Conciliarity and Consensus

I think the time comes for the OCA to embrace a new climate and culture in which it carries about its business.  That climate and culture if it is to produce an effective mission to Americans is going to have to include openness, transparency and accountability.  The methodology will include both conciliarity and consensus.

We also need to define our terms a bit.  Conciliarity refers to doing things in council.  The OCA is conciliar as we have a Synod, a Metropolitan Council, and an ANAC, diocesan councils and assemblies and parish councils and meetings.

But councils do not always produce ConsensusCouncils can produce consensus of polariziation – that depends on many factors.  Councils can use collaboration, compromise or coercion in their deliberations and decision making but the methods used as well as the decision reached determine whether consensus has been reached or whether a decision is imposed on others.  There certainly have been councils where a majority rule decision was made, but the council itself ends up split and ruptured beyond repair.  This is not consensus though it might be the conciliar process.

Even despotic rulers can use consensus.  My read of history suggest to me that the First Ecumenical Council in 325AD is a conciliar event in which the Emperor gave permission to the council to reach a consensus regarding belief.  Constantine didn’t interfere with what the consensus was (and perhaps didn’t care what it was), but once reached he promulgated it because he wanted the church to bring unity to his vast and diverse empire.   He used consensus to further his goals – “I don’t care what you agree upon, but agree!”

Consensus building can be a method and goal of a conciliar work. A hierarchical organization can work within a consensus building methodology.  Consensus building requires that all points of view are given serious consideration and treatment.  It is very hard work.  Consensus building values not only the decision reached but the community which must live by the decision.  Consensus building values the relationships between members, and thus it is a slow process as it works to get everybody on board before it takes off.  It doesn’t mean that there must be 100% agreement, but it does mean that those who are reluctant or who disagree are still willing to go along with the decision and not oppose it. 

Neither conciliarity nor working for consensus are opposed to the notions of hierarchy.   The OCA was and is a conciliar church.   It abandoned the notion of consensus in order to accomplish the goals of certain individuals’ agendas.  That was a  more efficient way to operate, and largely explains how the scandal could so sweep the church.  Very efficient means were found to reach decisions – a “divide and conquer” methodology, an Executive Committee, providing the various councils with pre-approved decisions rather than asking them to debate the issues or to work for consensus.  The result was a fair amount of dysfunction – demoralization, passive-aggressive behavior, non-ownership of the vision of the church, indifference, marginalization of various people, a loss of interest in the church by some of the more creative, energetic and intelligent members.

Consensus building requires discussion, debate, and a willingness to accept and deal with disagreement.  Consensus building requires a membership working for real community, not pseudo-community.  In pseudo-community members fear disagreement and dissent and debate because they are not bonded together by a common vision, common goals, commitment to one another.  It is only when members can acknowledge their own personal as well as their common brokenness that they can value others and be willing to serve others.  This is the climate in which consensus can be built. 

The recent joint meetings of the Metropolitan Council and Synod of Bishops are efforts to use conciliarity to reach consensus.  Internets sites such as which allow discussion and disagreement can also be helpful in consensus building as they allow disparate opinions to be expressed in the same format – it is at least the potential for an idea exchange.  The Town Hall meetings of the OCA in preparation for the ANAC are another forum for potential consensus building.   The final ingredient in any of these forums is of course the effort by someone, by a designated,  recognized, or charismatic or unofficial leadership to work toward developing an agreement among members – a willing consent to value and strengthen relationships as well as to work toward a common goal.

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