Women’s Voting Rights in the CanRC.

ImageShould women vote for office bearers in our churches? This is a heated discussion that is happening all over the Canadian Reformed Church.  The reason I am writing this is because it was brought up at men’s society.  Perhaps we should discuss this, because playing an ostrich with our heads in the sand is not going to prevent this issue from coming up in our congregation at Chilliwack.  The status quo will be questioned eventually, so why not discuss it now?

Synod 2010 decided that who votes in congregational elections for office bearers is a matter for local churches.  This has been a controversial decision.  And I have discovered that it was certainly not a unanimous decision at all.  The votes in favour were 14, the votes against were 10.  Most decisions in synod are unanimous…this was certainly not unanimous.

Sadly, I fear for our churches because of this decision.  This decision will cause rifts in our churches.  How can I say that?  Well, for instance within 20-25 minutes of each other are the churches in Yarrow, Chilliwack and Abbotsford.  Imagine if two of these churches permit women to vote and 1 does not.  The one church that does not permit women to vote will appeal to the more traditional and conservative person, while the other two will appeal to the less traditional and more liberal.  A member could then pick the church which has the views and the practices that he or she prefers. Is this biblical? I am not a proponent of homogeneity (all churches being exactly the same) as I see the good in our differences, but when it comes to controversial matters such as this we need synod to be stronger and take a stand on it. Having an almost 50/50 split between the men who are our representatives is very telling.  And further, their saying to the local churches, “We’ll let you decide this one,” in this bloggers mind, is not a good way to do things. I believe it should have been a unanimous vote to change, or we stay with the status quo.

So after some initial reading, it appears that the Bible does not say anything really clear about churches voting for office bearers, let alone who should be voting, or if there should even be voting for that matter.  The Bible never tells specifically voting was ever really done.  Congregational participation in choosing the office bearers is certainly biblical, but the exact nature of that involvement is not really defined.  We read of lots being cast and overseers being chosen, but there are no explicit rules so to speak.  The way our churches vote on these matters has been a tradition dating back centuries. Even the 3 year “term” which office bearers serve is something specific to our tradition which we do not see in most other churches.  Most other denominations view ordination as a something for life, not just a 3 year term. The whole way we choose our office bearers is something that we agreed upon seeking and applying biblical wisdom.  And now we have the issue of “who” can vote.

As a congregation in Chilliwack we use a democratic election where only the men vote.  But women can nominate.   Women can also submit a lawful objection to the nomination or the result of the vote.  But they cannot actually vote…do you not find that extremely inconsistent?  I certainly do.  In essence the women can choose the men to nominate, they can bring forth their objections to the men, but they cannot vote…they do not have the final say.  If I might make a clarification here… in the end, even if  you vote, the existing consistory (council of elders) must approve the nominations.  Then they must appoint the man you voted for.  So essentially even though you vote, the elders of the church, and ultimately God himself, have the final say in who becomes an office bearer. In my mind give women the vote, or take away all their rights, which include nominating and objecting.  The way it is now is flawed.

Some would say that voting is an act of authority.  It is not at all an act of authority.  Voting does not give you authority over the prime minister or the president, or the elder in the church.  In fact your vote does nothing but aid in the process of God ordaining a man to have authority over you.  Think on that for a moment.  Besides, Synod 2010 also declared that voting is not an act of authority.

I was not going to post my stance on this, as I admit that I have not really researched and studied in depth what, if anything, the scriptures teach about it, so this view could change depending on what the Lord has said in scripture. I believe that the spiritual heads of the homes should be the ones nominating, objecting and voting for who is to be ordained to office.  As the head of the home is responsible for leading the family in worship, and will be held accountable for their family, so should the heads of homes also be involved in the spiritual supervision their family will receive.  While voting itself is not an act of authority, is it not a violation of the marriage covenant if a wife rejects of a certain man that her husband approves of to nominate and then nominates him without her husband’s approval?  Yet we already permit married women to nominate and object already! So by that line of reasoning it would sound like I am saying that only men should vote.  Ideally yes, but at the same time…not at all.  If there is a widow in the congregation, is she not now the head of her home?  Should she not have a vote?  Or should she now simply trust in the Lord’s goodness to provide an overseer for her? A single lady who is not living at home…is she the head of her home?  Should she not vote?  Or is she still subject to her father’s authority?  What if her father is dead?  Can she vote? In my mind there should be one vote per family and that vote should be submitted by the spiritual head of the home, in most cases that means men.  I am sure that my view will never be accepted, since women can already nominate and object.

