A friend recommended to me Robert Harris’ book about the election of a new pope . The book is entitled: Conclave, and is subtitled The Power of God and the Ambitions of Men. It is a powerful story, although it is not among the ten best books that I read in the recent past. However, it remains a fascinating topic: How does the Roman Catholkic Church elect its highest leader? All cardinals below the age of eighty convene in Rome and must decide with a two-thirds majority who of them will become the new pope. Of course, there is always much speculation as to who are papabili, i.e. who are considered the most likely candidates. During the conclave many prayers are offered to plead for the guidance of God’s Spirit, but that does not guarantee that the process is free from political maneuvering and that human ambitions play no role. Whether this is so omni-present as Harris wants us to believe must remain a question mark for the reader.
Every denomination has its own system for the election of its leaders. Like many other denominations that originated in the USA, the Adventist Church uses a nominating committee that formulates a proposal which must then be voted by a large representative body. This is true for all elected positions at all levels of the church, including the presidency of the General Conference. The rules of the churcb stipulate very clearly that any form of political activity ought to be avoided. The nominating committee must have the freedom to consider which candidate is the most suitable person for a given post, without prior consultations between members of the nominating committee or the open promotion of particular candidates. In any case, this is the theory, which does not always coincide with realty.
Why have I chosen this as the topic of my blog of this week? It was triggered by an article on the website of Spectrum, written by Matthew Quartey. It appeared last week with the title: Should Ted Wilson Run for a Third Five-year Term? The use of the verb ‘run’ suggests an active strategy to seek support in order to assure Wilson’s re-election. Quartey’s first argument is that Wilson will have reached the age of seventy in 2020 and that it would be highly desirable to choose a younger successor. But Quartey also leaves his readers in no doubt that Wilson has been responsible for a strong polarization of the church and that it is high time that a new wind will begin to blow. I very much agree, but this is not the point I want to emphasize.
Unfortunately, there are many indications that ‘running’ for a high church office becomes rather common. This is a serious hollowing of the procedures we profess to use. Moreover, if we feel there should be an opportunity for actively ‘running’ for an offices, others (and not only the incumbent leader) should also receive opportunities to do so. Undeniably, the incumbent has a very major advantage. He (unfortunately, we cannot yet say he/she) has the opportunity to travel the world and to acquire high visibility. Others do not have this opportunity, or, at least, to a much lesser extent. However, open competition between several candidates would be a disastrous development. We should do all to prevent a further politicizing of leadership positions. I have participated a few times in the Adventist ‘conclave’ during a General Conference session. I noticed many things that, in my view, could be improved. But actively ‘running’ for a leadership role is a very poor alternative.
Campaigning for a position is totally at odds with what should be the point of depoarture for those who want to serve the church. They are ‘called; in a process—if things go the way they should go—in which the Spirit of God as asked to show the way.
Is that too good to be true? In any case, the alternative is too ugly to even consider.