January 24, 2015

Episcopal Translucency

The Joint Nominating Committee for the next Presiding Bishop has issued an interim report outlining some of the process by which they have proceeded. I remain bemused. I don't really understand why so many of the interim bodies, including the one on which I serve (the Task Force on the Study of Marriage), have felt the need to issue interim reports rather than to wait to issue the final report in what still is called "The Blue Book" but which was rarely blue even when it was a book. 

I don't find fault with the education material such groups have produced (including my own) and I found the Joint Nominating Committee's suite of three historical backgrounders helpful, as I hope some have found the resource on marriage, Dearly Beloved, to be of some help. But I am not amused by the sense of anxiety that continual updates and press releases need to be provided just to prove that these interim bodies are working on the tasks assigned to them.

I'm particularly bemused in the case of the nominating committee's progress reports as all that will matter is the final list of their nominees. There will be ample time to chew over that list, and there will be opportunity to offer other nominations if one's favorite was omitted. It seems that the need for what amounts to constant "information" (which really isn't) that has overtaken the 24-hour news cycle has bred a need to blather and comment.

We seem, as a church, to demand full but offer partial transparency, and to embrace an unhealthy obsession with process rather than clear evaluation of results. This produces a kind of unhelpful translucency that is less informative than opacity, and in the long run about as useful. It is the "form" of information without the "content" — much like the punditry of much of 24-hour "news."

I'm a long-time fan of the old management model DDAE: Discuss, Decide, Act, Evaluate. It is in that last step, Evaluation, that I think the Episcopal Church is at its weakest, and it undermines the beginning of the next cycle of Discussion. We seem constantly to be reinventing wheels rather than going anywhere. (I have been through enough rounds of "Where should '815' be?" to feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.)

So let's think about putting more effort into evaluation of results. That will help to inform the next round of discussion, leading to decision, and then one hopes, action.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

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