I am concerned with the way this was handled at Synod 2010.  I am concerned that our churches will be divided over it.  I am concerned that when the other local churches make their decisions, that some will leave and change to go to the church that “feels” right to them.  I am concerned that those who want to see female office bearers will grab a hold of this Synodical decision and use it as a catalyst to further their cause of worldly feminism within the church.  There is a lot of lament over this decision; there is a lot of rejoicing as well. In fact it is about 50/50…ironic huh?  I am doing neither lamenting nor rejoicing; I am simply concerned about the future of the Canadian Reformed Churches, I am concerned that the glory of God is being undermined as we seek to appease those who have loud voices.

I am concerned, but I trust the Lord completely.  I trust in his supreme providence, unfailing faithfulness and divine wisdom.  I trust His promise that he will keep for himself a faithful remnant, that He will preserve the true church, as he has throughout the ages.  He is Faithful, even though we are not.  I pray that he would keep for himself and preserve the Canadian Reformed Church even as we venture forth from this decision into the unknown future.  All I know is this: We are sinful and God is good.

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  1. Jessica says:

    I agree with you completely! As a female and wife in the CanRC (but having grown up URC), I do believe that a husband and wife should vote together (one vote). But I also have a mother in law who has no husband to vote for her. She has no say in who is in council. I feel that it should be one vote per household.

  2. Thea says:

    Good post, Ryan, and I agree with about 75% of it. I don’t believe nominating, voting and vetoing are equal, but that may just be my personal opinion. But I do believe that voting is the method God uses to choose His officebearers, and He does not need the women’s vote to make His will clear. So, you might say, then why not let the women vote? If it makes no difference? It does make a difference. It says to women that they need not accept the headship of men, all men, in their task and duty to govern the church, as God’s representative in the chain of authority. And what if, like me, there is no man as head of the family? Then I need to accept that God makes His will clear through the vote of all the other men in the church. It is not my “right” to vote. But it is my right to accept the headship of all men. If I vote, it encourages me to think in an individual female manner, and that is not God-honouring, in respect to choosing officebearers. There are so few places any longer that honour men in their calling as God’s representative. Let’s leave it intact in the church. Nominating and vetoing do not fall in the same realm of headship as does voting, because the results are arbitrary, not decision-making.
    I agree that this was a bad synodical decision for the unity of the church. And I agree that this decision will cause polarization of churches and the resulting labeling of churches. I grieve the loss of steadfastness to a practice that did, in fact, function properly, and did not cause dissention, except perhaps among a few strong-minded men and women.
    But I, like you, also trust that the Churches are under the faithful watch of our Lord Jesus. However the warning to the churches in Revelation. that the Lord will extinguish the flame of the gospel in specific place, also holds true for the churches today.

  3. Thanks for your concise reply Thea, I think you speak the same thoughts of my wife and my married daughters and daughters in law. We have discussed this often since the Synod gave the decision up to the churches. Here in Vernon our consistory has allowed women to vote, I think only one daughter “voted” (she signed the “list” and then handed the ballot to her husband), the others waited at the back of the church being encouraged to go in and vote. NOT a nice atmosphere for them, they said. All of this is very disheartening entirely due to what I see as a lack of leadership. Ryan is correct, I believe, in stating that the decision should have been unanimous, giving full direction. Unfortunately this isn’t the first time this has been done (Lord’s Supper – individual vs. communal table).
    I pray that the inability to provide clear leadership at the Synod level is not a paralleling of today’s society, but I’m left wondering, why is Synod allowing church members to become embroiled in unchristian emotions. It also leaves me wondering, if a split should ever occur, and may God Graciously not let it happen, it will perhaps be over what might appear to be a moot point, with all these other factors being contributors.
    I don’t know, I feel like I’m rambling here, and probably not making a lot of sense, but then again, I’m old. 🙂

