Wed | Mar 21, 2018

Letter of the Day | Democracy or oligarchy in church, state elections?

Published:Saturday | December 3, 2016 | 12:00 AM


The basic notion of a democracy (from two Greek roots: demos [people] and krateo [rule]) is rulership by a majority of the people, while the basic notion of an oligarchy (from two Greek roots: oligos [few] and again krateo) is rulership by a few.

It must not escape us then that the regular low voter turnout at elections in our history means that our democracy is being compromised or diminished somewhat. What is the calibre of a political mandate that comes from less than 50 per cent of the electorate? Is this really a case of rulership of/by/for the people? Or have we unwittingly descended into oligarchy without being bothered by that reality?

I have been a Christian since 1967, and extremely rarely in any church that I have been a member or a pastor has there been even a simple majority of the membership present and voting for the election of officers or for the confirmation of a pastor. In some churches, by established church policy or practice, a bishop or an elected few determine who leads. I have never been a member or pastor in any such church.

While I was on staff at a Baptist church in Florida, a putative candidate for the senior pastor's post got the majority of the votes and there was jubilation from those who wanted him in the post until it was pointed out that the meeting was not properly constituted for decision-making because there was not a quorum present and voting, plus the Church's constitution required a two-thirds vote (not a simple majority vote) of the membership for confirmation of the senior pastor. They had to do it another time.


Vote of confidence


Most pastors take it for granted that a church, having voted for you, wants you to continue in the post. I don't make that assumption at all. So, the crazy man that I am, I requested, nay demanded, a vote of confidence from the circuit a few years into my second pastorate in Jamaica.

If politically and ecclesiastically we say we prize democracy in principle, we need to examine whether our practice conforms to the principle. Oligarchy, anyone?

Basic democracy, it seems to me, requires that at least a half of the people being led desire the leader to continue in office. Periodic formal checks on the ground should be the norm for a leader's continuance in office unless, of course, there is a term limit associated with the post.

It is an open secret that the approach that church members take regarding members' meetings and church elections is no higher than the general approach to national elections (general and local government).