As a pastor in the United Church of Christ—with its rich social justice heritage and democratic governance at all levels—I have pondered and at time struggled throughout my career with the issue of where authority lies.
Believing twenty-plus years ago that I had the answers to a church’s problems (and probably secretly thinking, “I alone can fix it”), I can remember the threatened feeling a leader can have in a democratically-run system.
And yet, over my years working with congregations, I’ve seen how the Holy Spirit works among and within congregants in a truly open decision-making process, and it’s a miracle.
With everyone at the table who wants to participate, we truly do make better decisions through participatory democracy.
That’s why I see the spasms our nation is going through over voting rights, as painful as they are, as an expected phenomenon for a country going through its adolescence. With the freedom to participate and have a hand in decision-making comes the responsibility to ensure all have that freedom.
Ensuring that freedom and an open process means risking that things may not go the way I want them to, on occasion, and resisting the temptation to choose centralized authority over participation by as many as want to be a part of self-determination.
More than fifty years after Freedom Summer 1964, as people throughout the nation register people to vote in civil-rights battlegrounds like Mississippi and North Carolina—some for the first time now that they’ve reached the age of eligibility, others re-enfranchised after being purged from voter rolls due to voter ID and other voter suppression tactics—we now need legal assurance that the rights of some citizens to vote will never be abridged again, ever.