  4. Susanne Hutten says:

    Thea – your response is how I feel as well. Synod’s decision needs to be more direct and with this type of decision we will see a lot more church shopping. These issues will not go away as long as we continue to “thwart” the headship of the men. God gives us different tasks as men and women and we need to respect them. Uncle Henry- you have also spoken some good words and we need to pray for all the men who are making the decisions on behalf of the churches that they will continue to seek their guidance from God’s Word. You are not old – just getting there!:)

  5. Shirley Veldman says:

    I have found myself thinking about this often in the past, and appreciate “one Christian’s Dad’s ” approach to this.
    My thot’s continually go to wondering if the ‘casting lots’ approach wouldn’t be a more God glorifying method in the case of appointing officebearers. Leave the nomination process in place since this does put the congregation & consistory in proper place, and then pick the final names ‘out of the hat’ so to speak.
    This would eliminate any problem with women voting for office bearers and also (since we are all human) make it impossible for any consistory members during the nomination process to ‘set up’ the nominations so their ‘favorite’ picks get in.
    I realize this sounds a little elementary but this does seem to be how office bearers were chosen at times in scripture as well. This has been of interest for some time to me and my mind keeps coming back to what seems to me to be this ‘way of least resistance’ for us. I do find myself wondering too why this has not been presented at all in the past so maybe there is some obvious thing I’m missing here. If so, please enlighten me. Along with all of you we pray for God’s continuing guidance in these matters and that His name be glorified in our discussions and methods .

  6. I’m not a member of the Christian Reformed Church and I don’t usually venture into ‘water’ with regard to Church’s ‘rules or regulations’..but for my two cents worth…here it is.

    In biblical days there were many women who were helpful and leading in the furthering of the Church of Jesus Christ. In Paul’s writings he often writes to them….Now without checking and my memory being what it is with names…one name that comes to mind is Priscilla…but I don’t even trust my memory that far.

    There is also the fact that even in Christian households the ‘head of the family’ is not perhaps the best person to be ‘voting’. Not every Christian man or for that matter woman is the most Godly or openly-honest with their Godliness…I may not be saying it clearly but for the sake of an analogy that is simple …I will say a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. …not all that appears to be…is real. Therefore I would offer that both a man and a woman of a certain age be allowed to vote.

    That is strictly my opinion and I offer it humbly ….Diane

  7. James Kanis says:

    Hi Ryan,
    I’m impressed that you tackled such a controversial issue (but not surprised). Let me preface this by saying that I’m on the conservative side of the issue.

    I agree with most of what you said, however, I want to follow up on your paragraph about the Bible saying nothing about the voting of women in the churches. Everything you mentioned there is absolutely correct. Wouldn’t that follow, then, that anything that we can come up with on the issue is our own opinion? The fact is that both “sides” of the issue have their own opinions, with arguments to back up what they’re saying. At the end of the day, the Bible does have something to say about opinions, and it is contained in Romans 14. If the Bible doesn’t offer an answer, this kind of issue falls under the realm of Christian freedom. Christian freedom is one of the most valuable things we have as a church, given us by God through the reformers. I’d hate to see us lose it because some opinions are more valued than others.

    I know you didn’t say it, but Synod’s decision wasn’t “waffling” or “copping out”. Their decision was a good one, based on Romans 14. The individual churches have more authority than Synod, and Synod recognized that some churches would be better served with women voting, and others not. You say this may cause splits in the churches. From what I hear out of Ontario, it would have caused more division if Synod had left it the way it was. This decision gives the churches the freedom they have been given in Christ.

    I know that casting lots is also brought up time and again as a fix for the issue. The problem with this is that it takes the human out of the picture. God works through us, sinful people, to have his will be done. I know God works through the vote, but we are completely responsible for our condition, whatever it might be.

