Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Who votes for the Church?
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.