All the meetings of the World Council of Churches, including this meeting of the Faith and Order Plenary Commission, are run by “consensus model” decision-making. Meetings used to follow parliamentary debate and decision by majority (“I move that we adjourn to the beach.” “Is there a second?” “Second.” “It has been moved and seconded that we adjourn to the beach. All in favor say ‘aye.’” “Aye.” “The motion carries.”)
But in recent years, the World Council of Churches figured out something: the process we use to talk to each other and the outcome we get are related to each other.
In other words, the way you do things affects to how things turn out.
Debate-style decision-making forces participants to be either “for” or “against,” and doesn’t allow for more than those two options (like “I’m not sure,” “I’m confused,” or “What about another direction?”). “Majority rules” means the minority always loses. It puts participants into opposing camps rather than trying to find a common way forward. It tends to build polarity rather than mutual understanding. (Want proof? Watch 5 minutes of C-SPAN.)
So, if you’re in a situation where the goal is to try to build unity among an already divided group (like, say, Christians from around the world), you might want to try a method of conversation that fosters “I understand” rather than “I disagree.”
Enter the “consensus” process. In consensus, the goal is to get as many people in the room as possible to discern together what’s best for the whole, and to come to general consensus about it. Dialogue – rather than debate – is the name of the game. The buzzwords of consensus are respect, mutual support, empowerment, prayerful listening, common understanding, discernment. In the end, everyone is heard, and together we try to seek the mind of Christ. The goal is simple, and biblical, from Acts 15:28, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us...”
Now if only the U.S. Congress would adopt this model.
(For more on consensus-model decision-making, see http://www.pcusa.org/nnpcw/resources/consensus-model.htm or http://www.oikoumene.org/en/news/news-management/eng/a/browse/9/article/1634/consensus-a-colourful-fa-1.html)