“Active Campaigning” – a teaser

So the day after my nomination was made official and my Facebook Fan page and Twitter account were created… the conversation about ‘campaigning’ began.  As I’ve said, I will comment in a future post this week about my perspective on what I’m attempting to do by using social media… but in the meantime, I thought you might be interested in this post written by “The GA Junkie”… (Al C. may have some competition in the USA).  I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

You can read the post, comments and more at this link:

http://blog.gajunkie.com/2011/12/03/an-interesting-development-in-the-presbyterian-church-in-canada—active-campaigning-for-moderator.aspx

I’ve also included the post below for those who don’t want to go to the link.  He asks some interesting questions.

An Interesting Development In The Presbyterian Church In Canada – Active Campaigning For Moderator

In my reading today I came across an interesting development — one of this year’s nominees for Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada has begun an active campaign for the office.

While this is now standard procedure in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in no other branch (to my knowledge) does active campaigning take place. In most branches out-and-out campaigning by a nominee is considered inappropriate to the office. Many times subtle campaigning does take place, but it is in the form of word being spread through networks of supporters asking voting delegates to support this candidate or that one.

Let us take a step back for a moment and consider the position and role of the Moderator. First, a person does not “run” for Moderator but “stands” for it. Someone does not so much seek the office as the office seeks them through the discernment of the community. The position is often considered an honor bestowed on an individual for service to the denomination but comes with the expectation that the person has the experience and character to preside over the meeting(s) of the governing body in a neutral way. The Moderator must control the flow and efficiency of the meeting while being fair to all making sure both sides get heard.  From experience I can tell you it is no small task and after a particular contentious meeting your head can be spinning. (And a good Moderator has a great Clerk covering their back.) In addition to presiding over the meeting the Moderator also acts as the visible face of the governing body for the term of office.  The office carries no power beyond that necessary to run the meeting and the powers accorded to the position for the work of the term of office. However, in the way that a person holds the office, the things they say and priorities they keep, they can have a significant impact on the life of a denomination.

I have written much more extensively on the role and selection Moderators but let me just finish by saying that there are three usual methods for a Presbyterian General Assembly or Synod to select their Moderator.  They can be elected from the commissioners to the Assembly at the beginning of the meeting (PC(USA), PCA). They can be selected by the presbyteries in the time leading up to the Assembly (PC Canada, PC Ireland). Or they can be selected by a nominating committee in advance of the meeting (Church of Scotland, Free Church of Scotland). As I mentioned above, the PC(USA) does have active campaigning for the position in the 6-9 months before the Assembly, and most of the nominees for the upcoming assembly have web sites (1,2,3) and Facebook pages (1,2,3).

In fact the PC(USA) has fairly strict rules for the election of the Moderator and campaigning in advance of the meeting.  These can be found in section H of the Standing Rules of the Assembly. They have a small limited budget, not counting travel.  They can not distribute campaign materials to commissioners except in the designated campaigning space and time and in the commissioners’ mailboxes. The nominees and their supporters can not actively contact commissioners before the meeting. As the Standing Rules say:

(b) In order to encourage reliance on the leading of the Holy Spirit in the selection of the Moderator, no candidate shall send a mailing of any campaign materials, print or electronic, to commissioners and/or advisory delegates or permit such a mailing to be sent, nor shall candidates or their advocates contact commissioners and/or advisory delegates by telephone.

I review all this as an introduction to the news that it appears PC(USA) style campaigning for the position has come to the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

The election of the Moderator as described in the Book of Forms is rather general:

282. At the time appointed for meeting, a diet of public worship is held when a sermon is preached by the moderator of the last Assembly, or, in his/her absence, by a former moderator. Immediately thereafter the Assembly is constituted with prayer, and a provisional roll, consisting of the names of commissioners appointed at least twenty-one days before, is submitted in printed form by the clerk. The General Assembly elects its moderator on nominations made immediately after the Assembly has been constituted, who then takes the chair.

The actual election procedure with the nominations and election by presbyteries in advance was set by the 95th General Assembly and then the election by the Assembly, while in theory it could be a contested race, is usually a pro forma vote.

Well, now that the nominations are out the Rev. John Borthwick has supplemented his regular Twitter account (@jborthwik) with a Moderator campaign account (@borthwick4mod) and he has created a Facebook page for his campaign.

Nothing says he can’t do this — But the usual custom is to have a more passive campaign. He has gotten one comment on the Facebook page indicating support, one saying “Sorry, but not a big fan of campaigning,” and one that says “Drag us into the 21st Century, screaming if necessary.” Mr. Borthwick does appear to be the youngest of the nominees and this could be interpreted as a clear statement of his youth and association with a younger demographic in the church.

Lots and lots of questions come to my mind with this development. Will others follow – this year or in coming years? Will the Assembly feel it necessary to prohibit, regulate or comment on this development? Will the active strategy turn out to be a positive or negative for his election? To put that another way, as the commenter on the web page says, will, or does, this change represent an approach to bringing denominations into the virtual age?

This is at least a development worth watching. Is it a development whose time has come or one that clashes too strongly with our Presbyterian ethos? It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Stay tuned…

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About borthwick4moderator

Standing for Moderator of the 138th General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada
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One Response to “Active Campaigning” – a teaser

  1. selaw13 says:

    Interesting. But while “active campaigning” is frowned upon, what about the “inactive campaigning” that happens throughout the course of the assembly?

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