I’ve been thinking about the GS vote this time. For decades General Superintendents simply expected to receive a “90% or better Yes vote” yet this time Armiger received a 72% and Pence a 58% vote. Why was this? What contributed to these lower than usual votes? Here’s my take. It is at least partially right, though I’m sure I’ve missed something. Here is how I see it:
1. I think it started in 2004 when people expected Earle Wilson to retire and he decided to run again…and his vote slid below 75% as a result. Earle Wilson accepted and served the next four years which lowered the bar for the future.
2. Delegates saw a pattern in the GBA-recommended memorials is toward centralization of power… moving power form the Districts and General Conference to the GBA, from the GBA to the BGS and from the laity to the clergy. It appeared to some that a centralized power grab was under way creating suspicion of existing leaders.
3. Several months ago the GBA used the “power of exigency” to respond to an “emergency” and simply merged two offices (General Secretary & Communications) without waiting a few months to let the General Conference decide this (like they did four years ago when Youth & LCE were merged into SF). Some delegates saw this as a arrogant use of “exigency power” when they could have asked “the people” just a few months later.
4. On Friday a group of GBA members tried to get through a late memorial to have an open ballot (instead of a yes/no vote) on General Superintendent. This was considered a “grass roots” power-to-the-people memorial that reduced the power of incumbency. The memorial failed to pass but its blockage was considered by some to be “entrenched power protecting their incumbency.”
5. On Saturday the “Pastoral Letter” was delivered using alternatively international figures and North American figures. Some delegates believed that the churches under Global Partners were used to paint a rosier picture of the church than it would have been if North American figures alone were used. While this has been a long-term approach to the cheer-leading expected form the GSs it grates on some people more this time, perhaps because “things have changed” (a common phrase being repeated this morning).
6. On Sunday morning and evening the General Superintendents featured themselves as the preachers. This is a 40-year tradition at General Conference but the response to it this time was different for many—as if the leaders were hogging these prime preaching opportunities for themselves and using it to campaign for office. Nothing has changed in what the GSs did—only the response was different this time.
7. As part of the Sunday evening service considerable time was spent honoring the retiring Earle Wilson (and his brother Norm). This is nothing new but it grated on some delegates—as if the GSs were spending too much time honoring each other. Again, this is nothing new…only the response was different this time.
8. On Monday morning the “general Officer reports” filled considerable time accompanied by videos which came across to some as “political campaigning from headquarters” –though they did not blame the specific General Officers it fit into a pattern of one more day of headquarters PR or campaigning. Once again this is nothing new in presentation—just more people were bugged by it. Delegates had been in town a long time and not been able to have their voice heard yet—everything was “coming down” to them.
9. The conference stumbled onto some messy work on several memorials that appeared (to some) to show a breezy attitude toward what the GBA does in following the rules. When a judge (quite familiar with parliamentary law) questioned the propriety of consideration of a GBA-created memorial that did not actually pass the GBA she was ignored. To some there appeared a pattern here—especially if they had already decided there was a pattern.
10. The suggested move to five years for General Conferences appeared to some to be one more way to give the General leaders a extra 20% on their terms and to reduce the power of “the people” at general Conference.
11. Since the strategy for an open ballot had failed in the GBA the new strategy to reduce the automatic re-election of incumbents was a motion to divide the house—which means in the yes-no vote for GS it would have to receive 50%+ of laity and also 50%+ of ministers, a provision long standing in our denomination. The Chair, Earle Wilson ruled the motion out of order and General Superintendent Emeritus Lee Haines backed him up. This decision was appealed to the body and the body backed up the Chair (though with more than 40% rejecting the ruling). This came across to some as the GSs using their “chair power” to make the re-election of the incumbents easier… i.e. “Why are they afraid of an open ballot?” Bringing retired GS Lee Haines into the discussion appeared to some to be one more piling up of GSs protecting their incumbency.
12. After the ruling against the division of the house was squashed a discussion came up about the required move to Indianapolis of General leaders. In the Chair’s (Earle Wilson) explanation of the details of how they allowed H C Wilson to keep legal residence in Canada while also having a residence in Indianapolis it appeared to some that the GSs had somehow circumvented the rules or made some sort of deal with another former GS. Then Dave Holdren rose to make a speech saying he would move to Indianapolis if elected to which Dr. Wilson responded with elongated muttering about “150 night in Indianapolis and 150 nights in Ohio or whatever, or wherever or etc. and by the time he was finished it appeared to some that there was more hanky panky going on circumventing the rule that people move to Indianapolis. After Holdren made to move-to-Indy statement people wondered if this wasn’t about Holdren but Joanne Lyon so she also went to a mic to say she’d move to Indy if elected. All this made the GSs appear to some to be making backroom arrangements fudging on the move-to-Indy requirement but the effect for some was adding to the level of suspicion of GSs.
13. So after all this, delegates got to press their buttons yes or no on the motion to elect Tom Armiger… 28% pressed no. Moments later 42% pressed their no button on Jerry Pence, about the same proportion who voted to overrule Earle Wilson’s ruling against the division of the house motion a bit earlier.
I suspect there are other factors operating too. The general change of atmosphere in the US desiring “change we can believe in” and rejecting any sort of “entitlement to office” by those holding office. But one thing is clear—the vote for the two incumbent GSs was lower than usual—and something caused it. This is now a considerable discussion in the hallways today—what has changed? What do you think?