Valuing the Word

The second day of our regional convention for my denominational polity.  This morning there was a vote on who can or can’t vote at these sorts of meetings.

Our polity places a strong value on the priesthood of all believers.  This is a theological concept that although all are called to different vocations, professional Church work is by no means an elevated or superior form of work than any other.  As such, we have striven to maintain a political balance between the laity (typical parishioners who have no theological training or education for a Church position) and clergy.  Each congregation in our regional polity is entitled to two votes at these conventions – their pastor can cast one and they can send a lay delegate to cast a vote as well.  Under this model, neither clergy nor laity has undue influence over the decisions of the denomination as a whole.

The fly in the ointment is that we have created a third type of person – someone with theological training or education, but who isn’t serving as a pastor.  We call these people Commissioned.  They’re not lay people, but they aren’t clergy either.  They hold positions like Director of Christian Education, or school principal or teacher.  Moreover, from the lay perspective they may sometimes appear more like pastors than not, and from the pastor perspective they may seem more like lay people than not.  In order to avoid throwing off the balance one way or another, this group of people (between 9000-10000 nationally) has not been granted the right to vote in conventions.  By everyone’s agreement, Commissioned folks in our denomination are neither fish nor fowl, to use the old saw, and they aren’t happy about this.

Over and over again efforts have been made to change this.  Usually they are shot down.  Today it  wasn’t, but it won’t really matter because although our regional polity voted to allow Commissioned folks to vote, it will get shot down at the national level.  It was surprising that it passed today as it normally gets voted down.

To me, the interesting thing about this wrestling match isn’t the issue of whether there’s a problem or  not.  It’s not that Commissioned folks are unhappy with how things are going or have gone, necessarily, they just want to vote.  There was no discussion of how this would or wouldn’t address wrongs of the past, or prevent problems in the future.  It was just the idea that everyone ought to have a voice, and if they don’t, then there’s a problem.

Is there?

As with any vocation I’m sure there are situations where these Commissioned workers are not listened to by their pastors or lay people, and feel unrepresented in the voting process.  But I’d wager that far more of them do feel like they’re listened to.  But in our culture, if you don’t get to vote, you don’t get a say, and if you don’t have a say, you aren’t valued.

This sort of rationale makes me itchy.  As a 21st century American I’m conditioned to dislike disenfranchisement.  But is that alone a reason for making this sort of change?  I’m unconvinced.  Once again there’s this emphasis on making our own decisions about what  we want or don’t want, who we like or don’t like.  This sounds a lot different than trusting the Holy Spirit.  It’s not that the Holy Spirit can’t work through democratic processes.  But I’ve heard a lot more about rights and entitlements so far the past day and a half than I have about how the Holy Spirit protects and guides the Church.

Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising.

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