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Conference 2016 - The Caucus Race | Updated 1995 paper by David Bell

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12 May 2017, 4:05 PM

The General-Secretary and the President have in fact sent a reply - very quickly.  You can find it in the Methodist Survey group files - it's headed 5.8.17. Worth a read, although only logged in members can access them

David Bell's profile picture
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12 May 2017, 7:38 PM

I thought it might interest a few hardy souls to know this conversation actually grew out of a post on Facebook by David Bush way back in July 2016.  It gives another Just for the record I've tried to reproduce it as best i can, but you can follow it on FB directly if you want.  Makes one really wonder what's going on with the Presidents letter.

Facebook Beginning 29 June 2016

David Bush posts an article

with this comment

A really interesting article. Could this work in other settings as well?

David Bell Interesting article. David Bush Thanks for sharing it. Do you see much different between this and the way in which the MCNZ governs itself with Presidential rulings and similar? After all, now that we look likely to have a two year Conference and Presidency, the potential for unjust rulings is likely to be magnified rather than diminished. I am thinking about a forum post or two about this very issue in #kiwiconnexion What say you?

Rob Ferguson Certainly the article rings true for NZ. Whether it is true for a remnant organization like the church would be an interesting conversation.

David Bell Well, MCNZ has delivered another pastoral disaster around it's ill-conceived consensus decision making procedures.

David Poultney In regard to the process of consensus decision making as I imagine I might not be in ministry without it I guess I am a bit defensive of it. Perhaps its strength is in the formation of policy, it struggles from time to time with identifying people for leadership roles.

David Bell Interesting comment. Thanks. I am revising an article I wrote in 1995 called the Caucus race and when done will give the link as a public page in Through the Year with John Wesley via kiwiconnexion. Consensus is a weak tool compared to commitment to human rights. It's produced huge ethical dilemmas for a church entrapped by enculturation. Did you catch Susan Thomson's excellent Dignity of Difference from our zines?

Peter Richard Lane MCNZs 5+5 process is closer to the article's proposed "sortition" than other methods eg MMP. I think the disaster is that an unintended consequence of moving to 2-year conferences led to rewriting "electoral" procedures in 2-hours flat at the end of conference, rather than either rescinding/delaying the 2-year conference resolution; or acknowledging that one consequence of 2-year conferences is that on occasion, the church may have to spend money on convening an inter-conference caucus.

David Poultney We have found ourselves unanticipated in unchartered waters, I hope we don't paddle round in circles.

David Poultney It is an interesting article, when I lived in the UK i was a Guardian reader both in that I read the Guardian and I was in many ways typical of people who do. Middle class, left leaning professionals. I would share their concern that the recent BREXIT referendum was an enormously crude tool used to manage divisions in the Conservative party depending on a population largely fed spin by the media. Civic society is withering on the vine, we need more than the public to be poked with an electoral stick every few years. The Irish example was interesting and, as the Irish republic and New Zealand are about the same size in terms of population it may be an applicable one. (Can we take another leaf out of their book and elect our head of State?) Another model is Iceland, which undertook a constitutional review in part through an internet based conversation. Look at the turnout in our recent local elections, clearly the health of our democracy needs attending to.


If were having an annual conference then the selection would have occurred in 2017. An inability to make a selection of President and Vice President elect at that time would not leave any options and the existing P and VP would need to continue for another term. (David Bell's emphasis) Far from a disaster this will require the church to think about the process and refine it.

David Bell Well, that doesn't really get around the fact the decision has been taken out of the hands of Conference because the process failed around consensus. Anyway, I will post the link to The Caucus Race Revised tomorrow.

Peter Richard Lane Hi David, I apologise that my choice of the word disaster is perhaps over-dramatic. I still feel though that from a process point of view, the necessity of writing a new electoral procedure, by a small group, with minimal consultation, at the end of an already tiring conference, is considerably less than ideal. I agree that there were very few options that conference could take in reality and I acknowledge that the solution arrived at is a reasonable, albeit slightly awkward one in the circumstances. However, I believe it is fair to say that the trial of 2-yearly conferences as a cost saving device is off to a rocky start given it is only your quick scribing that has prevented the church from having to host a 2017 Tauiwi Caucus to enable the current regulations to be met in the circumstances we have found ourselves. I would be happy to continue this discussion in a more appropriate forum.

David Bell Well, I have published the revised 1995 Caucus Race paper into the forums of Through the Year with John Wesley.


