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February 14, 2008: Campaign Rules and The Moderator Election

Returning to the Manual of the General Assembly, today I want to look at how the Moderator is elected.

Standing Rule H is where the process and details for the election of the Moderator can be found. (Page 33 of the printed manual, page 39 of the Adobe Acrobat version).

What Does A Moderator of the General Assembly Do?

The Moderator has two basic functions: first, to preside at the Assembly. He (as there are only male candidates announced thus far) or she (Moderator of the 217th General Assembly (2006) Joan Gray) is in charge of the meeting. Joan Gray will complete her term as Moderator during the election for the Moderator of the 218th General Assembly (2008). The second function is to serve as "an ambassador of the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace, telling the story of the church’s life and upholding the people of God through prayer." Lots of travel. Lots of meetings. Lots of coffee and lots of chicken dinners on paper plates. Lots of listening. Lots of praying.

Those really are the criteria for discerning among the candidates: who will best preside over the week-long meeting and who will be the best ambassador to tell the story on behalf of the church. The Moderator has some other functions -- selecting moderators and vice-moderators of the GA commissioner committees, serving on the General Assembly Council and other things -- but commissioners are most interested in what the Moderator will do for them.

How Is The Moderator Elected?

The Moderator is elected on the first day of the Assembly.

1. Before the Assembly.

A moderator candidate must first be a commissioner; thus, they are elected by their presbytery to serve as a commissioner. Candidates not elected still serve as commissioners to the Assembly, they do not leave and go home.

Campaigns are limited to $1,500, excluding travel and meeting expenses for the candidacy. That is not much.

The only other pre-Assembly information available will be produced by the Stated Clerk's office. What will commissioners and advisory delegates receive?

    • A picture;
    • An endorsement letter from the home presbytery;
    • A formal announcement of the Vice-Moderator Candidate (that's a more recent development -- I seem to remember that other candidates had usually been named Vice-Moderator on the morning after the election); and,
    • Responses to questions posed by the Stated Clerk

According to Standing Rule H.1.b.(3)(b), "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." In short, commissioners and advisory delegates will get only what the Stated Clerk deems important for them to know.

2. Before the first night's election.

The Assembly convenes on Saturday. Among the chores of finding out where the meetings will be held, going through the orientation sessions, wandering through the Exhibit Hall and dealing with crowds of other people doing the same thing; commissioners and advisory delegates will have the opportunity to meet with the candidates.

The candidates may have written materials available in the rooms where they are meeting people. They also may place written materials in the commissioner and advisory delegate mailboxes -- which many will not discover until after the election has taken place. No other distribution of written or promotional material is permitted.

The Presbyterian Outlook dinner has traditionally been a pre-election campaign stop for the candidates. Many commissioners and advisory delegates attend this meal. It lets out just in time to go into the evening session where the election will take place.

3. The election process.

Standing Rule H.1.b.(4) controls the actual election.

There is a 5 minute nomination speeches for each candidate. Then, each candidate gets to make a 5 minute speech.

Then, there is the Question and Answer time. If there are three candidates, there will be 45 minutes for Q&A. Elections can be determined during this time -- a humorous answer, a moment of clarity, a presence in front of the full Assembly.

The vote. Advisory delegates vote first; the result "advises" the commissioners. Then, the commissioners vote. To be elected, a candidate must receive a majority of the votes; that is, more than 50%. If no one receives a majority, a second ballot following the same pattern -- and so on, until someone does receive more than 50%. I do not recall any elections going deeper than a third ballot.

Who Are The Candidates?

Bill Teng from National Capital Presbytery was the first to announce that he would stand for election. At this point, the only information I could find is here.

Bruce Reyes-Chow from San Francisco Presbytery was second. He has a developed on-line presence.

Carl Mazza from New Castle Presbytery was the most recent. His ministry has a section of the site devoted to his candidacy.

Campaigning? What Campaigning?

With all due respect the the Manual's description as "encouraging reliance on the leading of the Holy Spirit," I have to confess I am not a fan of the process. I am not in favor of limited exposure or information. This process discourages leadership. It discourages an informed discerning opinion. It discourages creativity and stifles enthusiasm.

It is an 18th century approach to a 21st century reality. Or, another way to look at it is: it limits candidates to a yellow page ad in a dot-com world. (Anecdotally, more first-time visitors are finding Chula Vista Presbyterian via the internet than newspaper ads and yellowpages combined).

Given the restrictions, I am grateful for Bruce Reyes-Chow's approach to introducing himself to commissioners. This is not an endorsement of his candidacy; I simply appreciate the way he has used technology to present himself. Through posting his thoughts, videos, and engaging in dialogue on-line, I have a greater sense of who he is and how he has discerned the call to stand for election.

Carl Mazza has some written pieces posted on-line. I look forward to seeing more.

Recently, I wrote about how much I appreciated the videos from the Office of Theology and Worship. The same could be done with candidates for Moderator. It need not be a debate, just interviews and conversation. Reliance upon the Holy Spirit need not be equated with designed ignorance.

Well, that's my soapbox for today. Stop reading about the GA and go have a Happy Valentine's Day.