    This is just my opinion, though. Take it with a grain of Romans 14 😉

    • James, I think that in our post-postmodern world of toleration and equality the church has been tainted with this philosophy as well. The Church in general (including ours) has become far too hasty in its application of Romans 14 for any and all issues that cause controversy. While I am not discounting what you have said, I think that we need to ask the question, why now? Why has this become an issue only now? We have to stop doing things because it feels right, or because others are doing it, or because it is the philosophy of the day. We need to search God’s word for an answer. While something may not be explicitly stated, it is usually in there implicitly stated. While the actual issue of voting is not really mentioned, the issue of spiritual supervision clearly falls to the men, whom God has ordained to be the spiritual leaders of the home and the church…this is clear in the Bible, and I believe does play a part in the issue of who votes. Since the 1870’s, the Feminist and women’s lib movements have clearly changed our western society from a patriarchal system to a system of equality. And we can clearly see the church following the same path as the world with regard to women’s issues. While many men have used what the Bible says about their wives submitting for their own sinful desires, and the change to a system of respect is a good one, I think the churches have taken this issue too far. The church is being heavily influenced by the philosophy of the world and not only on this issue. The Bible does say something about this issue of spiritual leadership and I am dubious that this a Roman’s 14 issue. But again I am just one Christian dad, when I get my M.Div. we’ll discuss this again… 😉

  8. Darren says:

    Interesting topic. I would argue that voting is a act of authority policitcally, as your vote is directly related to the appointment of who does become mayor, priemer, and prime minister. You could argue the degree of authority that the vote has, but you still hold it. Once all legal votes are counted, the name that wins, stands.
    You mentioned that in Chiliwack that you “use a democratic election where only the men vote” and then follow up later with “existing consistory (council of elders) must approve the nominations.Then they must appoint the man you voted for”. Firstly, our churches are not democratic, the church is lead by consistory, not the people. Secondly, I’m not sure if you meant the consistory must approve the election of office bearers? I’m not completely clear as it’s late and I do not have the church order in front of me, but my point is this; Council asks for nominations from men and women because as in a marriage, the husband and wife are both involved in the decision making have have their voice and concerned heard. Council takes advice and puts forth the names they deem fit. By putting those names up for election is saying to the congregation ‘They are all acceptable, you choose”. This makes the election a vote of authority, or Council would put the names up and decide themselves with no say from the congregation.
    As for the Synod’s decisions. I see James Kanis states that Synod in 2010 made a good decision. I will disagree completely and I truly believe they ‘waffled’ and ‘coped out’. The biggest, singular reason is this: Had there never been a decision in the past regarding Women’s voting, their ‘decision’ could be considered acceptable. However, and I believe this is critical, The Canadian Reformed Churches have previously made a decision to not allow Women to vote, and so they have changed their opinion. And they have changed it without and biblical text (unless you consider the absence relevent) and without anything near to a conclusive or unified decision. They have essentially told the churches that they have no idea if they used to be right or wrong and it’s now a free-for-all. The churches were asking for leadership and guidance, and were provided with absolutely zero on this matter.

  9. I don’t want to take this in another direction, but here are some things that came up reading the latest responses.
    My wife and I were discussing these responses, and in particular the Romans 14 concept. Over the years, and increasingly so as the years have gone by, we hear, “Why do we have to go to church twice, it doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible that we have to go twice”. Of course the answer is, “God has set the consistory over us, and we need to respond to them appropriately, besides, as believers and lovers of God, shouldn’t we WANT to go to church twice?”
    Like our world today, authourity is also being challenged. Who are these men to tell us that we must go to church twice, when the Bible doesn’t even mention it? Our church is seeing a reduced amount of attendees for afternoon services, will Councils acquiesce and go to one service when virtually no one shows up anymore? (Should those consistently not showing up be put under discipline?)
    There are so many more challenges that could be mentioned that come directly as a response to technology and our post modern/environmental culture.
    Again, I don’t want to derail the discussion, but these observations came up and I thought I would share them. Please remove this post if it detracts too much from the subject.

