Monday, June 24, 2013

Suffering the suffrage. . .


I have often quipped that the problem in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is not women's suffrage, it is suffrage at all.  Before you get upset and think I am dissing the laity, let me calm you down.  I do not vote.  I do not have a vote in my parish.  I vote once every couple of years in District Convention (mostly on God, apple pie, and country type motions that are little more than window dressing).  Every 8-10 years I might vote in Synodical Convention (where I am headed in 2013).  Voting has its place but I think we posit too much importance upon voting.

My problem with voting is that we say we do not vote on matters of doctrine (recall the old joke about the parliamentarian who insisted that according to the rules the Word of God can only be overruled by a two thirds majority vote!).  That is what we say... but we vote all the time on God's Word and doctrine.  We vote to announce it, to affirm it, and to reaffirm it.  Why?  Have we voted down things that purported to be God's Word and doctrine?  If we say we cannot vote on matters of faith and doctrine, then why do we?  No church has ever voted that the Bible was not the Word of God (even though some act like this is their stance) so why do we consistently take up time at conventions voting on things that are true whether we vote on them or not?

My second problem with voting is that if something wins by a narrow margin it loses in my book.  In other words, as a Pastor I have often worked to withhold from a vote anything that runs the risk of significant opposition -- at least until we could work for unanimity on how we should proceed.  Would we vote to call a Pastor if the guy got 50.5% of the vote?  Would we vote to build a building or sell property with 50.5% saying aye?  Maybe you would.  I wouldn't.  The only things that we regularly vote upon here are things that have already garnered deep and broad support in the parish following careful and considered teaching and information.

My third problem with voting is that it seems like great power but the power is in upholding what we have voted for -- it does not take much to get a show of hands for something.  It does take something to get the people who vote in favor of something to follow through on it.  We vote for budgets that we do not fully support with our dollars.  We almost always pass resolutions on stewardship and yet Synod, some Districts, and many parishes are running behind in their budgets.  We voted for it and that was easy but the hard part in everything is in upholding what it is we vote to affirm.

My fourth problem with voting is that it seems as if democracy were a God given right when it is no such thing.  Now, don't get me wrong.  Democracy is about as messy a form of government as you can find but it is also about the best (save a good, pious, and benevolent monarch like, say, Frederick the Wise!).  But democracy is not the New Testament replacement for the Old Testament theocratic form of government.  The right to vote often ends up as merely the right to expression opposition, to complain, and to throw a monkey wrench in the works every now and then.  Synod passed a sweeping structural reform at the same convention we elected as Synod President a guy who was not in favor of them.  How about that for consistency!

My fifth problem is that often the people who should be voting are absent and the people who should not be voting are present to cast their vote.  What I mean is that the folks who are most supportive of the work of the Kingdom are not necessarily those who are there in the church basements or convention halls to put a mark on paper (or, in this day and age, press a button).  Oftentimes there is a big disconnect between the people assembled for the vote and those who are in the pews on Sunday morning, who do the work of the kingdom, who faithfully steward the gifts and resources the Lord has entrusted to them, etc...   So how do we live with this conflict?  I don't know.  I do know I have been to conventions in which the delegates hardly reflected the church as a whole (for good or for ill).

So I will tell you what I think about women's suffrage... or men's for that matter.  We should vote less and pray more... cast less votes and pay more attention to the outcomes and consequences... work through catechesis to be more of one mind so that we do not have to pass God and country motions just to make ourselves feel better.  So... maybe it is a cop out and some of you will be angry but I say we should study more and vote less.  On every level of Church!

8 comments:

Unknown said...

Lutherans would do well to remind themselves that Luther himself, in the same tradition that produced Augustine, Anselm, Abelard, Aquinas and numerous other religious thinkers all abhorred democracy and democratic processes because it pandered to the lowest common denominator and made mediocrity into a virtue. Bishops are the defenders of the deposit of the faith and always have been. Moving that to the clergy and laity only invites disaster.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, there is no form of church polity that is any 'better' than any other form.

And, as long as we do vote, we better do so aware of what we are doing and well informed.

Oh, yes, and it is always helpful actually to show up when a vote is being taken.

After all, as the old saying goes, "Decisions are made by those who show up."

Paul McCain said...

Meant to sign my name to that:

Paul McCain

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, Paul, it is not a matter of showing up but who is elected to vote (in the case of Synod and District).

Paul McCain said...

And, of course, there are apparently some chuckleheads out there who boycott their district conventions to "make a statement" and don't get to vote, and others who vote and try to "send a message" with their vote.

There is no known cure for such invincible ignorance.

Rev. Kevin Vogts said...

>>Bishops are the defenders of the deposit of the faith and always have been

I hear this often said but have seen little evidence of it in church history either ancient or modern. Consider the current presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the newly elected ELCA bishop in California, the recently retired and newly elected bishops of Rome, etc.

Anonymous said...

"Bishops are the defenders of the deposit of the faith and always have been..."

Hardly seems that the lack of them or the insistence upon not having them has done all that much good to guarantee the faith either...

Just sayin...

Rev. Kevin Vogts said...

On the one hand, I would not say that having a polity without bishops necessarily preserves the faith inherently better than a polity with bishops.

On the other hand, as I look around at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Episcopal Church, Anglican Church, United Methodist Church, Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church, etc. and the heresies that their bishops not only tolerate but actively promote I don't see an inherent advantage to that polity as far as preserving the faith once delivered to the saints.