Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Who votes for the Church?

We have just spent more than enough time preparing for an election in our country and will be hearing from the pundits for many months to come as to the meaning of the ballots cast.  Chesterton once wrote that democracy means government by the uneducated, while aristocracy means government by the badly educated.  Now there is a happy choice.  But I would turn the attention from the secular to the sacred.  Who votes for the Church?  We live in a nation in which democracy has been enshrined in ecclesiastical structures as well as political.  A good question that might be asked as my own church body prepares for a national convention is about the lay people who will cast votes on matters of doctrine (lets not fool ourselves, we do end up voting on doctrine!), structure, and practice in our church body.

Pastor William Hartfelder, Jr., wrote a piece in the November Forum Letter that speaks well to this.  About the end of his piece he recounts the shock and awe of non-Lutherans who found out that no criteria existed for lay delegates except that they be duly elected.  One voice in the conversation as bluntly:  What were the criteria used by which these lay members were selected to make such important decisions?  The sad truth for ELCA church wide assemblies and Missouri conventions is that there is no criteria for lay folks except that the rules were followed in electing them to go.  Though, to be sure, for the ELCA gender, color, and sexual orientation may be criteria informally applied and for Missouri it may come down to those who are willing to go (because so many of our best people wish to have nothing to do with the process).

It is an embarrassment to churches that we make decisions based upon a vote held every few years by people who have no real training or preparation for the momentous choices that are made.  The LCMS recension of the Augsburg Convention at Witchita in 1989 is case in point.  The ELCA CWA decisions on gay and lesbian clergy and marriage is an egregious example of what goes on when people vote their own conscience instead of voting the mind of the Church (based upon Scripture, Confession, and tradition).  I am NOT saying that lay should not vote (if we are voting) but that more care and attention needs to be given to which lay vote and to make sure that those elected have the wisdom and theological weight to make informed votes.

While a national criteria might be a source of political manipulation, those who locally vote on who will represent them need to take more than the willing and to elect delegates who have the wisdom, faith, and stature to vote more than an individual conscience on these weighty matters.  Furthermore, if we are to give needed ballast to these national referendums on church faith and policy and practice, we must make sure that those making the decisions have been well prepared for the votes they must make (given our constitutional structure and the rules of the by-laws).  I am not speaking politically but catechetically.  The information I am referring to is not an election list published by one group or another but serious and deep catechetical training in what Lutherans believe, confess, and teach.

I am not casting personal aspersions upon any individual delegates but from my own experience I know how hard it is to find anyone to go to a national or district convention and how little attention gets paid to their qualifications, integrity, and catechetical preparation.  As one who was elected to represent my circuit to the 2013 Synod Convention, I take this sacred trust very seriously.  We act not on the basis of popular poll or personal conscience but the mind of the Church already expressed through Scripture, Confession, and tradition.  We dare not substitute any other criteria for our decisions or look to any other agenda than preserving the faith, proclaiming the faith, and passing on the faith.

Much of the silliness of conventions lies in the fact that we feel the need to entertain our delegates or distract them (thinking the work of the kingdom done here either too boring or detailed to keep them focused).  We need to expect more from the delegates (clergy and lay).  We need to take far more care in electing them and hold them accountable.  They do not represent us and they do not represent themselves.  They represent the Church on our behalf.  Anything less and this becomes a political endeavor not all that different from what just happened in the years leading up to and including November 6.


Unknown said...

Luther was no fan of democracy. He called it mob rule and pandering to the lowest common denominator and a system whereby mediocrity became the standard to aspire to. That said, why does the LCMS or the ELCA or any other Lutheran body still insist on keeping a democratic polity which will result in what has happened with the ELCA's stance on ordination of women or gays (in committed relations or not) or a host of any other issue. Democracy will be your demise, no matter how well catechized and informed your laypersons are.

Joanne said...

People have pointed out to me, and I've now noticed it myself, that when the Bible speaks of instances of choosing by lot, they frist winnow down the possible choices. So we identify a group, sometimes only two, who fit into the category, or meet the prerequisites of the position to be filled. There are people who are remarkably good as manipulating democracy and who are born that way. Any group they get into it's a power game for them. Perhaps adding in enough choosing by lot, would foil those if us who are democracy meisters. We certainly know that systems depending on good princes and good overseers, works no better than democracy. The Scandinavians fly into our faces whenever we think that bishop rule might be a good thing.

Maybe a nicely cantelevered system that includes all three components to ameliorate the problems of each is what we are looking for. Our pastors need pastors, and they should have overseers chosen by log from the oldest of the groups. We need to keep our business needs separate from our spiritual needs. The pastor's overseer's fill only spiritual needs primarily by visitation, in fact that's how we pay them by the number/quality of the visits they make. (A constant church problem is people get tired of visiting and pawn it off on underlings, or just don't do it.) The Visiting Overseer is clerical. The Business overseer is not.

We need deacons, both lay and clergy. The Deacon/Deaconess are those who lead the way of mercy by serving "our daily bread" at the table of the worshipers and of the laity of the children of God, and of the strangers within our gates.

The clery deacon, would be the Altar Deacon and could be a certified seminarian, who comes prepared to keep the altar and run all those parts of the altar area not obtaining to the preacher/pastor. The Altar Deacon will be sexton and sacristan of the santuary and it's associated rooms. He will dress the Altar table and run the teams of lay altar servers (acolytes, crucifers...) He will liaise between the preacher/pastor and the music program. He will be trained in voice (chant) and will normally be the celebrant except for those parts necessarily done by the preacher/pastor (absolution, preaching,.....)

He could function like the service manager, somewhat like wedding managers. "Now you go and turn left at the altar rail. Then you go and....." He will be expert in puting the worship service (as mutually planed) into the software used to make the bulletins.

Now in Bach's day, this person also rang the little consecration bell when the Preacher/pastor sings the words of consecration.

And my favorite, he will insure that at least 2 Lutheran hymns are sung at every worship service. And that all special music is based on Lutheran hymns or by Lutheran composers. I think we should install a fee payment for each non-Lutheran hymn sung in our Lutheran churches. It could be like a synod copyright system. You sing a Methodist or English Baptist hymn and you must pay a penalty fee to the Deacons' poor box of $25.00 per sectarian hymn.

Such seminarians who spend their vicarage as an Altar Deacon will return to the seminaries extremely well trained in church worship, even if the local pastor really didn't have much time to teach them anything. It will be a sink of swim experience.

This is just a jumble of ideas, but I'd love to make a white paper on such developments in our church. Checks and balances to democracy, and some regard for decisions not made by the human brain. And carrot sticking the visitor overseers. At least it's work thinking about.