Friday, November 8, 2013

An Ode to Cultural Imperialism: How I Miss Robert's Rules of Order

I won't lie. During all the consensus decision making, which was extremely contentious due to the fact that we (the WCC GA delegates) were basically making drafting changes to documents -

Wait, by "we" I mean a bunch of dudes. Sometimes there would be like four guys deep at the microphones. Once there were four microphones with people waiting to speak. Two of the microphones had women waiting. The moderator chose to call on the two men. I'm sure there is some kind of rational explanation for this, but I mostly kept giving other men the stink-eye just because they weren't handling their brothers and keeping them from taking up so much air time.

Ok, so people (and by "people," I mean a bunch of guys with an occasional woman) were giving little suggestions to "improve" the drafts of documents. This did include a short tussle over whether to have the NKJV quote or the NRSV quote of a scripture. I'm so not lying. I turned around to express myself to the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan delegation, and one delegate had this amused look on his face.

Here's the thing. The work and the experience were so meaningful. But the parts where the consensus process got super-confusing and messy, I just wanted to go back to Robert's Rules. I'm not going to lie. It's just so simple to understand (for me, maybe not for others). And it provides a place for minority opinions to be registered. With consensus, it does allow people to disagree. However, every time a minority disagrees with a decision, the moderator has to ask those who disagree if they can live with the majority decision.

I know, I should really appreciate everyone's voices being shared. I should make sure that any decision-making process allows for all voices. But consensus is just as complicated a process as is Robert's Rules/parliamentary procedure, and the process combined with limited time allowed for discussion really can quash serious disagreement and discussion (unless you're a dude, according to this meeting).

I'm sure I'll feel guilty about my cultural imperialism after I get some sleep. Just not right now.


  1. It's so interesting that you lift this up, because I've spent so much time arguing that Robert's Rules were specifically designed to preserve the status quo and shut down minority voices, and yet, consensus doesn't always provide more space for minority voices so much as wear people down, particularly those who aren't used to their voice always getting heard. My co-pastor is Quaker and says when most of us say consensus, we're a little bit Inyigo Montoya about the whole thing--that word does not mean what we think it means. And as a result, consensus can be crushing. Not necessarily more crushing than Robert's Rules (which we only win by using the tools of the oppressor and generally being oppressive ourselves in the process), but more disappointing simply because it's supposed to be LESS oppressive and it often isn't much better. This stuff is hard, and you know better than I that no single process or procedure is going to undo the oppression that is baked into everything institutions do...but it's frustrating when a process promises to undo some lousy stuff and doesn't. I feel ya.

    1. Yes, you know, I think most meeting processes that are complex end up preserving the status quo. I noticed consensus could shift quickly if someone (usually a man) threw a big enough fit. Temper tantrums at the mic are not my thing...

      Yeah. I feel ya.