Yesterday I had the opportunity to observe the business meeting of the General Conference of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
One of the more interesting parts of the business meeting for me was the moderator’s election and its failure to elect a new moderator. I think this outcome was interesting because there were several excellent candidates running for moderator, and it seemed clear that the vast majority of the delegates to the conference wanted to elect a new moderator. So with excellent candidates and a clear desire to elect a moderator, how is it that the General Conference ended up with a vacancy in the moderator’s position?
Given that I enjoy following elections and how they work, I thought I would try to play Nate Silver and try to explain how this result came to be, because I am sure that people who could not attend will be curious.
I’ll start right off by admitting some of my biases. While I haven’t been actively involved with MCC since 2010, I was very involved with MCC from 1998 to 2010, serving in a variety of leadership roles. This culminated with serving as pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of San Jose for six and half years. I am personally familiar with three of the candidates who ran: Darlene Garner, Diane Fisher, and Irene Laudeman. I think any of them would have been a great choice. They all have strong leadership qualities and an honest devotion to MCC. I don’t know Hector Gutierrez as well as I know the other three, but I trust that he is also an excellent candidate.
The candidates were selected by a moderator’s nominating committee. This committee had been working for quite some time to:
- Gather input from throughout MCC about what qualities a moderator should have,
- Recruit candidates that met those criteria, and
- Present those candidates to MCC’s General Conference.
Once the candidates were presented, General Conference voted on them. Votes were done in two houses: clergy delegates and lay delegates. In order to be elected, a candidate needed to have more than 50% of the vote in both the clergy house and the lay house.
The established procedure was to do four rounds of voting until there was a winning candidate.
Here’s how the voting played out
Fisher 28% Garner 25% Gutierrez 17% Laudeman 18% Abstain 12%
Fisher 31% Garner 25% Gutierrez 14% Laudeman 22% Abstain 9%
Fisher 32% Garner 27% Gutierrez 12% Laudeman 17% Abstain 11%
Fisher 39% Garner 27% Gutierrez 9% Laudeman 15% Abstain 8%
Fisher 38% Garner 31% Gutierrez 6% Laudeman 10% Abstain 13%
Fisher 44% Garner 27% Gutierrez 6% Laudeman 12% Abstain 9%
It is worth noting that in all three rounds of voting, about 90% of the delegates had at least one candidate that they wanted as moderator. All four candidates started with support in both houses, but as the rounds went on, it was clear that Fisher and Garner were pulling ahead.
After the third round of voting, first Irene Laudeman and then Hector Gutierrez decided to withdraw their nominations. While I have not discussed this with either of them, I believe that they stepped aside in the hopes that this would allow another candidate to get the 50% needed to win election.
After each candidate withdrew, the assembled delegates gave that candidate a standing ovation in thanks for their candidacy and for their willingness to step aside for the good of the denomination.
In the fourth round, Diane Fisher came very close to winning election. The numbers for that round were:
Fisher 44% Garner 39% Abstain 16%
Fisher 56% Garner 32% Abstain 10%
Even with just two candidates remaining, it was still the case that 84% of the clergy house and 90% of the lay house had at least one candidate that they wanted to see as moderator. However, neither candidate had the required 50% in both houses.
At this point, the planned process had been completed, and no candidate had been elected. Unless another round of voting was added, the moderator position would remain vacant.
After some discussion, the General Conference decided to hold one additional round of voting. However, the vote to do this was close, and nearly failed in the clergy house. I cannot speak to the motivations of the clergy who did not want to go another round. Some may have felt that it was important for the process to be executed as originally planned, and that an additional round was not appropriate. Others may have felt that it would not be good to have a moderator candidate elected by a narrow margin. I am sure that there were as many reasons as there were people voting.
This did, however, lead to an outcome that I found surprising, which is that in the clergy house, the percentages in favor of both candidates went down in the fifth round of voting.
Fisher 42% Garner 30% Abstain 26%
Fisher 60% Garner 26% Abstain 12%
These numbers seem to indicate that people who supported the candidates in the fourth round withdrew their support in the fifth round. My best guess is that there were people in room who liked and supported one or both of the two remaining candidates, but who did not feel that they could support the idea of the election going to the fifth round when it had been originally described as limited to four rounds.
The fifth round of voting ended the election process. The moderator position was declared vacant, and the assembly gave the remaining two candidates a standing ovation in thanks for their willingness to serve.
I will admit that I was a little disappointed by this outcome. With so many good candidates, it was frustrating that General Conference wasn’t able to elect one of them. With that said, I have faith in God and faith in MCC. I believe that MCC will find a good leader, and I believe that the process was conducted with integrity and good faith by all involved.
Having seen the hard work that goes into the process of choosing a moderator, I am glad that I am not responsible for the elections process. However, I would make two suggestions that might be helpful going forward:
- First, I believe that four rounds is not enough when there are four candidates. For contested elections, I think that it would be better to have two more rounds than there are candidates. So, six rounds if there are four candidates, five rounds if there are three candidates, etc.
- Second, I would encourage General Conference to show the voting numbers and how they changed for each round on the projection screen in the conference hall. As it was, the numbers were read aloud. This meant that by the end of the third round, it would be difficult for most people to keep of all of the numbers in their heads to see how they were changing. I think a visual presentation of these data would have been helpful to both the candidates and the voters.
I will close by thanking the candidates, the moderator nominating committee, and all of the people who voted their conscience at General Conference this year. While the outcome may not have been what anyone expected, I am sure that God is not done with any of us yet.