· Thankfully, voting is not done very often in most churches. This is because the matters the church is principally concerned with have very little to do with the democratic process. When members of a church are asked to vote, it is often driven by extraneous and unusual (i.e. infrequent) reasons. Voting therefore cannot be a tool to communicate any principles or a medium to promote any characteristics. It does however provide an opportunity for members to engage each other in a manner which best reflects what a church is, which is the family of God.
· The church is called to be holy – “called out”/”separate” because God is holy. The manner in which a church seeks to use every opportunity to demonstrate its “separateness” or difference, will set itself up to live in obedience to the scriptures. We are asked to not conform to the world but be transformed by the renewal of our mind. It is a constant challenge to look at everything we do and ask ourselves if as a church, we ought to be choosing options which best reflects who and what the church is and demonstrate this difference.
· The process of identifying persons to serve as members of a church board varies and depends on factors which range from very fluid considerations (such as the state of relationships between members) to very objective ones such as legal and logistics requirements or considerations. In our church, we are required to elect our board members in a members’ meeting. This election requires every member to be given the opportunity to “personally” vote. There are no prescriptions beyond that.
· Hence as a board member I have a duty and discretion to consider the manner of electing board members. In so doing, I looked at the normal voting process adopted by (1) churches; (2) comparable organisations in terms of size and activities; and (3) generally for organisations which require election of board members. I also looked at what a church is and what it can do to best reflect the nature and characteristics of a church.
· Historically voting is by a show of hands. This convention has continued to this day. Companies, sporting and community clubs, associations and political parties all practice this method of voting. However, as this manner of voting is transparent, it is subject to threats and intimidation, coercion and such other elements where voters come under the undue influence of parties with an interest in the outcome which may not be shared by the voting members. To overcome such influence, secret ballot is often adopted. It allows voters to vote free of such undue influence. Secret ballots are particularly useful and effective in Australia at union elections, where the practice of undue influence abounds.
· There are pros and cons for either process. As a board member, I recognised that secret ballot provides members with greater confidence in expressing his or her choice. This however, comes at the cost of engagement by the voting member with the person being elected as well as with the general body of members. The Board considered the advantages of providing members with confidence of expression and the challenge of using an opportunity to facilitate an engagement which reflects what the church ought to be, i.e. a family where there is a genuine relationship and members seek to build each other up.
· In particular, I urged the Board to encourage members to put aside the comfort which secrecy provides, in exchange for a truthful engagement with the aim of building relationships. In some ways, this can be considered a step up in the sense that it challenges members to engage the candidate and other members at large, should his or her choice entail that.
· The Board recognises that a member faced with a show-of-hand form of voting, may vote in a manner which does not truthfully represent his or her choice. Such a member however, has a choice of either voting in a manner which avoids the issue (by voting contrary to his or her true intentions) or remaining true to his or her intention and proceeding to engage the candidate as to the reason for his or her choice.
· This may cause many other levels of interaction such as between the voting member and the candidate’s family or members close to that candidate. Such interaction however, can be a positive thing which ought to be encouraged. The alternative is to rely on the protection of secrecy and ridding the need for engagement. Just as importantly, a showing of hands also allows the candidate to approach the voting member to seek engagement with a view of correcting any flaws the candidate has but may not have seen for himself. It allows the member to share his or her view with the candidate in this regard. The secret ballot also denies the candidate this opportunity.
· In making preparation for the general meeting, the board considered the above matters and decided to adopt a show of hands as the form of voting. Unfortunately there wasn’t the opportunity for the above matters to be shared with the other leaders of the church, prior to the general meeting. This meant the very real challenge of open engagement as a core objective, was not presented to leaders to be shared with members, prior to the general meeting.
· At the general meeting, some members chose to exclude themselves from the voting process altogether. I do not know if this was because they did not like an open expression of their choice. A leader expressed her opinion in that general meeting that she didn’t agree with the process adopted.
· The board in reviewing the general meeting, felt that as a result of that opinion expressed in that general meeting, there was a need to respond to members generally. Following that meeting cell leaders were asked to invite feedback from cell members. This feedback extracted more opinions of preference for the secret ballot method. The board’s reason for adopting the show of hands method was never presented outside the board safe for some explanatory comments made in response to the leader’s question raised in that general meeting after the voting had taken place.