You know those people who always say, “If you didn’t vote, I don’t want to listen to you”? I’m one of those. To complicate things further, though, I’m a Congregationalist at heart. That means, religiously, that I believe the people of a Congregation are supposed to vote on everything in one way or another.
The words of the constitution, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness” — are ideas straight from Congregational church polity.
In church form (and modern English), it looks like this: It’s pretty obvious that all people are created equal, that God gives them certain things like life, liberty and they are free to believe what they want. When a group of people believe basically the same thing — freedom of belief about God, in this case — they decide to form a church. The pastor derives his or her leadership authority from the congregation. When a pastor or church prevent free thought or free expression, the people have the right to a) fire the pastor; b) stop going to that church; or 3) form another one that they think will work better for them.
Actually, the denomination I’m a part of is the United Church of Christ, and the Congregationalists are only one part of it. We merged in 1957 with the very authoritarian, Germanic “Evangelical and Reformed” churches after joining with the Christian churches denomination (predominantly African-American). In short, we don’t have all the answers, but I like ours the best in the denomination’s four possibilities. And I like our denomination the best of all.
That said, I also believe that I don’t have all the answers. Not even close. I’m one part of the giant voting machine that makes up a church and a democracy.
As a former leader in a church, (I’m still ordained, I just don’t work in a church right now/anymore) I take this stuff very seriously. When people I know have churches and the church members don’t do anything, that church dies. And, frankly, I say let it. If the people don’t want to speak, if they don’t want to do their own theology, if they don’t want to go to meetings, if they don’t want to be active and help out in the kitchen, if they don’t want to do mission, fair enough. They get what they deserve.
Historically, the church gets in all kinds of trouble — it approaches death — when the leaders take the power and/or the people let them. The protestant reformation began when the Pope or his bishops starting saying things that were destructive to people’s spirits. Prior to that, St. Francis had tried (and succeeded!) to correct the Church and make the people more free to figure out what was right. Then it got away from them again, and Luther had to do it again. The church — like my denomination — has always struggled between pastors/leaders having authority (the E & R side) and the people having the power (Congregationalists). When one side or the other wins for any period of time things get messed up beyond belief. If the people get out of control, mob rule becomes the norm. If the leaders get too powerful, the church’s people die in one form or another — spiritually, emotionally, and when it gets really bad, physically. The only way it works is if the people and the leaders take this whole thing seriously.
Quakers (the society of Friends) handle this by not having any pastoral leaders and considering every member of the congregation a minister.
Congregationalists handle this by having pastoral leaders and expecting the people to start the church, close the church, hire the leaders, fire the leaders and so on — in other words, do the work of the church with their pastor having a strong sense of the Holy Spirit to guide them.
If you’re a church member, that means you have to read the Bible, you have to read the by-laws and know how it all works, you have to fold the bulletins or paint the Sunday School room, you have to give some of the money, you have to do your own theology, let the other people of the church do theirs, let the pastor do theirs and figure out a way to make it all work together without killing each other. If you let (or make) the pastor do it all, the church (local congregation or bigger) dies. If you don’t participate, that leaves 1 or 2 people making all the decisions that work for them, because that’s all they really know — what works for them. It won’t work for you, the people, individually or collectively, because no one knows what you believe or need. So you have to tell them, either through word or deed — preferably both.
Now back to democracy. Democracy, our democracy anyway, is based on the idea that the people have all these rights but they lose them if they don’t exercise their responsibility to use them. If the people don’t do something as simple as vote every two or four years, they can hardly expect a government that meets their needs. Voting every two or four years and paying as few taxes as you can makes you like a person that goes to church on Christmas and Easter and gives a quarter a week in the plate. You’re officially a member, but not a whole lot more than that. If you pay your taxes but don’t even do so much as voting, you expect to get what you voted for — nothing — from your money.
Democracy means that you have to know to read what society believes, you have to read the Constitution and know how it all works, you have to put up notices or clean your sidewalks, you have to pay taxes, you have to have your own belief system, let the other people of the country have theirs, let the Congress, President, and Court have theirs and figure out a way to make it all work together without killing each other. If you let (or make) the President, Mayor, and other leaders and their cronies do it all, democracy (locally or nationally) dies.
What’s happened in American politics (I think) since 2000, is that we let our leaders (especially a certain president and vice-president) run things. They took the power, some of us got mad and some of us let them. Some of us made a fuss, but others got mad at the people who spoke up against the war, against the Patriot Act, against so many things. So our leaders got their way and we-the-people ended up without houses, without jobs, without an economy. So the people voted. And they voted resoundingly for their own needs to be met.
So here we go again. Let us never forget — with this president or any other, with our ministers and other leaders — that we matter. Let us take the time to know what we believe. Let us take the time to learn what the rules are, and let us act on them. Let us make room for all voices, not just our own. Let us listen to our leaders and make up our own minds. Let us speak as well as we can. Let us do what we see needs to be done. Let us do our own … everything.
Oh, by the way… if it’s not already abundantly clear, this blog is designed to work the same way. If you have an opinion and it’s important to you to say it, do it. Say it here, say it somewhere else, I don’t care. Believe in your own worth, in your own ideas, in your own importance and speak up — either with actions or words. God gave you a brain, and a heart, and value. Use ’em.