Skip to comments.Episcopal Executive Council Hides Behind Closed Doors
Posted on 06/14/2005 1:01:16 PM PDT by sionnsar
For a number of years, IRD has sent staff to report on the meetings of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church. We will not do so for the upcoming meeting, June 13-16 in Louisville, KY. Our reason is that almost half of that meeting will take place in executive session, behind closed doors.
Many of the most important discussions, of the greatest interest to Episcopal Church members, will be held in secret. Under such circumstances, IRD could not justify the expense of sending a reporter to spend two days in his hotel room, wondering what the leaders of his denomination were doing in the dark. We regard this trend toward secrecy in the Executive Council as a very disturbing development. It can only add to the mistrust and alienation that already so strain the bonds of affection in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
The Executive Council is the body of representatives who do the work of implementing General Convention resolutions in the years between conventions. While the council's work has significant impact upon church members, few of them will have the opportunity to observe it. IRD has found it valuable to observe these meetings and report back to the people in the pews.
These meetings are, according to the bylaws of the council (article 2, section 9), open meetings. Any individual can go and listen to the discussions and watch the decisions being made. The Episcopal Church has long prided itself on its democratic structure and the transparency of its bodies as they function. An open meetings policy is essential if Episcopalians are to understand how decisions are made, who is advocating which positions, what reasons are given for the positions, and which arguments, in the end, prevail.
There are two exceptions to this open meetings policy. The council may enter executive session to discuss personnel issues and legal issues affecting the Episcopal Church. This decision to close the meeting must be voted on, and a purpose must be stated for going behind closed doors. No official action can be decided during executive session.
The second exception occurs when the council wishes to meet for a "private conversation." Article 2, section 10, of the council's bylaws allows the body to meet for "private conversation" in order to "discuss pastoral concerns on non-agenda items."
Such sessions should be held to an absolute minimum; otherwise, the transparency of the body is compromised. They should involve matters that are peripheral to the council's work, but perhaps sensitive to a few individuals. In recent years, however, it seemed to us that the council has resorted to executive sessions with increasing frequency. This has become its common practice when discussions have revolved around the current crisis facing the Anglican Communion-hardly a matter of peripheral concern for the Episcopal Church and its 2.3 million members.
This is an unfortunate development. An open meetings policy is most clearly an asset during the most difficult discussions. If, for instance, meetings are only open for visitors to watch non-controversial resolutions pass with unanimity, then the policy is of only limited value. It is precisely when discussions are most pointed, and where division is most apparent, that an open meetings policy demonstrates its greatest worth. These are the occasions when church members have the keenest need to know what happened in the meeting-and why it happened.
We were disappointed, then, when we learned that a significant portion (nearly half) of the coming Executive Council meeting would be closed to visitors. While committee meetings will remain open, the plenary session on the morning of June 13 will not be open to visitors. This session-in which the council is to have "private conversation"-is where any discussion of the Anglican crisis would be most likely to occur.
Any such conversation takes on a particular urgency, as it comes on the eve of the meeting of the international Anglican Consultative Council, to which the Episcopal Church has been summoned to explain to its fellow Anglicans worldwide its departure from settled church teachings by consecrating an unrepentant, practicing homosexual bishop. If there were any part of the Executive Council meeting about which church members would have the strongest interest in knowing, it would be this very conversation-about which they will not be permitted to know.
Also questionable is the decision to go into executive session for ongoing "anti-racism training." This training has, in the past, been open, and it has have given us a fascinating glimpse into mindset of the Executive Council. As recently as last week, the denomination's Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music saw no problem in holding its anti-racism training in an open meeting.
But, on the evening of June 13 and the entire day of June 14, the Executive Council will hold its training behind closed doors. Church members might be asking why, at a time when debates on sexual morality and fidelity to the global Church threaten to tear the denomination apart, the council is devoting so much more time to address the problem of racism. Perhaps observers at the anti-racism training sessions might have heard and witnessed how that allocation of time was justified. But such observers will not be permitted.
It is an ominous sign that at the time of greatest controversy, with its future most uncertain, the Episcopal Church has chosen to close its doors and board up its windows. What signal does this action send, not only to Episcopalians around the country, but to Anglicans around the world? Why is it that now, at one of the most critical points in the current crisis, the Episcopal Church has decided that it must shield its thought and debate from the public?
Such behavior raises questions about the intentions of the Executive Council. Has the council's commitment to transparency been compromised by its willingness to regularly close significant portions of its meetings? We believe so.
As a result, IRD is not sending a reporter to the meeting as we had intended. In times like these, openness could make a contribution toward diffusing mistrust. We are disappointed to see that the Executive Council has taken a different road-one which confirms for many their mistrust of the national leadership of the Episcopal Church.
I suspect the reason the "anti-racism" training will go on behind closed doors is because the participants want to learn how to call Africans ignorant homophobic savages in a PC way. No mystery there.
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