Thursday, March 17, 2005

Family Voting

One of the traditions that still goes on in many RCUS churches is that of Head of Household voting. This is where the men of a certain age vote in the church and the women do not. This is done because the man is the biblical head of the household, and thus when the family votes it should be done by the head. Now, it should be stated up front that this is not an official RCUS position. Some churches allow all confirmed members to vote, others allow men of a certain age and also allow widows to vote. So this is not a uniform practice at all, but in order to have some fun and promote discussion I thought we would examine this practice.

The church I currently serve follows the Head of Household Voting practice. All the men over the age of 20 are allowed to vote in the congregational meetings. This means that women do not cast any votes in the church, nor do those young men who may have been confirmed, but are still under their parents headship. The age of 20 has been picked by our church as an age where a young man may sign the church constitution to signify the creation of his family allowing him to vote. I believe this to be a good and biblical practice.

1. The Bible seems to tell us that the base unit is a family rather than individuals. For example, it was not good that Adam was alone, but it was very good after there was a family. Notice that when Israel is broken down it goes from tribes to clans to families, but usually not down to individuals. Punishments were usually dished out to families. It just seems voting in families appears to place appropriate emphasis on the biblical unit of families.
2. If women are to submit to their husbands, why would their ever be a reason that husbands and wives vote against one another. And if their vote is always the same, then why not just make them vote as a unit, which is what voting in families does.
3. I believe that this practice promotes family interaction and responsibility. Husbands and wives should discuss votes prior to their coming to the meeting. Sons should discuss and look after their widowed mothers as they vote in church matters. The duty of each family member to one another is encouraged by this practice.

I thought I would just send this discussion out there and see what comes back.

10 Comments:

Matt Powell said...

Lee,
Whenever male-only voting or head-of-household-only voting is promoted, Old Testament examples are often used to support the principle, as you do here. I wonder, though- do you think it would be at all significant to the discussion that in the New Testament, women are baptized? It seems to me that this would indicate a change in the nature of the body of Christ. It certainly does not change the way people are saved. Women were saved by faith in the Old Testament just as in the new, but they did not receive the sign of covenant membership.

I think this might be significant to the discussion.

Lee said...

That is a good point, Matt. Yet, one can still find the idea of families being the base unit in the Bible. For example, Paul baptizes the ‘household of Stephanas” in I Corinthians 1:16. I would love to hear from some others whether or not they think that women being given baptism might mean also that women should vote in church meetings.
Yet, I do not want this to be boiled down to a man vs. woman issue. I believe household voting corrects another problem that many churches have, and that is allowing any confirmed member to vote. This often means 15 and 16-year-old children are now approving budgets and deciding what ministers to accept and which ones to reject. This is also removed by ‘household’ voting. These children have also received the NT sign of baptism, but should they vote? Even our nation thinks that is too young to vote. So, I am not sure if the extension of the covenantal sign to women means that Head of Household Voting should be replaced by baptized adults can vote or all confirmed people should vote.
I look forward to more thoughts from Matt, and from everyone else.

Andrew McIntyre said...

Lee,

I believe your structure makes it a man vs. woman issue. If you do not allow female heads of households (single, adult women and widows) to vote, then your system is really not head of household voting but adult male only voting.

Andy

Andrew McIntyre said...

Lee,

I believe your system makes it a man vs. woman issue. If it were simply a head of household structure that you were promoting, then you would have to allow female heads of households (single, adult females and widows) to vote. Instead, I think what you are advocating is adult male only voting.

Peace to you,
Andy

Andrew McIntyre said...

I apologize for posting twice. It said it did not go through the first time, but, alas...

Andy

Anonymous said...

Hi Lee....
I wonder where that leaves the woman who is married to an unbeliever and has no voice? In theory I know the answer, but what about in practice in our churches?
Just a thought!!

Eileen

Anonymous said...

Ideally, within a representative form of government, the unheard woman's (single/widowed/married to unbeliever) voice would be included wouldn't it? But really, does that ever happen?

Matt Powell said...

My thoughts-
The New Testament is clear, that a woman is not to usurp authority over a man. It's not that a woman can never have authority over a man, for certainly the Proverbs 31 woman had servants, some of whom were male. Also, Paul commanded to the church in Romans 16 to give Phoebe "whatever she had need of" to do the work she had to do. This indicates at least a limited kind of authority. But Paul says a woman is not to usurp authority, which means to take authority which is not hers.