  10. Thea says:

    I may be completely out of order here, but I wanted to share with you all two facts that I became aware of that impact this discussion.

    When the church at Hamilton submitted that first letter to Synod Smithers 2007, it was the result of the insistent lobbying of a handful of women who over the prior five-eight years had repeatedly petitioned their consistory. These women were all single, who wanted to have influence in the choosing of office-bearers, who in fact feel it is their “right”. This fact may indicate that there are more single women throughout the congregations who participated in this type of activity.

    The second fact is that at the seminary, students are taught that women should have the vote. Ministers of the world are by and large in agreement with one another that this is a wrong that should be righted. For example in Rev. VanOene’s book Inheritance Preserved (I think that’s where I read it, it could have been Patrimony Profile too), where he states that sisters should be included in the voting. So if minister and professors believe that sisters should be voting, one way to have it come about is to teach the students and have that taught over the generations to the people. Eventually it will begin to work.

    One synod in the 80s (sorry I don’t have all my Acts readily available, they are packed in boxes) prepared the way, when the Church Order was revised in a innoculous way, about local rules regarding voting.

    But the ministers did not really count on the fact that half of synod delegates are elders, who are generally “uneducated” lay people who did not share their views on this matter. So the way to get it through would be by the back door. And that’s what Synod 2010’s decision was.If I gave the idea that the synods are split 50-50 that is not true, there are some elders who agreed with ministers, and some ministers who agreed with elders. So I do not propose a conspiracy theory here, only an observation.

  11. Thea says:

    I read Rev VanOene’s view on women voting in “Decently and in Good Order”.

  12. Just a comment about the casting of lots: the last time you read about it is in Acts 1, before Pentecost. After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, you read about the congregation choosing. Just an observation that may or may not be relevant. Nice blog, BTW, Ryan!

  13. Rev. Van Popta, Darren mentions in his post that a decision had been made in days of yore, to not allow women to vote. I have been trying to find evidence of this and have been unable to do so. I had not heard this before and don’t think any such decision was made, at least not at the Synod level. Could you clarify, or give direction?

    • Henry, I don’t think that decision was made. IOW, GS 2010 did not overturn a decision but, rather, sort of finished the discussion that had been ongoing, to greater and lesser degrees, for a couple decades. I’m a bit rusty on this, but I think GS 80 and GS 83 are the Acts to look at. I’m going by memory here…..

      • I was just wondering if there is a difference between a “decision” to not let women vote and the fact that women were not permitted to vote up to a couple years ago? There must have been a decision made somewhere that said women are not permitted to vote. Just a musing…

  14. No decision, permitting or forbidding, had been taken by a GS until GS 2010, which said that it’s a matter for local regulations.

    • Interesting, I guess I just assumed that there had been. There is obviously a misconception about that in our churches, thanks for the clarification 🙂

    • Darren says:

      I had been told there had been. If I am incorrect, I thank you for the clarification. 🙂

      • Darren, if you look at the Acts of GS 2007, Article 136, you’ll read the following considerations of Synod (they are available at http://www.canrc.org, you know, if you are ever suffering from insomnia 🙂 ):

        4.1 The Cornerstone Council is correct in stating that the matter of women’s voting rights has not
        been dealt with in a conclusive way by any general synod.
        4.2 General Synod 1980 rejected certain arguments against women’s voting but did not take the
        further step of affirming women’s voting among the churches.
        4.3 The Cornerstone Council has indeed brought forward new elements to this synod that could
        warrant the formation of new study committee. The agenda set by a previous synod (1980) has
        not been completed.

        On the basis of those considerations, GS 2007 appointed a committee to bring a recommendation to GS 2010.

        I’m not arguing pro or con but only clarifying this particular matter (that no decision, Yea or Nay, had been made prior to GS 2010. There was the way we did things, but no ruling.

