Thursday, January 19, 2006

Nothing to See in Louisville

Wednesday morning, I got up at 4:00 a.m. and left the house at 4:30 to fly to Louisville from Seattle, to observe the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP). At 8:30 on Thursday morning, I showed up at Laws Lodge on the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary campus, eager to begin two and a half days of watching our social witness policy go together. I’d like to tell you about that process.

I’d like to, but I can’t.

From the moment I arrived for a morning of reading reports, on through afternoon committee meetings, and then into late-afternoon and evening plenary sessions, I was vehemently and repeatedly denied access to a single written document under consideration. By 9:30 at night, I had yet to encounter even one written word of what ACSWP was discussing, amending, and voting on.

I had to argue fiercely even to be grudgingly allowed to sit in—without papers—on committee meetings that were suddenly and unexpectedly moved from public areas into private guest bedrooms when it became known that I was on hand to observe.

Such was my unwelcome experience of exclusion today, in a denomination with a very wise and sensible Open Meeting Policy, which reads in part:

(1) The work of the church is strengthened when it is done in a spirit of openness and trust. Church members have a basic right to know about the work done and the decisions made by entities within the church. Church leaders have a basic responsibility to honor that right by conducting their business with a spirit of openness and vulnerability to public scrutiny. Therefore, open meetings shall be the norm for all such entities.

(2) It is the policy of the General Assembly, the General Assembly Council, its divisions and Finance and Technology Office, and the entities and work groups related to them, that their meetings shall be open to all interested persons.

We’ll see on Friday if my—and your—“basic right to know about the work done and the decisions made” by ACSWP remains determinedly abridged. Today, Evan Silverstein from Presbyterian News Service and I can tell you next to nothing.

Under protest, we were left wordless.


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