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January 18, 2011 - 

Almost before debate gets started, calls for the question arise from the floor. “Let’s cease debate and just vote.” It strikes me that the arrival of the one-week synod has increased the tendency for delegates to have less and less patience for extensive deliberation.

No doubt we can easily waste time belaboring the obvious or insignificant. But some issues need and deserve both intensive and extensive discussion.

I wonder if past experience with heavy issues and protracted discussion sometimes generating more heat than light also play a role. Have we lost the collective heart or stomach for debate? Perhaps we eschew it because it only generates controversy and exposes disagreement. The result is more divisive than edifying.

Genuine unity, however, cannot be bought cheaply. Glossing over significant differences in the name of efficiency, time, or submersion of differences is the wrong kind of price to pay. Some discomfort or pain is a well-known ingredient in the recipe for healthy growth.

Controversial issues require deliberative assemblies to pay the price of healthy debate and welcome the open expression of a variety of insights, expe riences, stories, fears, and concerns. Only in this way can we develop mutual understanding or appreciation for positions different than our own and for the persons holding them. We might, in fact, even be persuaded to change our mind on a matter! That is the point of being a deliberative assembly.

What is crucial, however, on the part of every member of a deliberative assembly is the determination to be gracious. Not necessarily to agree but to be gracious. Churches are communities of grace. We live by grace. Our walk and talk must be seasoned by grace.

Let me offer a suggestion for those times when—good discussions notwithstanding—synod completes its work early. While synod is a deliberative assembly, this does not mean it may only deliberate when a motion is on the floor or a decision is required. On the contrary. Synod can serve the church well by engaging in focused discussion on a matter of importance to the well-being and future of the church without any intention of coming to a vote. Such deliberation can be liberating.

Participants can feel free to share their insights, fears, and experiences without the pressure of a vote. Such discussion could be a wonderful gift to the broader church community.

The church has already undertaken the expense of gathering representatives from all over Canada and the United States. Let those representatives use that time and opportunity to the full. Let no synod be declared finished before Friday evening or even Saturday noon.

I call the question on this proposal.

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