Discerning Votes at General Convention

A brief reflection by the Rev’d Gay Jennings, candidate for President of the House of Deputies, eight-time Deputy (from Ohio), member of Executive Council, Chair of Executive Council’s Governance and Mission Standing Committee, Council of Advice for the President of the House of Deputies, and involved in many other church-related activities

General Convention is about to begin, so right now, bishops and deputies are deep in the process of considering legislation that will come before committees and, ultimately, both houses of convention. Legislative resolutions have to be filed by 5 pm on the second legislative day of convention, which this year is July 6. Many resolutions have already been filed; they are posted on the General Convention website.

Deputies, both laypeople and clergy, and bishops undertake an arduous and comprehensive discernment process about the legislation considered by General Convention. The meaning of the word discernment is to judge well, to have insight and understanding, and that’s what we seek to do. We read, research, reflect, discuss, debate and pray, and then we vote.

We have ample opportunity to discern before we make committee decisions and vote on resolutions. Before General Convention we receive the Blue Book with reports and A resolutions from CCABs. We can go online and read submitted B, C, and D resolutions. The Archives has prepared background information on all resolutions so we can delve into the historical record of an issue.

Once we arrive at General Convention, legislative committees begin deliberating. Hearings are open to everyone, not just deputies and bishops, so that all sides of the issues may be expressed and explored. Legislative committees take what they have heard, clarify and hopefully perfect resolutions, and then send those resolutions to one of the Houses.

Each committee’s resolutions go to its assigned House of Initial action—the House of Bishops or the House of Deputies—where the chair of the legislative committee reports on the committee’s recommendation. The House then discusses the resolution and votes. The resolution before the House can be amended or substituted. If the resolution is adopted in whatever form, then it goes to the other House for discussion and vote. If the resolution is amended in any way, it goes back to the initial House for concurrence. If there is no concurrence, the resolution dies. If the resolution contains an amendment to the Constitution, two successive General Conventions must adopt the resolution.

Recently there’s been some conversation about whether or not the very act of voting, which some see primarily as a secular way of making decisions, is unhelpful to our common life. But voting at General Convention is a deeply faithful act. The word “vote” is derived from the Latin word “votum,” or vow—a religious act. When General Convention votes, it is making a vow, pledging the church to live by its vote, which has come after intense discussion, discernment and prayer. We believe the Holy Spirit is present during our deliberations. Rule #1 of the Rules of Order of the House of Deputies reads, “As an indication of our humble dependence upon the Word and Spirit of God, and following the example of primitive Councils, a copy of the Holy Scriptures shall always be reverently placed in view at the meetings of this House.”

It’s clear that we need to restructure our church for the 21st century, and as chair of the House of Deputies legislative committee on structure, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading, researching, reflecting, discussing, debating and praying so that I’m ready to vote and help others understand the issues clearly so that they can discern their own votes. Please pray for me and for all who have accepted the responsibility of voting at this year’s General Convention.

Part of the decision-making process means digesting many, many pages of text and then voting on them.

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One Response to Discerning Votes at General Convention

  1. Lisa Fox says:

    This is a fine explanation. Thank you, Lee, for sharing it.

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