? (BTC: the key here is “official World Church position.” If a particular resolution is not asking the World Church to take a “position” then it’s hard to see it being called out of order on this ground.)

Does this legislation propose action that would best be considered by a national or field (multinational) conference? (BTC: “best” is very subjective, but “action” is not. Does the legislation provide for the church to take action?)

I’ll give one example:

G-1, submitted by the Canada East Mission and the Arizona USA Mission, does not include the word “homosexual” “GLBT” or the like. It asks to amend WCRs 1182 and 272. This is not out of order on parliamentary grounds. It proposes no action in clear contravention of the Words of Counsel. It does not require the Church to take any position, let alone one that may be harmful. And it absolutely must be decided at World Conference, because regional conferences will have no standing to amend World Conference action.

If this resolution is deemed out of order, the Chair will effectively be saying that these two WCRs may never be amended. In addition, the Chair would be saying that his ability to consider resolutions extends beyond the words of the resolution, but to the perceived meaning, effect, and potential debate topics related thereto.

So look at the resolutions. Think like the First Presidency. And prepare arguments defending their debate and consideration. And remember, an appeal does not have to be recognized by the chair – meaning you don’t have to go to the cue and wait for your name to be called.

So fill out your card (No. 16). Find your second. But if you feel you won’t get recognized in time, just stand up, clear your throat and yell in an authoritative tone:

“Mr. Chairman, I appeal from the decision of the chair.”

15/04/10 - It's over. 21 resolutions actively worked on for more than a year in more than a half dozen mission centers from Africa, to Canada, to Latin America - have been wiped off the board in a matter of minutes. If the subject is addressed at a later date, it will be at the will and in the manner proscribed by the First Presidency.


  1. Br. Chicken, thank you for your post. This situation vexes me beyond measure. I am not able to attend the conference, but I earnestly hope that President Veazey's inspired counsel is rejected by the quorums. Failing that, I hope some decent soul and their second is able to perform the procedure that you have outlined.

    Tony Barry

  2. BTW:

    Very interesting post. Thank you. We so often in CofChrist debate whether we're a "theocratic democracy" or a "democratic theocracy." In reality, I'm inclined to think we're neither. How does "theocratic meritocracy with slight democratic overtones" sound (other than being a real mouthful)?

  3. my name is John Nichols though i have had to post as anonymous.

    excellent post there chickano and fairly what i had planned on doing at the time that the cemc resolution was ruled out of order... i will now need someone like you to do that for me.

  4. Sadly, or happily (depending on your perspective), there is no one else like me. ;)

  5. Br. Chicken,
    Thank you for your posts. Yes, the resolutions are wiped from the community agenda. Will this new counsel offer a formal welcome to gay and lesbian folk? Assuring them that their presence is acceptable in the eyes of the hierarchy if not the individual congregations?
    I am fifty years old and do not want to have to hold my breath till I retire.

    Tony Barry

  6. BTC: your post on the implications of seeing ourselves as "a true church" has a definite implication for the theology of how we treat the GLBT community.

    If you aren't the one and only true church, you can't claim exceptionalism in the sense that the church can not and must not fail. God's plan can succeed even when "a" true church dies. "True" churches have dwindled away throughout the Christian era, haven't they? After all, His plan can succeed even when (and especially BECAUSE) His Son dies.

    So what is the theological rationale for asking the gays to "hold their breath" as Tony put it? There are 100s of millions of people being baptized in the third world now, of which we baptize, what, thousands? If we don't think it matters what denomination baptizes them there, how exactly does the sacrifice we ask gays to make here by waiting for full acceptance actually help build the kingdom?

    I'm starting to feel like I felt as a kid when my mother would tell me I should eat my veggies to help all the starving people in China. Why? The Chinese weren't getting fed by my eating lima beans.

    It seems to me that unless the church CAN state a basis for exceptionalism, gays would be justified in assuming that preserving the church is NOT a responsibility God has given to them. They can protect their brothers and sisters in the third world by going where they are accepted and their gifts (other than their money) can be fully employed.