Shuck and Jive

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Dirty Tricks at Indian Nations Presbytery

Update March 10: A commenter took issue with my assumption of motivation of what went down at Indian Nations. I agree with that. I don't know the motivation. It would be good to know exactly what happened.

Regardless of motivation (which we do not know--yet), voting on a measure without debate is against both Robert's Rules of Order and our historic Presbyterian process of discernment.

The anti-amendment B crowd has decided to play dirty.

At the Presbytery of Indian Nations, the anti-B crowd fearful of open and honest debate voted to suppress debate before it even began. They mustered up enough Spirit squelchers to move directly to a vote on the amendment without presentations or discussion. Bruce has the story and the week's wrap:

What should have been a no-to-yes flip this year turned into a 3% anti-equality shift due to the use of the "stifle the Spirit" tactic used during the presbytery meeting. Thanks for reminding us that you don't play fair, anti-08B people. Your use of this tactic suggests that you don't feel that your arguments can stand the sunlight of open discussion, as mandated by Presbyterian polity. If you think that the PCUSA should discriminate against gay people, at least have the guts to stand up in your presbytery meeting and say so. Cowards.
What is the deal? What about discernment and debate? Listening to the Spirit? That means nothing to this crowd. Don't let this happen in your presbytery. Back to Bruce:
I should be clear about the impact of what we've learned from the past week. If you're in a presbytery which has a good chance of a vote flip this year, YOUR PRESBYTERY IS A TARGET FOR VOTING PROCESS ABUSE during your presbytery meeting. You should do what you can both before and during your presbytery meeting to ensure that 08-B is given a fair, deliberative discussion and a fair vote. If you feel that the process isn't fair, at the very least please make some noise about it, under the "sunlight is the best disinfectant" principle.

Here are some popular tactics that can be used by anti-equality groups to game the voting system so that pro-equality overtures have a reduced probability of success at the presbytery level:

- "Stifle the Spirit" tactic: Don't allow discussion of the equality overture, just go directly to a vote. Variation: schedule only a token time interval for discussion.

- "Public intimidation" tactic: Don't use secret ballots -- make people stand up in the middle of presbytery meeting to have their vote counted. Works particularly well in presbyteries with a strong majority on either side.

- "Endurance test" tactic: Schedule the vote on the overture at the end of a 7-hour meeting so that younger voters with kids at home have to leave before the vote.

- "Consent calendar" tactic: Put a "no" vote on the overture onto the consent calendar to try to sneak it through. Even if pro-equality supporters catch this trick, they then have to go through procedural hoops on the floor of presbytery to get the item removed from the consent calendar.

This is just my off-the-cuff list -- I'm confident that there are other tactics that can be, and have been, used to create an unfair context for voting.
It was a predictably tough week. Thirteen presbyteries voted and out of those thirteen, ten have been historically anti-equality. Indian Nations was the one that should have flipped.

Yes 2
No 11

The vote count is 36 yes and 57 no.

It is a long way from over!


  1. Folks on the far right cutting off debate and discussion?!

    Color me surprised.

    I'm mostly surprised that they didn't ban anyone who disagreed with them from attending the meeting at all.

  2. At Greater Atlanta, we had "two" speakers, one for and one against. Each was allotted two minutes. The first (from the "No" side) was from a gentleman who spoke only Portuguese. After he went on for the whole 2 minutes, a woman offered to translate (again taking 2 minutes to do so). She began by saying "I'm not going to translate what he said exactly, but give you the gist of what he said and what I think about it." The second was from a friend of mine who was ordained last year (and whose wife was just ordained on Saturday!). He gave his address, which was IMO pretty moving.

    The meeting broke for lunch. Afterwards, the three mikes were set up, one Yes, one No, and one Questions. Commissioners got two minutes to state their cases. After about 20 minutes, one of the No crowd moved to suspend debate and vote. After counting by who stood and sat, the moderator said there weren't enough votes and debate continued. About 45 minutes later (and both sides were repeating the same things over and over and over), the motion came again and succeeded. That's when we had the secret ballot vote.

    From what it sounds like, the cons in Indian Nation Presbytery learned from the results of Greater Atlanta and other "flipped" presbyteries to try to prevent a similar outcome. The good news from Yellowstone gives me hope.

  3. Fly,

    I think the best cure to nasty tricks is to expose them. Thanks for the report from Atlanta (a good process).