The congregation of a church has authority to select elders, deacons and pastors, and to decide certain other matters that the consistory puts before it. No individual member of the congregation has authority in this sense, but only as members of the body. Likewise, the elders and deacons themselves have no individual authority when consistory votes for things, but only as a member of the body, and the authority is the body's. Therefore, the relevant question is whether the woman is considered part of the congregation which has the authority, and from how women are spoken of in the New Testament (especially Paul's addresses, Romans 16 for example) and from the fact that they are baptized in the New Testament (receiving the sign of the covenant), I don't believe they can be excluded.

My case is one of implication, and I would therefore be reluctant to crusade for it, or seek to change churches which already practice male-only voting. I just don't think a dogmatic case from Scripture can be made either way, and if you were to ask me, I'd say the weight of Scriptural evidence tilts to viewing women as full members of the congregation, including voting rights.

The household structure leaves us with the question of widows, single mothers, wives of unbelievers, etc. I don't think many proponents of the one vote per household rule would allow such to vote.

Lee said...

Matt is right. This is a debate about implications. I don’t want anyone to think that I am crusading to make Head-of-Household the only way. I just thought it would make a good topic to discuss. I think the RCUS does it right in allowing the great diversity in the way the churches vote. I know that Colorado Springs allows all confirmed members to vote. Eureka follows the Head of Household voting, but allows widows to vote. And Herreid, where I serve, follows the Head-of-Household voting without widows being allowed a vote. Although it should be noted that Herreid once allowed every confirmed member to vote, but could never get a quorum to conduct business. So, the women finally came and voted the right to vote away.
I also agree that the question is what constitutes the congregation. Is it individuals or families? What is the basic unit of counting? When we look at all the genealogies of the Bible, like Genesis 5 or Matthew 1, we see men listed. This is not because women were second class citizens. I think one would be hard pressed to find demeaning verses about women even in the Old Testament. The lists are listing the Heads of Households. When it says “Boaz begat Obed” in Ruth 4:21 it is not because Ruth is unimportant. The family trees are always done by the head of households. As Exodus 1:1 says, “These are the name of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob.” The names that follow stand for their entire households. I am not sure that the extension of the covenant sign of baptism to women indicates a change in this method of counting. Infants are baptized too, but no one is saying they should vote. Plus, I don’t think women were second class citizens of the covenant in the OT when they did not get the sign of covenant. Having the sign of baptism add privileges to women seems to imply they were somewhat repressed in Israel. Again, this is an argument from the implication that the basic unit is the family and that families are one flesh and thus speak with one voice.

As for how Family voting should work with widows is a question that every church that practices Family voting ought to address. I do believe that family voting is not done right if churches neglect the voice of the widow. Sadly, many times it is neglected. I have stated earlier that some churches, such as the Eureka Church, allow the widow to vote. I know that many want widows to come to the Consistory to make their feelings known on issues they feel strongly about. Thus, the Consistory considers the widow. Another way would be for the Consistory to assign the widow or wife of an unbeliever a family. Then every time a vote came up each widow was to be consulted by the assigned family. Thus, she still have a voice through the family given to her. I am sure that there are many more possibilities to make sure the widow and single woman’s voice is heard.

In the end, every system of voting has its problems. The Family voting has to find ways to make sure that the widows/single women/ wives of unbelievers are heard and count. Every Confirmed member voting runs the danger of large families running the church. For example, a family with 6 kids, three of whom are confirmed, has a bigger say in congregational decisions than the childless couple of the same age, or the elderly couple whose children have moved away, not to mention the single woman or man. In smaller churches this would give large families the power to direct the church. Family voting gives them equal say in the direction of the church. Plus, is it a sin for that fifteen year old boy to vote against his father and his mother in a congregational meeting? All voting methods have issues that must be dealt with. There is no picture perfect voting method.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say good discussion to you Lee and Matt. I have submitted most happily in not voting these many years at Blue Cliff and don't have a problem with it so I'm not going to be crusading either. :) To me having a voice heard is to be asked and allowed to give your opinions on certain issues that arise in the church, not necessarily voting on them and I have wondered if that is actually a calling of the deacons?? It is difficult at times to not be a part of a family in the church as there the emphasis lies, however I have been placed in the body of Christ just as the next so I praise God for my calling and circumstances. I don't see amongst our women those who want to usurp authority or teach, just want to be a part of the body and to grow in Grace and in knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Eileen~