The Problem with Voting
Actually, I don't have a problem with congregational votes per se. It depends on how a church's polity is set up. If you're from a general Baptist background, you may remember congregational votes on every flippin' thing, from who should be the new pastor to what sort of coffee should be served in ye old Fellowship Hall.
BCC is a rare bird in a lot of ways, but one of those ways is that while the theology (ideas of doctrine) behind our ecclesiology (ideas of church) is generally Baptistic, our church governance is more presbyterian (or at least "evangelical reformed"). Our view of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper are so baptistic in fact, that it was probably wrong for me to even refer to them as "sacraments." ;-)
Anyhoo, although we lean baptistic in matters of faith, with an elder board in place as quasi-governors of the church, we've replaced the congregationalism of the typical Baptist church with, in my opinion, a more historical and biblical model of church governance.
Complicating matters, I'm assuming, is that added to this biblical model of church governance is also a heavy business-type dynamic, a CEO model of sorts with our senior pastor as CEO. How the balance of power works is probably delineated most clearly in the church by-laws, but I confess to not really understanding it beyond hearing that the elders and the lead pastor make the decisions in conjunction with each other, with the elders serving as a check of sorts against the pastoral team, holding our up-front leaders to accountability.
As you can see, congregationalism never really even enters the equation.
Here are my main problems with the call for a vote on the matter before us now:
1. Our church was not designed to be ruled by congregational vote.
Those who enter the church as members or regular attenders, I assume, accept that decisions major and minor are made by whatever style of governance the church has in place. Changing the rules now, in this instance, only makes sense in terms of disagreeing with the decision being made. But our sort of church governance doesn't work that way.
Apparently quite a few folks do not appreciate Bill West's teaching. (Heck, I'll go on record as being underwhelmed. No offense intended, Pastor West. ;-) I wonder why none of these folks pressed for a congregational vote regarding Pastor West's hiring. It seems to be a matter of critical importance now; why was it not then? I suspect the answer has more to do with personality than polity.
2. We've never voted on anything before.
As far as I can tell, anyway.
On one of the TV news stories the other day, Dr. Foster was shown saying, "They have a right to vote..." But we've never had that right before. Dr. Foster has never told the congregation we have the right to vote on any of the decisions made by himself or the elders.
That that theoretical "right" is so critical right now demonstrates not the importance of The Will of the People, but the importance for someone else's way to trump the previously established way. (Assuming a vote would go in Dr. Foster's favor, which I actually don't think is a safe assumption.)
3. Our church is too large and too unwieldy to conduct a congregational vote of any integrity.
I don't mean to be harsh about this issue, but honestly the problem in this case may have little or nothing at all to do with Dr. Foster's leadership. Our membership structure is fuzzy. There are people who have been attending BCC for more then ten years, who serve in many areas, who tithe regularly, and yet are not offiical members of the church. And there are people who are official members of the church who have not attended the church in years.
Factor in folks who are new to the church, who maybe have only been there a few months or weeks. What if the day of the vote is the first time someone has visited?
In a church of our size, with its fuzzy borders, how do we ensure a vote reflects accurately those invested in the real purpose of BCC and the essential purpose of The Church herself? How would we prevent people, on either side of the conflict, from bringing in "ringers," so to speak? You know, bring a few friends to vote your way. Maybe they've been to the church a few times, so it's somehow okay. Because we have no clearly conducted membership structure -- and I'm not saying right now that it's a good or bad thing we don't, or that not having it isn't by design -- we have no communal accountability. I cannot trust that either side of the congregational conflict would not be fudging its numbers.
4. Calling for a vote is the way to bring nasty politics into a church.
It wasn't the dismissal that played politics, it was the immediate call for a vote to dismiss the dismissal.
There are a lot of emotions overflowing on both sides of this conflict right now; one sure way to overheat them is to make everybody take a ballot stance against their brothers and sisters.
I don't mean for these thoughts to be absolute. I wouldn't be surprised if there are quite a few folks who support the elders/staff but are in favor of a vote. It sounds so "fair."
All I am doing in this post is providing my own rationale. Take it, leave it, approve it, deny it. Maybe at the least it gives you food for thought.
Some final thoughts:
The Church, and therefore the churches, have never been democracies. In spiritual matters, they are theocracies, living expressions of the Kingdom of God in action, with Jesus Christ as sovereign Lord over the communities that make up His Bride. In congregational matters, they are communities governed in a variety of ways -- sometimes by congregational vote -- but most importantly, they involve submission to the established order. Over the years, I have disagreed with more than a few things occurring at our church, matters significant and insignificant, but I have always submitted to the rule of the pastors and the elders. That is how I view the relationship between myself as congregant and the churgh as "clergy." If at any point I disagree with that relationship as it plays out at BCC, I would not ask that BCC change its polity. I would change my place of worship.
May I point out that the established order of BCC was drafted and approved by Dr. Foster himself? Respectfully and tactfully, I suggest that if he wanted the congregation to have a say, he should have insisted it be provided for when crafting BCC polity.