17 Aug GS 2010 art 176
GS 2010 Article 176 – Women Voting in the Election of Office Bearers (Minority Report)
The following amended minority proposal was ADOPTED.
- 1.1 Report from the Committee on Women’s Voting (majority) 8.2.g.i
- 1.2 Report from the Committee on Women’s Voting (minority) 8.2.g.ii
- 1.3 Letters from Smithers (8.3.G1), Guelph-Emmanuel (8.3.G.2), Elora (8.3.G.3), Chatham (8.3.G.4), Orangeville (8.3.G.5), Burlington- Ebenezer (8.3.G.6), Hamilton-Providence (8.3.G.7), Grand Valley (8.3.G.8), Coaldale (8.3.G.9), Carman East (8.3.G.10), Calgary (8.3.G.11), Chilliwack (8.3.G.12), Edmonton-Immanuel (8.3.G.13), Owen Sound (8.3.G.14), Fergus-Maranatha (8.3.G.15) , Flamborough (8.3.G.16), Neerlandia (8.3.G.17), Willoughby Heights (8.3.G.18), Attercliffe (8.3.G.19), Taber (8.3.G.20), Spring Creek (8.3.G.21), Surrey-Maranatha (8.3.G.22), Vernon (8.3.G.23), London (8.3.G.24), Glanbrook (8.3.G.25), Ancaster (8.3.G.26), Yarrow (8.3.G.27), Smithville (8.3.G.28), Abbotsford (8.3.G.29), Lincoln (8.3.G.30), Winnipeg-Redeemer (8.3.G.31), Cloverdale (8.3.G.32), Dunnville (8.3.G.33), and Lynden (8.3.G.34).
- 2.1 Synod Smithers 2007 mandated the Committee on Women’s Voting to “Examine the biblical teaching on headship and voting and also study the following questions” (Acts, Article 136, Recommendation 5.2):
- [5.2.1] With regard to headship: What is the position of widows and single female communicant members?
- [5.2.2] With regard to headship: What is the relationship between husband and wife when they discuss who to vote for – doesn’t the husband therefore show and practice equality as joint heirs of the grace of God?
- [5.2.3] With regard to voting: What do the Bible and our Church Order say about congregational participation in electing office bearers?
- [5.2.4] With regard to voting: What is the relationship between congregational (a) nomination, (b) election process, (c) ratification/approbation, and (d) the final appointment by council?
- 2.2 The church at Hamilton was appointed as this Committee. It submitted both a Majority Report and a Minority Report.
- 2.3 The Majority Report emphasizes “voting” or “election” as mentioned in Article 3 CO as a means, or a step in the process by which God calls to office in the church of Jesus Christ.
- 2.4 The Majority report evaluates the matters of male headship and of equality between man and woman, first in the Old Testament and then in the New Testament, and comes to the following conclusions:
- 2.4.1 The headship of men is not absolute, but operates within the relationships ordained by God: that of husband and wife (marriage), and that of office-bearer and communicant member (church).
- 2.4.2 Male and female believers, who are both created in the image of God, are equal before God, and equally share in the office of all believers as prophets, priests and kings.
- 2.4.3 The divinely ordained differences between men and women in the church lead to the rule that the special offices in the church are clearly reserved for men only (1 Tim.2:11-15 and 1 Cor.14:33b-35).
- 2.4.4 Women too have a God-given responsibility to vote at congregational meetings in Christ’s church, and thus it is the covenantal obligation of all communicant members to participate in the voting for office-bearers.
- 2.4.5 There is no evidence that Scripture views election by the congregation as an expression of authority in the church.
- 2.5 The Majority Report concludes that Article 31 BC, as a summary of what the Bible teaches about governance in the church, does not present the voting for officers in the church as an expression of authority. The BC honours Christ as the only Head of the church, with the ministers, elders and deacons exercising his authority and discipline. The vote for electing office bearers is therefore a matter of giving advice or expressing the preference of the congregation, in submission to the God-given authority of the office bearers, who nominate and appoint men to office.
- 2.6 The Majority Report also discusses voting procedures in the 16th century, and points at expressions in some literature from the time just after the Reformation, like “the whole congregation,” “the consent of the people,” and “the voices of all.”
- 2.7 The Majority Report evaluates the stipulations in Article 3 of the CO of the Canadian Reformed Churches and notes that in each of the three steps of choosing office bearers the consistory with the deacons calls the “congregation” to participate without distinguishing between male and female communicant members at any point. The consistory retains its authority over the complete process.
- 2.8 The Majority Report, therefore, recommends that Synod BurlingtonEbenezer 2010 accept the findings of this report and agree with its conclusion that the participation of female communicant members in all aspects of the calling of office bearers is in accordance with Scripture and the Church Order.