  4. Like someone's comment on the floor of presbytery moments before the vote is really going to change anyone's mind. Come on, get real.

  5. Ray,

    Yes, that happens all the time. People are influenced by conversations. That is why we have debate. Discerning the Holy Spirit, remember?

  6. Well, Ray, in the PCUSA, we believe in open, honest debate and discussion.

    We even have this outlandish notion that something we call "The Holy Spirit" works in the hearts and minds of our commissioners. I'm sure there's a wikipedia article on the Holy Spirit, if that's a concept you're not familiar with.

    Now you may dispute such assertions, but they are what we orthodox Presbyterians believe.

  7. Dear John et. al.,

    I am concerned that you are harboring ill will and rancor towards me and others whom you do not even know, but have made sinful assumptions about. I hope my words may bring some clarity, and also ease your hearts of bitterness toward "the anti-B crowd" in Indian Nations.

    I am a pastor at one of the large evangelical churches in Indian Nations, and was present for the whole Presbytery meeting where the vote occurred. I have no idea who "Bruce" is from whom you got your information about our meeting, but most of what he said is fiction, based on false assumptions.

    As pastor of a leading church opposing 8-B, I would have been "in on" any strategies by my "side" on how to influence the vote. The only strategy that we as a group had is the same as many on the opposing side: to make sure we got as many voting delegates to the meeting as we were rightly permitted to have.

    We did not play dirty. In fact, the deck was stacked against us from the beginning by our Presbytery Council, who decided to create a "discernment process" which would have limited debate considerably and framed the question in ways supportive of the proposed amendment. When their proposed approach came up for a vote at the very beginning of our business meeting, one minister (not a self-identified evangelical or part of any block that I know of) stood to propose an amendment, to everyone's surprise. His desire was to suspend any debate, have a minute of silence, another minute of prayer and then the vote (by secret ballot). That amendment was debated fully by the Presbytery and approved. (By the way, I voted against it, believing that true debate would have been very helpful, and as a result 8-B would have been defeated by an even larger margin, but that's another subject.)

    That is why things proceeded as they did. The minister in question argued that all sides' arguments have already been endlessly cycled over the last 30 years, and people already have their minds made up, so there is no need to waste time rehashing the obvious. Apparently the Presbytery as a whole agreed with him, for the vote in favor of his amendment was not very close.

    I would like to respond to some of Bruce's and your other rather inflammatory comments. Regarding the abusive tactics listed as possibilities that either side might undertake, in our case it was the Presbytery Council (most of whom would, I believe, line up with you on this issue) that proposed "stifling the Spirit" by ignoring regular parliamentary procedure in order to create a staged "listening process" that severely limited debate. The Presbytery was not willing to be manipulated by this top-down decree.

    There was no "public intimidation" in our voting. It was all done by secret ballot, on a separate sheet from all the other amendment votes so as not to allow for any confusion.

    Our vote occurred at the beginning of business, not at the end, so we cannot rightly be accused of an "endurance test" tactic.

    Our Presbytery did not employ a "consent agenda" regarding the amendment process. We plodded through each and every one. We cannot be rightly accused of trying to "sneak" anything through by parliamentary wizardry.

    I am saddened by the fact that though you don't know me at all, and had little or no direct information about our Presbytery meeting, you nonetheless were willing to bear false witness against many of us, and in such a public way on your blog. You accuse us of being fearful of open and honest debate, of being Spirit squelchers, of being cowards, of encouraging or even perpetrating voter fraud. From where I sit, none of these things is true.

    I have written this in the hope that you will give me the benefit of the doubt as a brother in Christ that I am relaying events accurately and fairly, and that if you believe me you will repent of false witness, gossip, malice, rancor, or whatever in your heart led you to post what you did. I understand that you feel strongly about this amendment, and were distressed over the outcome because you expected Indian Nations to "flip", but perhaps such was not the Spirit's will, and in your passion to pass 8-B you perhaps squelched the Spirit by not listening closely enough to His will. In any case, your own frustration is not sufficient warrant for demoninzing those of us in the body of Christ who stand for the orthodox position of the Church from its earliest days.

    I bear you no ill will, and hope that the Spirit will lead you more deeply into Christ's fullness. I have forgiven you on my part. May the Lord do the same.

  8. Mateen,

    Thanks for sharing your side of the story.

    Bruce is Bruce Hahne who runs the blog I linked to in this post.

    More Light Presbyterians also posted on it here

    The other tactics were examples for people to be aware, not about this particular situation.

