Post, March 27, 2008, to the RCUS Forum, C. W. Powell


I confess that I have erred.  I do deeply regret it, and hope that I have not been an instrument to mislead anyone on the subject of women voting.    I stated in a previous post that three times the RCUS refused to make male-only voting binding on the officers and churches of the denomination.


I was wrong. Tragically wrong.  I pride myself on accuracy, and on this regard I was wrong.  As I said, I regret it.  Not in dust and ashes, for those mess up your clothes, but regret anyway.


The truth of the matter is this, and I want to set the record straight.  At least Six times, not Three,  to my knowledge the denomination took actions that denied specifically that the position papers on women voting were binding.  Other actions also undermined the idea that the delegates thought this was a matter of such overriding concern that any vestige of the practice must be eradicated from the denomination.  I was wrong to minimize and understate this fact.  We really ought to apologize to the young men who went into churches in more recent years with the idea of purging women voting, sowing strife and discord against the clear policy of the denomination that such was not to be the case.  The six times I note:


1.     The position papers were adopted with no recommendations, which showed a reluctance to enforce them.  There are many things that experienced pastors think are right, but unwise to enforce, either because they are not fully convinced of the “rightness” or it is a matter that is of small importance.  For instance, I think it is right for people to dress up for church, but I dasn’t even preach it, let alone try to enforce it.  Respect for worship I do preach, but the application [which I think is valid] that people wear their best clothes I do not press.  [A side note would be, “should women be allowed to wear pants to church?  I remember years ago when a lady broke that taboo at Anderson.  I suspect that her spirit was wrong, but how do you bring discipline against her?  I don’t care a bit about it now.]

2.     Later a resolution was adopted that the churches study the papers.  Was this in 1978?   I do not know if the denomination made any attempt to see if the churches had studied them.  I did study them and accepted them because I didn’t know better, and because I my six years in the Baptist church made me want to limit congregationalism as much as possible.  I also was opposed to women doing much in the church at all, and so was easily convinced that my prejudice was biblical.  I was opposed to women voting in the church before we entered the RCUS, as I said.  If I did attend that synod in 1978, I would have had no objection to the resolution that was passed.  I am certain, however, that I thought the resolution was pastoral and not coercive.

3.     In the years leading up to Colorado Springs entering into the denomination [1987] the church went through an extensive revision of the constitution of the RCUS.  This was adopted in 1987, I think, with nothing in it about male-only voting.  Why didn’t the delegates put it in, if it is so important?

4.     In the nineties a study was done to “defend the polity” of the RCUS.  A recommendation was made to add male-only voting to the constitution.  The resolution passed, it was sent to the classes, and defeated. To think “yes” means “not yet” might be true, but it also might be wishful thinking.  If I remember, the core of the opposition to a “yes” vote was from the standpoint of the liberty of the churches.  If I also remember correctly I made a speech to that effect so that the issue of women voting was not even the central issue, but whether it was wise to impose it against the liberty of the churches.  I interpreted the “no” as an agreement with the argument.  I could be wrong, of course. I am used to being wrong and can handle it.

5.     Shortly after, a resolution was brought to Synod to add a provision to Synod bylaws stating that we would not admit churches that had women voting.  It was defeated.  I think that “no” means “no.”  The “no” meant “we do not want to exclude churches from our fellowship who have women voting.”  It is true that “unfortunately” we adopted a mission manual that had that provision, contrary to the constitution of our church.  But I think the constitution trumps the mission manual.  I think it is wrong for mission committees to enforce its provisions.  I also think that those classes who adopted such restrictions went specifically against the will of Synod expressed in this vote, something that Bud Powell, with whatever his reputation might be, has never done.  Even I could not have interpreted this “no” to mean “if you really want to.”

