Why was the GS vote so low?

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?



Anonymous said...

Great Observations Keith. I believe that Pence should reconsider and step down. I wish the Wesleyan Church could have live video or at the least live audio of whats going on. With today s technology it should be able to pull off. Its hard for us to understand all the ins and outs with just quick updates. We do appreciate what you are doing.

Eric Roemer said...

I think that maybe people are begining to feel as if things can only stray so far away from what we believe is the best way of doing things before we say thats enough. I think that maybe if people were willing to speak up about some of these changes at the top sooner and were given a serious platform to do so that some much steam wouldn't have been let off the kettle all at once. I would hope that so many Wesleyan attending conference have been reminded the spirit in which we formed in the first place and will begin to feel comfortable speaking up more often than every couple quadannuals.

I think that the numbers re-encouraged me that we still have a very good system in place when it is used.

Eric said...

Thirteen points and the longest deliberation appears to have been over what zip code (*cough* postal code) Harry's potter is in. Ever heard of broadband, people? It's this wonderful tool that allows people to collaborate over great distances. A hundred years ago the big bruhaha was when the General Superintendent parked his car at a post that was reserved for a horse. I don't know how long it took us to "get over it" but I think this is another case where we need to get over it. Face-to-face is not a requirement in this era.

And besides... who WANTS to live in Indianapolis? :)

Anonymous said...

Good job on getting information out. I suspect there is at least one more aspect. People are tired of an ineffectual organizational heirachy which seems incapable of bringing itself out of the 50's and 60's.

I also think people have heard the mantra "change" and are applying in subconsciously to everything they can vote on.

We don't know what change is desired however there is a deep discontent.

Thanks for some "real time" reporting.

Kevin Wright said...

I think that you're onto something with the "Change we can believe in" attitude that has swept across America. Could it be that Americans' political attitudes are having an affect on their ecclesial opinions?

That being said, I say good for the General Conference delegates on this one. The BGS has resorted to draconian tactics to centralize power at the expense of community discernment. If you want to be a papist, there's already a church that does that quite well, thank you very much. I think Dr. Lyon's election (and the previous low numbers for Dr. Armiger and even lower numbers for Dr. Pence) point to the fact that Dr. Lyon has a kind of "outsider" status. She didn't come up through the Asbury or NTS ranks. She went and did her own thing and did it quite well. She hasn't been an Indianapolis bureaucrat and people trust her not to make backroom deals and continue on the gentlemen's club.

The General Conference did the right thing and the other two G.S.'s should be worried. They can either continue to centralize or they can call for more open communication, better procedures that invite communal discernment, and stop trying to act like bishops. Notice also that some other general officers had slightly lower re-election margins as well (Dr. Kelly's count was very low while Dr. Dunn's was high)
Ironically, some of these folks should take a cue from another administrator whose actions came off as stubborn and brash. I think this person is our current president and I'm willing to bet there are more connections to how people perceive both individuals' actions thank one would think.

Bitty said...

THANK YOU for the updates. Hello, next general conference, provide streaming coverage!
I can't help but think of indie garage bands vs. highly publicized, groomed musicians in the power discussion. Though the latter is often found on the top 40, the only people who pay attention to the top 40 are teenage girls. Real "taste" is often seen by allegiance to lesser known but "true" artists. We don't want to be marketed to.
On another note: POP THE CHAMPAGNE for JoAnne Lyons! That is...well...throw some confetti. This could very well change the shape of Wesleyanism AS WE KNOW IT - I don't see how it can't. Between hearing Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf speak, and this news, well, it's been a good spring for women (sorry Hillary, you've got Too Much Baggage named Bill. Kick him out!)

Anonymous said...

Good insights Keith.
While I am in shock that Jerry )or anyone for that matter) would accept a vote like that, I am even more disappointed with the reporting on the Wesleyan web site. If not telling the whole truth is lying, then they are very close to lying. Do they not understand that that kind of separation from reality is the fuel that drives those who feel that the Tom and Jerry show is cartoonish at best?

Chad McCallum said...

When I first read the vote I thought it must have been a typo. When that vote was announced something tells me that the there were more than one murmurs in the room. And then to accept...wow...I will reserve any pointed statements as my bloodline is presently employed at HQ (my brother in law is General Treasurer), but something tells me there isn't a DBA in our denomination that would bless a pastor accepting on a vote of that number. Wow.

Anonymous said...

If Jerry Pence is at a District Conference this year and a DS has a 58% vote what does He as the chair say? hmmm just something to think about.

Bryon Switala said...

Thanks for the break down. It helps us little people understand the workings those "in the know"
I am very proud to be a Wesleyan and believe our denomination has alot to offer todays society.

Anonymous said...

I think your analysis is shrewd, as usual, but I’m struck by the irony of a group of people who want the GSs to stand for election (not confirmation) every four years—but don’t want to hear “campaigning” from the GSs!
I recognize how those two attitudes go together (and my experience tells me that is a common “accord of discontents”), but it seems counter-intuitive. If we make the GSs stand for election every go-round, just like Congressmen or Presidents, then we should expect to deal with campaigning from them—just like congressmen or presidents!

kerry said...

A system of "straw nominations" for General Superintendents was established in 2004, for an open GS seat. In January 2008, all delegates had opportunity to submit 3 names. Any mentioned by less than 10% were discarded. That left Drs. Holdren and Lyon. These were viewed as de facto nominees. Many people wanted both of these, but there was only one open slot. Many of the negative votes for Drs. Armiger and Pence were an attempt to create another open slot for either Holdren or Lyon. Therefore, it was not truly a yes-no vote such as a pastor receives. It was a competitive vote with shadow nominees in the room. Dr. Armiger was fortunate to come first as some were saving their no votes for Dr. Pence. When Dr. Armiger was reelected, many who voted no for him also voted no for Pence, combining the votes of those who wanted BOTH Lyone and Holdren.
My comment: the quasi-nomination process is new and flawed and didn't work well. We need a lower threshold and a longer list of names of "rising stars" at the very least.

Keith Drury said...

I agree with Kerry--the new system which supposedly improves the candidate pot has not turned out to be any better than the old open ballot on the floor which allowed the Lord to move on people at the conference.... this new system is better for those who wish to declare candidacy, send out letters to DSs saying so, to create platforms for the office and have a full-fledged political "race" but it has not turned out to be that much better than the old system of simply praying then putting one name on the ballot for GS.... then re-voting until the Lord leads us to one name.