February 10, 2007
Clear the Air -
An Open Letter to the ELCIC's National Church Council
To: The officers, members and advisory members of the National Church Council
From: Ron Voss (member of St. Peter's Lutheran Church, Cochrane, Alberta)
Date: February 10, 2007
Subject: Clear the Air Regarding Allegations Calling into Question the Validity of the 2005 National Convention Vote on Same-Sex Blessings
After the 2005 National Convention, I had heard rumours that allegations were being made about the validity of the vote on same-sex blessings because of various improprieties surrounding that vote. For example, commenting on the ELCIC notification that lay delegates would need to be elected by January 20th, 2007 and that such a deadline would be strictly enforced, Bishop Ron Mayan told those of us in attendance at the Alberta Synod's Southwestern Conference meeting in Okotoks on October 14, 2006 that this was happening because "rumours" were circulating that the delegates for the 2005 National Convention "were stacked".
The first publicly-disclosed allegations of impropriety and unfairness ("manifest constitutional and procedural irregularities"), of which I am aware, surfaced in a significant way among several of the motions related to same-sex blessings that were brought forward by various clergy at the 2006 Eastern Synod Convention. A record of these public allegations, and others that have since come to my attention, is provided in Appendix 1.
Drawing upon Appendix 1, the following is a summary of the public allegations of impropriety and unfairness related to the 2005 National Convention vote on same-sex blessings that have been brought forward:
1. unauthorized and illegal release of a delegates list to opponents of the motion
2. intrusive red-ribbon campaign
3. registration deadlines were not enforced and there were a large number of congregations who registered their delegates far beyond the deadline
4. inappropriate binding of delegates
5. delegates arriving late for the sole purpose of defeating the motion and leaving early once the motion had been defeated
6. delegates having their way paid on condition that they vote against the motion; a few wealthy members of our church, also adamantly opposed to the motion, offered to pay the registration for delegates of congregations which had previously rarely or never sent delegates, on the understanding that said delegates would vote against the motion
Many of these allegations would be laughable if the matter were not so serious, as such allegations appear to be intended to dismiss the validity of the 2005 National Convention vote. For example, a question has been raised as to whether the 2005 vote, "represents the democratically expressed will of our church". In fact, drawing upon these allegations, several people have even suggested that these allegations provide justification for the action taken by the Eastern Synod at its 2006 Convention; action which the National Church Council, in its ruling of the "legality" of the Eastern Synods action, declared as being "beyond its constitutional authority". Such allegations, whether they are being spread through public declarations or through the rumour mill, are casting a pall over the 2007 National Convention. Therefore, I would urge the National Church Council to get to the bottom of these allegations and clear the air on this matter.
I hereby request that the National Church Council conduct an inquiry into these allegations and provide a report of its findings from such an inquiry prior to the commencement of the 2007 National Convention.
With respect to allegation #1 above, it should be understood that a request was made to the National Office for a list of the delegates and that such a list was provided; nobody broke into the National Office in the middle of the night to pilfer the list. If the safe-guarding of such a list was so critical to the ELCIC, then appropriate procedures and communication to staff should have been put in place to provide such safeguard. My understanding of well-run, accountable organizations is that the buck stops at the top. As an aside, it is my understanding that in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the ELCA secretary is obligated to give a voting delegate the delegates list for a churchwide assembly, with addresses, provided that the delegate making such a request pays for the costs of printing and sending it.
With respect to allegation #2, the "intrusive" red ribbon campaign, as one of the first items of business Bishop Schultz made a ruling that the red ribbons supplied by the takingastand movement, saying "Taking a Stand on the Word of God", were not allowed to be worn in the convention hall and that "partisan symbols" of any sort were not to be worn during the convention business sessions and the convention worship. With respect to "partisan symbols" being worn during convention business sessions, I attended the 2004 Eastern Synod Convention where I saw many rainbow stickers affixed to peoples' name badges during the course of the convention. There was no ruling from the chair that the wearing of such "partisan symbols" was out of order. Finally, I don't recall this generating an outcry about the validity of the Eastern Synod's petition to the National Church Council regarding a local option for same-sex blessings.
In any event, with respect to allegations #1 and #2, if these events were understood to unfairly compromise the business that was to take place at the convention, then a declaration to this effect should have been made at the very outset of the convention; not after the business and votes had been concluded. There was no such declaration made. Therefore, in conducting its inquiry, I would recommend that National Church Council focus its efforts upon allegations #3 to #6, above.