 · Reply · October 19, 2016 at 3:19pm

David Bell

David Bell


David Bell's profile picture
Posts: 1067

13 May 2017, 7:08 AM

Dear Members of the Auckland Synod
I am intrigued by the letter of the President, Vice President and General Secretary for the following reasons.
First, they acknowledged that there are indeed constraints on how Conference can behave, by simply quoting the lawbook. This is the very opposite of what the General Secretary originally stated in Touchstone.
Second, they wrote that “The Conference meeting at Wesley College in 2016 did consider the question of whether the “rights of the Ministry and Laity” clause applied. It was deemed not to apply.”
It was 'deemed'? That sounds like a decision to me. Where is that recorded? Neither in the original Conference decisions (the yellow pages), nor in the amended decisions, a PDF emailed around after that.
The PDF puts in place a selection process, but that is not the same as having effected the required constitutional change.
David Bell

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Posts: 1067

29 May 2017, 3:57 PM

The General Secretary responds:

In early May the Methodist Church of NZ President instructed Rev Bell to wait till I returned from a meeting in Tonga to answer questions he had raised. This instruction was not followed and letters and on-line posts have been widely circulated under the heading 'Alternative Facts'. It is a very serious charge to claim that the General Secretary is misleading the church. If Rev Bell had been at Conference in 2016 he would have been aware that the 'rights and privileges of the ministry and laity' clause was pointed out to Conference members at the time the matter of the President and Vice President selection was being discussed. Not one of the more than 250 people present asked for the clause to be invoked. The process is that the President must rule on the advice of the Legal Adviser to invoke the clause. However any member of Conference can ask that Conference consider invoking the clause. Conference members were well aware of the clause as it had been invoked with respect to the two-year Conference in 2015, and the second affirmation as required under this clause had taken place at Conference 2016 just two days before. My comment in the May Touchstone was in the context of a discussion about the procedures agreed by Conference, in full session, to enable the appointment of a President and Vice President elect in 2017, not an explanation of the role or all the procedures of the Conference. These are the facts. No amount of innuendo will change them.

I will send my reply  back to Touchstone in a few weeks, and we will see what folk make of it.

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31 May 2017, 7:48 AM

Should have added in the previous post this was the President's email to me – I don't believe it instructs me to do anything, but it's a little infra dig to bother to correct it in Touchstone.  

Dear David,

I don't have any records of the Conference decisions with me other than the year book. David Bush will be away in Tonga for the week. When he is back he will respond to your request.



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14 July 2017, 10:10 AM

It's amazing how a few well-written papers and books can shape one's own outlook. I've just managed to locate such a paper.  A number of years ago the Gen Sec, Rev David Bush, and I used to coach exiting students from the theological college. The aim was to ensure they had a basic knowledge of where the rules and regulations of the church could be found, and how they applied to ministers and parishes. We had an excellent resource written by a former legal adviser to the Conference, and who is now a District Court judge, David Smith. The paper was distributed among various Methodist Superintendents well before David and I used it. So it's been available in the past, but probably is no longer as well-circulated as previously. Long story short, I found it in an odd place in the filing cabinet (thank God for searchable PDFs in today's environment) and have made it available as a group file here in the Methodist Survey Group. Leaving aside any possible interpretations around the Presidential race 2016, it makes fascinating and easy enough reading in a general sense. Group members just need to look for the group files and can download from there.

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26 August 2017, 11:02 AM

To the editor, Touchstone is to be commended for some great reporting. Not least, highlighting some of the concerns expressed by the March combined Auckland-Manukau-Northland Synods over the selection of a president and vice-president.

Meantime, I attended their most recent meeting in August, and heard for myself the public declaration of very deep dissatisfaction caused by the current attempt to overthrow the legitimate 2016 Conference outcome. As I see it, ordinary church members can only wonder what other times the church rules and regulations haven't been followed. Does this occur more often than we might think?

For example, a decade ago a past president wrote to Touchstone asking why Conference had ignored its decision to abide by the human rights legislation in terms of equality around human sexuality. Some years before that, three past presidents wrote an open letter to Conference asking why the Conference had become cavalier in its decision-making. Neither was afforded the dignity of a Conference response.

These are, however, totally eclipsed by Conference 2016, in its waning stages, apparently deeming that it didn't affect the rights and privileges and clergy and laity to run a new selection process. This could be challenged by judicial review. If anyone is interested in finding out how, there is an excellent background paper to peruse, The Church and the Law, written by a former legal adviser to the Conference. At one time, it was required reading for beginning clergy and at least one set of Synod Superintendents discussed it.

Meantime, I think it would be fair to say that irrespective of the 2017 outcomes, the failure to complete the 2016 race during 2016, when it had legitimately reached an outcome, has eroded confidence in the Church's sense of abiding by its own rules. There is a brilliant, if difficult, novella by Jorges Luis Borges, The Library of Babel, which shows what happens when multiple rules and multiple interpretations of rules travel through time. It doesn't require much imagination to believe that more is yet to unfold in the alternative facts of the 2016 and 2017 races. David Bell, Waiake

The editor responds: Thanks for your flattering comment David. However, in my opinion you missed the gist of the article in the August Touchstone that you have praised. It reported that, despite the concerns of some people in some English-speaking synods, the alternative selection process this year was widely supported. Eleven candidates for president and vice president were put forward, and the Auckland Synod nominated one of these candidates. The Methodist Church has a bi-cultural decision-making process for appointing its presidential team. When that process reached an impasse in 2016, Conference was fully within its rights to decide on an alternative path forward. It made that decision without any objections that it affected the rights and privileges of clergy and laity. The fact that this off-year selection process has had widespread support seems to belie the statement in your letter that the decision of Conference 2016 eroded confidence in the Church. Hopefully, your implication that Connexional leaders may often ignore rules and regulations is not itself an effort to undermine confidence in the Church.

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