The Uniting Church is not a political democracy

The Uniting Church is not a political democracy. We do not have election campaigns. We do not make pitches for votes. We do not promise money, or capital works, or particular favours, in response for votes. We do not set up political parties and vote en bloc for people that we may, or may not, not know personally, on the basis of an ideological commitment. We do not look to “win” or “lose” on specific issues.

Rather, we value the participation of each person within the church, in the ways that are best suited to their particular capacity and calling. We undertake a process of considering the gifts and graces that individuals exhibit in their own discipleship, and then determine to appoint those best gifted to become members of particular bodies within the church, so that they may exercise their specific ministry in the work of that body.

The Uniting Church affirms that every member of the Church is engaged to confess the faith of Christ crucified and to be his faithful servant. It acknowledges with thanksgiving that the one Spirit has endowed the members of Christ’s Church with a diversity of gifts, and that there is no gift without its corresponding service: all ministries have a part in the ministry of Christ. (Basis of Union para 13)

The Uniting Church is not a political democracy. We do not elect representatives, people to represent our personal or local interests. We do not elect a mayor and a local council, nor a set of local representatives and state-wide councillors who then elect a Premier, nor another set of representatives and senators who then elect a Prime Minister.

Rather, we elect members of various councils (Church Council, Presbytery, Synod, and Assembly) on the basis of their particular gifts, and then we expect them to undertake work together as a body. We elect people with particular gifts to contribute to the common tasks and to meet the set of responsibilities given to each council.

The Uniting Church recognises the responsibility and freedom which belong to councils to acknowledge gifts among members for the fulfilment of particular functions. (Basis of Union para 16)

The Uniting Church therefore so organises its life that locally, regionally and nationally government will be entrusted to representatives, men and women, bearing the gifts and graces with which God has endowed them for the building up of the Church. (Basis of Union para 15)

The Uniting Church is not a political democracy. We do not undertake polling to determine our policies, nor do we shape platforms for election on the basis of what we understand the majority of people to prefer. We do not expect that our policies represent the majority opinion, simply because it is the majority opinion.

Rather, we engage in discernment. We seek to be open to the leadings of the Spirit. When we come together, we begin with worship, and we pause for prayer at crucial moments. When we meet in council, we state our understandings and commitments, then listen for what others have to say, before we move on to shape a way forward. Each council aims to shape its life together in obedience to Christ, consistent with what they understand the will of God to be for them.

The Uniting Church acknowledges that Christ alone is supreme in his Church, and that he may speak to it through any of its councils. It is the task of every council to wait upon God’s Word, and to obey God’s will in the matters allocated to its oversight. (Basis of Union para 15)

The Uniting Church is not a political democracy. We do not operate with an adversarial, two-party, competing-ideologies system. We do not sit in meetings in ways that demonstrate an inherent hierarchy and we do not have “whips” to ensure that people comply with the “party line”. We are not seated on opposite sides of the room, staring across the void at one another, arguing and disputing in an ecclesial “bear pit”.

Rather, we believe that all of this is us. Together, we are the body of Christ. When we meet, we sit together, around a table, or a number of tables, or in a circle, where all are equally valued and equally important. We listen and reflect and pray and discern. We hope to find consensus on issues that we consider.

As we meet we are conscious that we are seeking the will of God and that we need to work together to discern the guidance of the Spirit. While there may be times when a clear decision between two alternatives needs to be sought by majority vote, there are many situations in which that approach is quite inappropriate. Consensus is a process by which a common mind of the meeting is sought about the wisest way forward on a particular issue at the time. Of course it can never be claimed that this way has determined the will of God – but as the Basis of Union declares, we rely on the gift of the Spirit in order that we may not lose the way. (Manual for Meetings section 4.1)

The Uniting Church is not a political democracy. We are a church that values participation—the active involvement of every person. We are a church that recognises gifts—as the basis for service. We are a church that values discernment—a process that seeks to find how the Spirit is guiding us as we meet together. We are a church that works towards consensus—the finding of a common mind wherever possible. This is who we are. This is who we strive to be.

Author: John T Squires

My name is John Squires. I live in the Australian Capital Territory. I have been an active participant in the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) since it was formed in 1977, and was ordained as a Minister of the Word in this church in 1980. I have served in rural, regional, and urban congregations and as a Presbytery Resource Minister and Intentional Interim Minister. For two decades I taught Biblical Studies at a theological college and most recently I was Director of Education and Formation and Principal of the Perth Theological Hall. I've studied the scriptures in depth; I hold a number of degrees, including a PhD in early Christian literature. I am committed to providing the best opportunities for education within the church, so that people can hold to an informed faith, which is how the UCA Basis of Union describes it. This blog is one contribution to that ongoing task.

3 thoughts on “The Uniting Church is not a political democracy”

  1. Hi John, I’ve not met you but have been reading your blogs post the SA presbytery decision. I also attend Adelaide West Uniting. I mainly wanted to thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, I’ve found them useful for me anyway!

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