The Church of God operates under a hybrid Episcopal/Presbyterian polity. Our highest governing body is the biennial International General Assembly comprised of all members 16 and older who choose to attend. However, the agenda for the meeting is set by the General Council of Ordained Bishops comprised of all “Bishops” who choose to attend. “Bishop” is used as a rank of ministry and not an office; the offices of bishops can only be filled by persons who have attained the ministerial rank of “Bishop.”
Today we had about 2500 “bishops” gathered to begin preparing the agenda for the General Assembly which will meet on Friday. The agenda for the General Council is prepared by an Executive Council that was elected two years ago at the last set of meetings. They place on the agenda items they believe to be of importance and items sent to them by any member of the Church of God from anywhere in the world. It is a very controlled process with change coming very slowly.
We were at our best and our worst today; only our worst might be part of our best. Thanks to a new wireless keypad system for voting, we sailed through our nominations and elections finishing them by 4:30 this afternoon. Thirty eight years ago when I made my first trip to the Assembly, this process used paper ballots and lasted several days with other business being conducted while the body waited for a tellers report. By the time I joined the General Council in 1984 we were using computer punch cards; think hanging chads. That sped the process considerably but it still took a couple of days to complete.
Nominations for each of the offices actually come from the floor with each member voting for the person of his choice. Anyone with 25 of more votes on the opening ballot for each office is eligible to be elected/nominated for that office. It is slow and laborious, but it generates a deep sense of democratically elected leaders free of political campaigns. However, one of our ministers did his Ph.D. is sociology and wrote his dissertation on the process. He concluded there is a lot of control in who gets elected; our processes are just very subtle.
The highlight of the day was our Presiding Bishop’s report on the mission and vision of the church. The report was a call to live the Great Commission out of the Great Commandment and climaxed with a season of fervent prayer by all. It was a beautiful and powerful renewal of our resolve to reach the world with the Gospel with a special emphasis on prayer for our children.
We immediately shifted to debate on item #3, a proposal from the International Advisory Council (yet another body, representative of all the regions in the world where we have congregations) to grant women the right to ordination as bishops. There were a couple of powerful speeches in favor and seven passionate speeches against the motion. The speeches against were an embarrassment. The essence of their arguments was (1) it is a move away from Scripture, (2) it is based on secular trends aimed at popularity and (3) it will open the door to ordaining homosexuals next. I found myself exasperated, principally because their argument centered on attacking proponents of the measure as having forsaken the Bible as the inspired word of God (“I might not be able to read Greek and Hebrew but I can read English and the King James Bible clearly states…”).
When we adjourned for the evening I found myself talking too loudly, even when I wasn’t talking about the debate. I was angry. Yet, I am thankful for the General Council. The most idiotic statements this evening were made by persons who fervently love God and the Church of God. Regardless of their level of education or social status they were afforded the same privileges to speak as is granted our most respected theologians and esteemed denominational leaders. It is ironic that within this movement that embraces the marginalized of society, and gives them a platform from which they are allowed to speak, women are still partially silenced. Go figure.
It would be nice if everyone was intelligent and articulate. It would be even better if they all agreed with me. And for those who don’t fit my image of civil discourse, I wish they would just be silent and let my superior wisdom guide them. But I realized a long time ago that if I am truly committed to the liberation of the marginalized I must be prepared for them to express themselves in ways I find offensive. I must be willing to listen to their heart’s desire. I must not silence them. I must be willing to learn from them and when I disagree it must be with love and respect even when they do not return the grace. Some days that is easier said than done.
July 28, 2010