- 2.9 The Minority Report follows the structure and the wording of the Majority Report, but presents opposing conclusions. It states that voting for office bearers is an obligation placed by the consistory on male communicant members. The consistory delegates a responsibility, the use of a vote.
- 2.10 The Minority Report, therefore, recommends that Synod BurlingtonEbenezer 2010 uphold previous general synod decisions and present practices in the Canadian Reformed Churches, and not allow the participation of female communicant members in voting for office bearers.
- 2.11 Article 3 of the CO mentions “the congregation” five times. It is generally agreed that four out of these five times it means “all (communicant) members,” whereas one time out of these it is the practice in most of our churches to read it as “male communicant members only.”
- 2.12 Six churches request Synod to appoint another study committee.
- Four churches express support for the conclusion of the Majority Report. One church recommends leaving the decision to the local church. Four churches lean towards supporting the recommendation of the Minority Report. Nineteen churches express strong support for the conclusions of the Minority Report. They criticize and reject the Majority’s Report’s arguments regarding male headship in the church, the authority of the congregational vote, the often inconclusive exegesis of various key passages in Scripture about the role of women in the church, and the involvement of women in choosing leaders of God’s people in the Old Testament and New Testament, the interpretation of Article 3 CO, as well as the fact that the Majority Report ignores a well-established practice of more than 400 years.
- 3.1 Although it is unfortunate that neither the Majority Report nor the Minority Report interact with the history of the matter of women’s voting as it has unfolded in reports and decisions since Synod Toronto 1974, the committee cannot be blamed for this, since it was not part of the mandate given by Synod Smithers. This could be reason to appoint a new study committee with a broader mandate. However, the majority of letters from the churches urges Synod Burlington-Ebenezer 2010 to bring the matter of women’s voting to a conclusion.
- 3.2 The exegetical studies and evaluations of a number of Scripture passages, in particular in the Majority Report, about male headship and gender equality versus divinely ordained differences between man and woman in marriage and in the church may be interesting, instructive, and even correct. However, neither one of the two reports makes clear what the connection is between these Scripture passages and the current practice of choosing office bearers in the Canadian Reformed Churches according to Article 3 CO.
- 3.3 Both reports correctly affirm that, according to 1 Tim.2:11-15 and 1 Cor.14:33-35, the special offices of minister, elder and deacon in the church are reserved for men only.
- 3.4 The Majority Report fails to prove from Scripture and/or the Church Order that women must vote for office bearers, and that therefore women have a God-given responsibility to vote at congregational meetings in Christ’s church, and that it is the covenantal obligation of all communicant members to participate in voting for office bearers. That is why the often-used expression “Women’s Voting Rights” is in fact a misnomer. Neither male nor female members of the congregation have the right or even the obligation to vote for office bearers. It is a privilege that, according to Article 3 CO, can be granted by the consistory with the deacons. It can, therefore, not be proven that with the current practice the churches are disobedient to God’s Word.
- 3.5 The Minority Report fails to prove from Scripture and/or the Church Order that women are not allowed to vote for office bearers. Unfortunately the argumentation in the Minority Report barely goes beyond stating simply the opposite of the conclusions of the Majority Report, introduced by expressions like “it may be assumed….” Or: “it may not be concluded…..” Or: “no firm conclusion can be made that women voted for office bearers, in fact it is most logical to suggest, given the spirit of the time, that only the men voted or elected.” Or: “to suggest that voting by women did occur cannot be conclusively deduced from the scriptures.”
- 3.6 Both reports show that it is significant to study key texts in Scripture regarding the role of women in the church and the matter of male headship. But when it comes to voting for office bearers, the application of these texts is controversial and inconclusive. The fact that for more than 30 years the assemblies of the Canadian Reformed Churches have not been able to bring the matter of women’s voting to a closure, so that this issue continues to divide the churches, is caused by the reality that there is no clear connection, or at best a remote connection between these Scripture passages and our voting procedures. This makes the exegetical sections of both reports hardly relevant or decisive for the matter of women’s voting.
- 3.7 In trying to find biblical support for our current voting procedures, the Majority Report and the Minority Report, as well as many of the churches that voiced objections against one or both of the reports, fail to make a careful distinction between what is descriptive and prescriptive in passages like Acts 1, Acts 6, and others, also in the Old Testament, that tell about choosing leaders for God’s people.
- 3.8 The Minority Report does not prove that the consistory with the deacons delegates a responsibility, or its authority when it gives the congregation the opportunity to elect men from those nominated for office. The statement in the Minority Report: “Authority may be delegated by involving the congregation yet remains with the council of the congregation at all times,” is puzzling and confusing. The Minority Report does not give evidence that it is even possible for a consistory (with or without deacons) to delegate its God-given authority. It is at least foreign to Reformed church polity.