  15. Joel Faber says:

    I was a member of Cornerstone until recently (I moved away from Hamilton), and had the chance to talk to members of the committee delegated by the Cornerstone council to investigate the issue of women’s voting. One of the things that struck me about their conclusions was that voting in the church is not a political exercise as voting in a democracy is, but a means by which the Spirit speaks through the members of Christ’s body. That is, it is not an exercise of authority that each individual holds as a right, but a testimony to God’s work in the congregation that each member (male or female, slave or free alike) has a responsibility to make. Considered this way rather than as an issue of rights or of authority, it is not a politically charged assertion of the individual but an act of service that keeps the focus on God’s work.

    Incidentally, while it may be true that the impetus for Hamilton’s motion came from a small group of women (I hadn’t heard that before but know nothing to the contrary), my sense was that once the committee (a group of sensible, intelligent, and respected members) returned to council and the congregation with the result of their study of women’s voting, their findings were accepted by the congregation with a much more pleasant spirit than evident in the atmosphere one of the above commentators ascribed to voting in Vernon.

  16. Alberta Boy says:

    Rev. Janssen has noted (Clarion Aug.12, 2011:408), such argumentation (pro-women vote) contradicts the Church Order (Art.3), which states:

    “…The consistory with the deacons shall present to the congregation either as many candidates as there are vacancies to be filled, or at most twice as many, from which number the congregation shall choose as many as are needed. Those elected shall be appointed by the consistory with the deacons…”

    Rev. Janssen comments that the verb “shall” here indicates that the council is bound to the outcome of the election. Those who elect thus exercise a measure of authority over those who appoint. It follows, “as those who appoint are exclusively men…those who vote are not to be women. For the plain reading of Article 3 CO suggests voting is here defined as an act of authority.”

    (this is a direct quote from http://bylogos.blogspot.ca/2011/10/women-voting-and-authority.html)

    • Hello again Arnold,

      Thank you for your comment and for your research, I certainly do appreciate the research. I must preface my response with this: I mean no dis-respect to Rev. Janssen, and I admit that I am not educated in the minsitry…in fact my 6 year old daughter claims she is going to marry Rev Janssen’s son… (they are 6 years old)…so he could be my daughter’s father in law 🙂

      Anyway, I think that line of reasoning is not quite correct because council already has chosen the men who meet the criteria and presented them to the congregation. Essentially consistory is saying, “Here, pick one these qualified men, we approve of them.”

      The church order states; “The consistory with the deacons shall present to the congregation either as many candidates as there are vacancies to be filled, or at most twice as many, from which number the congregation shall choose as many as are needed.”

      Obviously the consistory “shall” appoint them. Of course they are “bound” to the outcome of the election… That is a logical deduction from the fact that they already approve of the men and have presented them. The men meet the criteria. I do not see this being against the Church Order. And I am not arguing for or against women voting here, I simply think we need to stop grasping at straws, or “shall’s,” to defend our preconceived viewpoints and instead use the bible as the final authority.

  17. Linda says:

    Just a curiosity..why are those who want to see the inclusion of women voting termed ‘liberal”? I love, crave, desire and submit fully to headship.
    My husband and I talk about the offices and those appointed and he votes, and I have no problem with that.
    On the other hand we have strong independant daughters who live on their own. I hope, we have taught them ( with the help of so many) to be well versed in scripture, and hold very valuable opinions and thoughts that should be considered as well.
    When voting on elders, they have a keen insight as to which men might be better suited to ‘counselling’ ‘visiting’ and instructing and other church leadership qualities that Timothy talks about. They indeed give weight to the votes, however council still ‘decides’ and uses the voting to garner what the congregation desires. This input in the past has been given by Men+Women in marriage, Single Men, and fairly YOUNG boy/men who have done profession of faith..It totally left out the thoughts and wisdom of the Widow, Single Mature non- married women, and Young professed girl/women 🙂
    I have been told that widows can talk to their elders, and they can share the vote in that way..hmmm..pluralistic wifes of a sort? (ok I’m being silly – but you get my drift)
    While I support the vote, I am not appreciating being termed ‘liberal’ on account of a differring opinion.