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Apr 13, 2006

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Denis Hancock

It is probably apocryphal, but when Winston Churchill said half the Parliament were jackasses, he was reprimanded by the speaker.

He revised his comment to "Half the members of Parliament are NOT jackasses", and that was acceptible.

I have been a commissioner to two different Presbyteries. One used the Book of Order and Robert's rules to effectively prevent Ruling Elders from participation in debate. My current Presbytery is a little more laid back about Robert's Rules. (maybe a bit TOO laid back, as I was present when the salary and terms of call for a minister were approved before the examination was sustained.)

If Robert's Rules are used to facilitate debate, then they are doing what they were designed to do. If they are used to stifle debate, then it is a perversion of their purpose.

I keep hearing about a desire to move to a consensus form of decision making. I suspect that is because some find Robert's Rules a little restricting when it comes to a minority trying to push an agenda that otherwise lacks traction.

From what I have read about consensus building, the first consensus "candidate" proposed has a definite inside edge, since for someone to object, they would have to "break" the consensus.

Robert's Rules can be cumbersome, but that system is far better than the anarchy that I see developing if we try to move away from RR.

Todd Bensel

I have been assured repeatedly by execs and chairs of committees that Roberts Rules of order don't work, and debate has only polarized people in working relationships, that's why we need to move to consensus decision making. But I don't believe that. What you have described is that parlimentary procedures do work, we just have not been adamant about "sticking with procedure and dignity." Isn't it easy to manipulate the process this way?

Michael Kruse

In smaller groups like sessions, RR is not always necessary. Our session (which I am not currently on) uses a modified Quaker approach to discernment every other meeting and seems to really like it.

In larger meetings I have not seen anything tried other than RR so I can't really comment here. I share the group pressure concerns with you Denis about the consensus approach.

Todd I think you are zeroing in on what I think is the big issue. It is more the attitudes of the participants than the process itself. I think what many people fail to appreciate is that many of the cumbersome procedures are there to ensure fairness to the minority. I am not convinced that RR polarizes people either. I think polarized people bring their polarization to the process.

Anyway, my big concern is more the triumph of Bulverism rather than the use of any particular procedure.

will spotts

Mike, I think you're right about the triumph of Bulverism. I suspect many of us do it without being aware of it.

I would point out, however, that there is a huge difference between debating proposed ideas and dealing with statements of fact. When a person profers such statements -- where the hearer is unable to verify them, then the biases held by the individual making the assertion come into play.

Specifically, is there a reason this person might lie? Is there a reason this person might be mistaken? Is there a clear pattern of bias that suggests caution in accepting such a statement.

I would not object to consensus decision making if it required unanimity (as traditional consensus process did). However, guided consensus tends to confer advantage on pre-determined outcomes. It's role is not about decision making as much as about getting buy in from participants. I've experienced this in numerous meetings, and I always regard the practice as dishonest and manipulative. (Let me clarify -- not all people practice decietful consensus decision making -- sometimes it can be a legitimate way to hear all sides. But the danger of manipulation is greatly enhanced. In fact, in some settings facilitators are directly trained to produce desired results.)

Michael Kruse

"I would point out, however, that there is a huge difference between debating proposed ideas and dealing with statements of fact. When a person profers such statements -- where the hearer is unable to verify them, then the biases held by the individual making the assertion come into play.

Specifically, is there a reason this person might lie? Is there a reason this person might be mistaken? Is there a clear pattern of bias that suggests caution in accepting such a statement."

Thanks Will. All good points. Having decorum does not mean being soft headed. Even with regard to statments of fact in some cases, I sometimes find it helpful to respectfully probe interpretations and voice my understading before jumping to quickly to an assessment of motives.

The are people with ill will out there. An adage says that just because I am paranoid doesn't mean there aren't people out to get me. Even when they are out to get me, I still chose my response.

Paul writes in Romans 12:

Rom 12:20-21
20 No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. NRSV

I have read that Paul was likely calling on the imagery of a blacksmith here. The blacksmith would stick metal into coals and heap them up, heating the metal and making it more pliable. Interesting idea of making your enemy pliable.

I think much of what goes on behind this stuff is whether we have the aim of transformation the world, including the hearts of our enemies, or the aim of winning with no regard for our enemies. Sometimes confrontation is what our enemies need. Oh, for the widsom to sort all this out when I am engaged in dialog.

will spotts

Good point.

Tony Smith

If you ever wish to see Bulverism at work, then challenge some point of cherished and long-held doctrine by holding it up against the light of Scripture.

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