    It was wrong to assume motivation on my part. I will correct that in the post.

    However, not having debate most certainly squelches the spirit regardless of the motivation.

    It goes against the very fabric of being Presbyterian, to discern the spirit during debate and discussion.

    "The minister in question argued that all sides' arguments have already been endlessly cycled over the last 30 years, and people already have their minds made up, so there is no need to waste time rehashing the obvious."

    I would hope that you know that is not true. It is an argument given often by those who oppose changing G-6.0106b.

    Further, it is against our procedure.

    Robert's Rules requires that a body be given opportunity to discuss a motion. The motion itself appears to be out of order.

    It is hard to imagine how a discernment process with people speaking from both sides favors the amendment.

    Unless of course you agree that
    no debate on this issue most certainly favors the status quo.

    I bear you know ill will either. I am glad you came here to offer your perspective.

  9. You know, Mateen, you accused me of assuming motivations (and I did). Did you not do the same?

    Regarding the abusive tactics listed as possibilities that either side might undertake, in our case it was the Presbytery Council (most of whom would, I believe, line up with you on this issue) that proposed "stifling the Spirit" by ignoring regular parliamentary procedure in order to create a staged "listening process" that severely limited debate. The Presbytery was not willing to be manipulated by this top-down decree.

    But I forgive you and I hope you find Jesus.

  10. John,

    Thank you for responding. If you don't mind, I will try to answer your question regarding my own assumptions and then respond to one inaccuracy.

    It is true I am drawing conclusions regarding the intentions of the Council. However, I happen to know many of those members' stands on various issues and have watched them in action at various presbytery meetings, so my statements are based on a bit more than hearsay and innuendo. I don't understand how you think both are comparable situations. If I have wronged them, I will apologize for misinterpreting their actions. I'm fascinated by the fact that you have agreed that it was wrong to assume motivations, yet you have not seen fit to offer an apology. Do you not wish reconciliation?

    On the matter of Robert's Rules, I believe you are incorrect. Votes are often taken on motions without debate. The opportunity for debate must be offered, but the body can rule out debate before it has begun if it so chooses. One parliamentary procedure for that is called "Objection to Consideration of [the] Question". Here's what RONR says specifically:
    "Before debate on an original (ordinary substantive) main motion has begun you may raise an Objection to Consideration of [the] Question, which is undebatable and can suppress the main question by a two-thirds vote against consideration. [RONR (10th ed.), p. 209, l. 1-4; p. 258-61; see also p. 129 of RONR In Brief.]"

    Use of regular parliamentary procedure allows for a motion to amend to be made at any time once a question has been put to the assembly. That was done, and the assembly voted in favor of it. Though you don't approve of the outcome, what you have stated about the process is, I believe, wrong.

    I infer from your statement "It would be good to know exactly what happened," that you don't believe my report. I am sorry that your mistrust of me is so high that you dismiss my account "as my side of the story." I haven't seen any other sides that would dispute the basics I have given.

    Lastly, concerning the argument put forward by the minister who wished to bypass debate, the question isn't whether you agree with him that there has already been enough debate. The question is what the presbytery facing that argument believed, and as a body they disagreed with you and agreed with him. (As I mentioned before, I voted against the amendment, agreeing with you about the helpfulness of debate, but I was overruled by the majority). Some feel that 30 years of debate on this topic should count as enough, and are ready to vote and move on. The call for futher debate is appealing to fewer and fewer, if the voting statistics of presbyteries this time around is any indicator.

    In any case, I'm intrigued that you offer me forgiveness for my statement regarding my own Presbytery Council. Did I wrong you somehow with that statement? If not, are you offering me forgiveness for a sin I committed against someone else? I have always been taught through the Scriptures that such was God's prerogative alone.

    Thank you for your hope that I will find Jesus. I am learning to look for Him in even the most unlikely places. Perhaps I will find Him even in this setting.

  11. Mateen,

    You are right. I made assumptions regarding motivations and wrote unfortunate things based upon those motivations.

    I wasn't there. You were. I will take you at your word.

    I apologize to you and to other members of your presbytery that I have wronged with my words.

    These are difficult times for our church and it doesn't help to impugn motives that aren't there.

    I hope you will accept my apology.

    Like you, I think it was unfortunate that there was not a full and fair debate on this amendment.

    I hope the remaining presbyteries will have ample time for debate and discernment of the amendment itself not just debate about whether or not to have debate.

