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Tenth Biennial Convention of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
July 21 - 24, 2005
Winnipeg, Manitoba

In Mission for Others


Who can vote at a national convention?

Only convention delegates can vote at an ELCIC national convention. Delegates to the ELCIC National Convention represent the parishes of the ELCIC. Every parish is entitled to send at least one delegate. Most congregations are single point parishes but some are part of a multipoint parish. Congregations that are part of a multipoint parish are represented by the same delegate.

Can a congregation bind a national delegate's vote?

It is contrary to rules of democratic process to bind a delegate prior to the convention. Baptised membership is not only membership in the local congregation; it is also membership in the synod and the national church. When one comes as a delegate to one of those events, one is in the same position as are individual members at a congregational meeting. Members of parliament in civil government, even as members of a political party, are free to vote in ways that most benefit the entire country or province. Sometimes they pay a price at the party or constituency level for their act of freedom, but it is not contrary to parliament for them to do so.

One of the seven historic marks of the church is the community gathered—ecclesia—through which the Holy Spirit speaks and works. To make decisions without first gathering with the other saints is a rejection of the nature of the church. Baptism is entry into the church catholic, not the church in its most local expression. The local congregation is merely the agent, the doorway, to that larger family. One doesn't go to Ottawa to get a Canadian passport, but that doesn't mean one's citizenship is limited to one's hometown!

Sir Edmund Burke said to the electors of Bristol:

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

My worthy colleague says, his will ought to be subservient to yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If government were a matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that in which the determination precedes the discussion, in which one set of men deliberate and another decide, and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?

To deliver an opinion is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to consider. But authoritative instructions, mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest convictions of his judgment and conscience-these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our Constitution.

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest-that of the whole—where not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member, indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of Parliament.

In Edmund Burke's speech to the electors of Bristol, Burke answers the ethical side of this question: for a delegate to surrender his right to decide would be unethical.

Second, none of the national act, constitution, or by-laws give a congregation the power to bind a delegate on any matter, especially a matter of conscience. Moreover, our model constitution for congregations does not contain this power. This takes care of the legal side: there is no legal power for a congregation to impose a position on a delegate.

Most importantly, the Convention decision will be Spirit-led. This means that the decision must be taken by delegates voting freely, following their consciences after prayerful consideration. If a congregation were to bind a delegate to a particular position, that would be an unfaithful act.

The Roman Catholic Church dealt with a similar problem late in the 18th century. From the 16th century onwards, when electoral conclaves were held, cardinals from some European countries would arrive with instructions from their governments, usually vetoes of certain papabile. The main offender was Austria-Hungary (the former Holy Roman Empire), which directed vetoes to all conclaves during the 19th century except for the conclave of 1878.

During the conclave of 1903, Cardinal Rampolla was elected with the required 2/3 majority. Cardinal Puzyna, the bishop of Cracow, announced that Austria vetoed Rampolla, and the conclave yielded. Instead, they elected Cardinal Sarto (Pius X). The following year, Pius X issued the papal bull Commissum Nobis, in which "he suppressed all right of veto on the part of secular governments, and forbade, under pain of excommunication reserved to the future pope, any cardinal or conclavist to accept from his government the charge of proposing a veto, or to exhibit it to the conclave in any form." (Encyclopaedia Britannica, edition of 1972, under 'Conclave')

In full communion with The Anglican Church of Canada
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