6.     Again, shortly after, advice was sought from Synod as to the propriety of an elder opposing male-only voting.  As I said before, the position papers were defined as “judicial advice” that is not binding, nor to be used as the basis of disciplinary action.   Hence, in the case of a person complaining to the spiritual council that it was sin for women to vote in the congregation, a knowledgeable spiritual council would throw out the charge as having no foundation except the position papers which cannot be used for such a charge.  It would be chargeable, perhaps, if the constitution of that particular church forbade the women to vote, for the local constitution could be foundation for charge.   If appealed to classis or on to synod, it would get dicey in any scenario, I would think.  Best to leave it alone, I would think, for the wise spiritual council.


If you want to you can research the meaning of “judicial advice.”  I have.  Good luck, as Calvin would say.  If it has a definition, it is pretty narrow, and is difficult to find.  I think we would have to stick to the definition provided by the committee that year.  It was a compromise on the matter and had a bit for every one in the resolution.  But everyone can interpret it according to his own prejudice.  We all pretty much wanted to put it to bed by then.


The broadest meaning of judicial advice is that given by legal counsel to a President, a governor, or someone in a public office.  It is never binding and a president is not obliged to follow advice of his counsel.  The worst that can happen is bad publicity if he doesn’t follow it and things go sour.


On the other hand, if the charge were brought in a church where the constitution permitted women voting, the one bringing the charge might be subject to discipline for contentiousness and breaking the covenant of his church and for bringing a baseless charge.    It might indeed be an “interesting scenario,” especially if he appealed his discipline.  But upon what basis would classis excuse him from his vow to live at peace with his congregation—a position paper that is not binding?  So a well-advised spiritual counsel should probably leave it alone and to the conscience of the person, and advise him to seek bigger fish to fry if he has a need for controversy.


Other actions since the position papers were adopted almost fifty years ago also weaken the view that this is an “official” position.  These actions certainly weaken the idea that they are “official” despite the resolutions of synod stating that they are.  Why delegates have acted so could only be known by getting into the minds of the delegates:  The actions speak much louder than the occasional resolution.


1.  Churches with women voting have come into classes after the position papers were adopted.    Blue Cliff in Karval, Emmanuel in Sutton,  Hamburg in Wisconsin;  Napoleon in Ohio, Trinity in Colorado Springs, and perhaps others.  Many churches had women voting thirty years ago.  I know that Hope in Sutton did and the flagship of the denomination, Eureka, still has women voting.  


The idea that male-only voting was not enforced simply to give the churches time to study seems a little weak in view of the facts.  Besides, if it was a good idea to bring churches in to teach them, then why isn’t it a good idea now?  But I do not think that was the reason:  I think that the men just couldn’t bring themselves to think that we would deny fellowship and communion with churches because of this issue. Many expressed this thought to me during this time.  I have immense respect for the memories of these men and I considered them pastoral and caring for the congregations.   I would like to know how many of the churches in the RCUS had women voting in some form as late as 1980.  There were quite a few and it was no big issue.  The simple fact is this:  In the forty years I have served in the RCUS it has never been the uniform practice of the RCUS to deny women the vote in the congregational meetings.  It is hardly the tradition of the church.  The history of decisions supports that conclusion, no matter what individual intentions were.


2.  Delegates who voted in the South Central Classis to receive Trinity Covenant Church into membership were certainly not the mavericks of the RCUS.  The roll of the S.C. Classis in 1987 included such luminaries as the ministers Robert and Pete Grossmann, Maynard Koerner, Vernon Pollema, Dorman Savage, Warren Embree, Lloyd Gross, Norman Hoeflinger, Herman Van Stedum, and one non-luminary C. W. Powell.  Among the Elders were Harry Hieb, David Maser, Jacob Fisher, LoRayne Ulmer, Ewald Ochsner Alvin Reichert, Ruben Bertsch, Elmer Neuharth, and John Savage. 


I did not attend Classis that year for I was working in a new job, trying to make a living so that I could preach the gospel in Colorado Springs.  I did not hear the debate.


At any rate, I am sorry I misled you by understating this issue.   I future papers I will try to slay some other dragons.  I trust they are dragons and not windmills. It is often difficult to tell the difference.


The next paper would be on “Why Does Anyone Vote?”  Before we can answer the “Who?” I suggest that we should know the “Why?”