  12. John,

    Thank you for your gracious words. I echo your desire for full and frank debate and discussion under the guidance of the Spirit (and I would add under the authority of the Bible). May God lead this denomination in ways that bring glory to His name.

    Thank you for taking the time and energy to respond to my concerns with gentleness and grace.

  13. Thanks Mateen.

    I also apologize for the snippy comment about finding Jesus.

    I am curious about what happened and whether this Objection to the Consideration of the Question was in order.

    The piece you quoted from Robert's Rules said what is needed is a 2/3 vote and it is undebatable. I am assuming that it passed by a 2/3 vote.

    Also debate on this would have been out of order. Given that it appears there should have been vote without any discussion or debate.

    Here is an item about it in Wikipedia.

    The Standard Code (TSC)

    This motion is not recognized in The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure and is criticized for being confusing. The Standard Code offers alternative motions for accomplishing the same purpose.[2] Some organizations have bylaw provisions specifying that an objection to the consideration of a question is not in order at any time.

    Legislative Use

    Mason's Legislative Manual states that the purpose of the objection to consideration is to bar from discussion or consideration "any matter that is considered irrelevant, contentious or unprofitable, or that, for any reason, is thought not advisable to discuss."[3]

    Here is an interesting story of how this was used in a Methodist church meeting:

    Then came the final resolution -- one supportive of homosexual unions but not calling on the conference to actually take any action. Immediately after the resolution was announced by the chair of the resolutions committee, the author of this report raised an objection "to consideration of the question."

    Called upon by the Bishop to explain my objection, I noted that such an objection is permitted under the rules regarding any motion deemed "irrelevant, unprofitable or contentious."

    I explained that the resolution on homosexual unions failed all three tests. "It is certainly contentious. It calls for no action on the part of the conference, therefore it is irrelevant. And I would submit that it most certainly unprofitable to debate that which God already has decided."

    The Bishop called for vote on the objection, which was sustained by more than two-thirds of the body. This kept the resolution from the floor.

    Then I found this: from Robert's Rules Revised:

    An objection may be made to the consideration of any original main motion, and to no others, provided it is made before there is any debate or before any subsidiary motion is stated. Thus, it may be applied to petitions and to communications that are not from a superior body, as well as to resolutions. It cannot be applied to incidental main motions [11], such as amendments to by-laws, or to reports of committees on subjects referred to them, etc.

    So it appears to me that this motion was out of order because:

    1) The resolution came from a superior body (the General Assembly).

    2) There was debate on it on the floor which should not have happened.

    3) Our Presbyterian constitution requires that these resolutions be carefully considered.

    The moderator should have ruled this out of order and not allowed for any debate upon it.

  14. John,

    I don't mean to belabor this, and am ready to move on, but let me correct something I apparently didn't make very clear.

    In demonstrating the fact that Robert's Rules allows for motions to be dealt with apart from any debate I cited one possible parliamentary procedure that the Rules permit. I did not mean to imply that this was employed during our Presbytery meeting. It was not. What occurred was a simple motion to amend, which of course is debatable, and which was fully debated before the vote occurred. I apologize for creating more confusion.

    I hope this clears things up regarding our meeting, and trust that we can both move on to more fruitful pursuits!

    The Lord's blessing be with you.

  15. Thanks Mateen for hanging in there with me. My point here is that the only way not to have debate on an amendment handed down to us by General Assembly for deliberation and vote is the parliamentary rule you mentioned (that didn't happen).

    What happened was out of order. The moderator should have ruled it out of order and if not then an objection should have been made from the floor.

    May the Lord's blessing be with you as well.

    BTW, you have me at a bit of a disadvantage. You know me! What is your name?

  16. John,

    Mateen is my given name. It is a Muslim Arabic name -- one of the 99 attributed to Allah in the Quran that you are now working your way through. Though that is my heritage, I became a Christian at age 20.

  17. Mateen (The Firm One)!

    Cool! Thanks again for coming over and correcting me.

    You are a good egg.


  18. Yep, Sounds like the same old same old. We are always told that We were the "Church Reformed and Ever to Be Reformed", but as usual, We end up acting more like a corrupt, fat, staid, spiritualy Obtuse assembly of impotent potentates of the Same old Same old. Calvin would have been be-headed by this Presbytery--and Indian Nations Presbytery would fit right in with sixteenth century papal courts--- because this Presbytery is not very Presbyterian...or Christian.