Just think about how incredible it is that we don’t all murder each other all the time. Sometimes I look at bonobos and despair that as a species we’re really barbaric, but then I think of the other way it could go and I’m pretty impressed we’ve found ways to come together in huge bodies representing millions of people and deliberate for days on the most intense and controversial subjects all without one little murder.
Presbyterians especially like to argue. Our defining moment in history might have been when Jenny Geddes threw a stool at the head of the rector of St. Giles when he dared to read from the Book of Common Prayer (which was then a bunch of episcopal nonsense *shake my fist at bishops*). I mean, some people credit that with starting the English Civil War which was kind of a blood bath and culminated in regicide so, George R.R. Martin eat your heart out.
But here we are in massive air-conditioned rooms logging fourteen hour days fighting with furious passion about weighty matters and I haven’t seen a single fist-fight. Keep that in mind with what I’m about to say next.
The relative nonviolence of the process doesn’t mean everyone is behaving well. As at previous assemblies there is the occasional not so subtle name calling. People favoring divestment (like me) have been called in so many words anti-semitic and white supremacist. There have been a few (though fewer than in years past) offensive comparisons of lgbtq persons to criminal acts. More than a few expletives have been dropped about the technopalypse that was Saturday night.
But the real bad behavior isn’t cosmetic stuff like unkind words. The real bad behavior is the parliamentary chicanery that our polity inevitably invites.
For example, yesterday there was a motion to poll Executive Presbyters as an advisory group like TSADs, YADs, and EADs (a bunch of acronyms I know – I’m a presbyterian, get over it). Dan Saperstein gave a great analysis of why this is SOOOO problematic, but the upshot is that our advisory delegates are traditionally a way we invite groups who have limited voice or power in our denomination to have some voice at the assembly: students, young adults, and our ecumenical partners. To invite people who already have significant power, executive presbyters, to have more voice undermines the purpose of the role in a major way. This vote seems totally out of order to me and will hopefully be corrected at the plenary on Wednesday.
There is speculation that the advisory delegate vote has something to do with Israel-Palestine issues. It’s unclear if that is the case, but the motion did come from members of the two presbyteries most opposed to divestment.
The other example of parliamentary chicanery I want to describe was an effort (defeated) by members of the Middle East Issues Committee to structure the agenda so that the anti-divestment lobby would receive dedicated time not related to a motion to oppose the work of Mission Responsibility Through Investment. MRTI brought an overture to this assembly. It is in order to debate that motion in the open hearings where you have equal time given to both sides. It is absolutely out of order to attempt to setup extra time on the agenda for one side of a debate not under the auspice of a particular motion, but opposing the body that brought the motion to the assembly.
Had this gone through (the vote was relatively close), the result would have been that the anti-divestment lobby would have had three times the amount of time as the pro-divestment side to present arguments. The irony is that the attempt to amend the agenda was made in the name of “balance” which we presbyterians are absolute suckers for. It reminded me of a cartoon depicting opposing ideas of equality, or a more recent one pointing out the idiocy behind “reverse racism”.
Fox News proclaims that it is fair and balanced too. Don’t be fooled.