- 3.9 The adopted Church Order does not mention the congregational meeting as an ecclesiastical body with either original or delegated authority. In Reformed church polity the consistory does not have the hierarchical power to ignore the congregation when it makes decisions. That would be the Roman Catholic system. In this structure priests and bishops rule with absolute authority, which makes a congregational meeting impossible. In the Congregational system the congregational meeting is the highest authority, with the consistory simply executing what the congregation decides by majority vote. In Reformed church polity the consistory is the only governing body, established by Christ as the Head of the church to govern according to his Word. A congregational meeting is then a public consistory meeting in which the consistory, before it makes or implements important decisions, hears and consults the members of the congregation. This is done, because all communicant members of the congregation have the office of all believers. In the congregation only the consistory has governing authority to lead and make all decisions. The congregational meeting is not a second governing authority besides or over the consistory, but the consistory voluntarily agrees to respect the voice of the congregation, as expressed in Article 3 CO with the phrase that “those elected shall be appointed by the consistory with the deacons…..”
- 3.10 Since neither the Scriptures nor the Confessions provide instructions regarding the participation of women in the voting for office bearers, it is understandable that the Church Order does not specify either who should participate in the election regulated in Article 3 CO.
- 3.11 When the Minority Report, as it evaluates the process of the calling to office, outlined in Article 3 CO, states that the inconsistency in our practice (the sisters are encouraged to take part in nomination and approbation, but are barred from voting) highlights the importance given to the election by vote, it assumes what needs to be proven, namely that there are good grounds for this inconsistency.
- 3.12 The observation that the participation of only the male communicant members of the congregation in the election of office bearers has been a well-established practice in the churches of the Reformation for more than 400 years, is not a convincing argument to state that women are not allowed to vote in the election of office bearers. For it does not answer the question whether this practice was based on biblical grounds, or that it was the result of the influence of the prevailing culture of the day in the previous centuries, when the church did not act much differently from the standards in public society when it came to the role and position of women.
- 3.13 The Minority Report, as well as some of the churches, emphasizes that of the three steps of the calling to office in which the congregation is involved (nomination – election – approbation), the election is the most significant step, with a unique, different character, since it gives the congregation an authority to which the consistory with the deacons must submit. However, careful reading of Article 3 shows that the only steps that the CO really requires as decisive are appointment by the consistory with the deacons and approbation by the congregation. Giving the congregation the opportunity to participate in the nomination is optional. Asking the congregation to select a number from a list presented by the consistory with the deacons is also optional. The first option is to present as many candidates as there are vacancies and ask the congregation for approbation without election. In other words: a brother can become an office bearer without being elected by the congregation, but never without being appointed by the consistory with the deacons and without being approved by the congregation.
- 3.14 The fact that sisters participate in voting for office bearers has never been an obstacle for the Canadian Reformed Churches to establish ecclesiastical fellowship with the FCS, to commit to federative unity with the URCNA and to maintain ecclesiastical fellowship with the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands.
That Synod decide:
- 4.1 T o thank the committee for the work done and to consider its mandate completed.
- 4.2 To affirm that based on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:3335, and as stipulated in Article 3 CO, only male communicant members can be called to the special offices of minister, elder, and deacon.
- 4.3 That any arrangement for the election of office bearers that goes beyond what has been agreed upon by the churches in Article 3 CO is a matter of the local regulations, adopted for that purpose by the consistory with the deacons.
- The original Consideration 3.10 of the Minority Report was deleted by majority vote:
- 3.10 Since neither the Scriptures nor the Confessions provide instructions regarding the participation of women in voting for office bearers, it is understandable that the Church Order does not specify either, who should participate in the election regulated in Article 3. Therefore there is no scriptural ground to interpret “congregation” as “only male communicant members” just one out of the five times that it is used in Article3 CO. The fact that this has been a longstanding tradition and practice does not negate the need to provide biblical reasons to support this interpretation.
- The original Recommendations 4.3 and 4.4 of the Minority Report were:
- 4.3 That there are no scriptural or Church political grounds to deny the communicant sisters of the congregation the privilege to participate in the election of office bearers.
- 4.4 That any arrangement for the election of office bearers that goes beyond what has been agreed upon by the churches in Article 3 CO is a matter of the local regulations, adopted for that purpose by the consistory with the deacons.
- The original Recommendation 4.3 above was deleted by majority vote, whereby Recommendation 4.4 became what is 4.3 in the amended proposal that was adopted.