With respect to allegation #3, I would contend that it is not the fault of the registrants but the 'fault' (if one would call it that) of the church's administration for allowing late registration. I assume that such generous flexibility on the church's part was a common practice for church conventions till that point in time. However, a comment such as "there were a large number of congregations who registered their delegates far beyond the deadline" does raise a concern about a matter that the National Church Council should investigate as part of its inquiry. For someone to make such allegations, it would mean that information of that nature would have to have been provided to that person by person(s) at the National Office. The National Church Council is requested to determine who from the National Office was responsible for the release of such information. More seriously, for someone to make the claim that "those opposed to the motion were significantly over-represented in this group [that is, late registrants]", that meant that such a person had to have been provided the names of such congregations and their delegates. Who from the National Office was responsible for or authorized the release of such information? How the claimant was able to ascertain from such information that "those opposed to the motion were significantly over-represented in this group" is another matter.
For its inquiry into these allegations, I would suggest that the National Church Council request all those persons who, either in public or in communication to the National Church Council, have made allegations about the unfairness of the 2005 convention vote, to submit a deposition outlining their hard evidence in support of their allegations and/or be asked to come forward and present their evidence to the National Church Council.
Public Allegations Calling into Question the Validity of the 2005 National Convention Vote on Same-Sex Blessings
1. Contained within Motions Submitted by Eastern Synod Clergy to the 2006 Eastern Synod Convention
Within Rationale 3 for Motion 1.2, "Pastoral Discretion Regarding the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions", submitted by Rev. André Lavergne, Rev. Judi Harris, Rev. Helen Toman, and Rev. Syd Hills, these pastors made various claims that the 2005 vote was "not dealt with fairly":
The original Eastern Synod request had been made in the expectation that it would be dealt with fairly. While the process on the National Convention floor itself was fair, serious questions have been raised with Bishop Pryse and others in authority, including NCC, as to the intrusive red-ribbon campaign and attendant denigration of supporters of the motion; the unauthorized and illegal release of a delegates list to opponents of the motion; the inappropriate binding of delegates; delegates arriving late for the sole purpose of defeating the motion and leaving early once the motion had been defeated; delegates having their way paid on condition that they vote against the motion, etc. Eastern Synod delegates might reasonably conclude that the Eastern Synod Assembly motion of 2004 and the NCC motion of 2006 that resulted from it were not dealt with fairly.
As well, under Rationale 5 for Motion 1.2, these same Eastern Synod pastors make reference to "a process so seriously undermined as to reflect very badly on our church".
Within Rationale 2 for Motion 1.3, "Congregational and Pastoral Discretion Regarding the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions", Eastern Synod clergy Rev. Paul Bosch and Rev. Dr. Oz Cole-Arnal declare:
In view of the manifest constitutional and procedural irregularities in the vote at Winnipeg, this [that is, their] motion would have the effect of negating the action of the national Church at Winnipeg, on the territory of Eastern Synod only.
2. A Letter from Bishop Cindy Halmarson Sent to Congregations in the Saskatchewan Synod
In a letter sent out to the rostered ministers and congregational chairpersons on January 17th, 2007, Saskatchewan Bishop Cindy Halmarson, while acknowledging that it had been the practice of the national church in the past to exercise leniency with respect to deadlines for delegate selection, made the observation that "some congregations abused the leniency of late registration". With the reference to "abuse", such a statement can be construed as supportive of those who claim the 2005 National Convention vote was "stacked".
3. Comments Posted by Rev. Michael Rodgers to the B.C. Synod's Email Forum, "Gracewords"
From the perspective of someone who was in several senses 'in the thick of the battle' at the time of the convention (just off NCC, chair of Reference and Counsel, etc.)", Rev. Michael Rodgers made the following posting to Gracewords on February 1st, 2007:
First of all, it is not at all clear that the vote taken by the convention was completely in order. Registration deadlines were not enforced, for example, and there were a large number of congregations who registered their delegates far beyond the deadline, and those opposed to the motion were significantly over-represented in this group. One explanation is that a few wealthy members of our church, also adamantly opposed to the motion, offered to pay the registration for delegates of congregations which had previously rarely or never sent delegates, on the understanding that said delegates would vote against the motion. Once the vote was taken, many of these delegates left. So, whether the vote indeed represents the democratically expressed will of our church through due process is an open question, in my opinion. That is also why the National Church is being very strict about registration procedures and deadlines this time around.
February 10, 2007