Monarchy as the traditional theological model
All Western religions have taken the form of celestial monarchies, and therefore have discouraged democracy in the Kingdom of Heaven. Until, as a consequence of the teachings of the German and Flemish mystics in the 15th Century, there began to be such movements as the Anabaptists, the Brothers of the Free Spirit, and the Levelers, and the Quakers: a spiritual movement which came to this country and founded a republic and not a monarchy.
“And how could you say that a republic is the best form of government if you think that the Universe is a monarchy? Obviously, if God is top on a monarchy, monarchy is the best form of government. But you see, ever so many citizens of this republic think they ought to believe that the Universe is a monarchy, and therefore they are always at odds with the republic.” —Alan Watts, Jesus: His Religion
Democracy as the contemporary social model
The ideal ground of thin democracy is generic consensus—a common contract that authorizes a sovereign, who is accountable to the contractees, to provide for their interests. James Buchanan thus describes democratic government as an efficient means of achieving our individual objectives. The ideal ground of unitary democracy is substantive consensus—common beliefs, values, and ends that precede government and predefine the community in and through which individual scan realize themselves (these selves being defined by the community). And the ideal ground of strong democracy is creative consensus—an agreement that arises out of common talk, common decision, and common work but that is premised on citizens’ active and perennial participation in the transformation of conflict through the creation of common consciousness and political judgment.” —Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy
Agriculture as the original relational model
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples… You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” —Jesus, John 15:1-8, 16-17
The muddle of models
This week, Seventh-day Adventists have read a lot about “kingly power,” “God’s highest authority on Earth,” and whether all humans set apart to work with the laity may share the same classification. These questions are widely discussed but they aren’t widely determined: the delegates to the General Conference in session aren’t representative of the church at large, and the General Conference executive, meeting this week, is even more homogeneous.
Some commentators are weary of this fuss over recognizing the call and work of female ministers. And some church administrations have very strong opinions that women should not share the same ministerial classification with men and that being in community requires uniformity of practice. We’ve circled this mulberry bush before. It’s not fun for anyone.
Both Adventist Today and Spectrum Magazine have some fascinating materials on the implications of this week’s deliberations at Annual Council. Each also links to the source documents, which you can read in full if so inclined this weekend.
Today’s update from Spectrum includes the news that the General Conference proposes to downgrade women-ordaining conferences to “missions.” We’ll see.
Stay tuned for more.