New England town meeting goes to church.

A fresh look at democracy's effect on church.

"Democracy where it's pure and never simple" caught my attention in the Monitor's "Backstory" (May 11). It featured that political idiosyncrasy known as the New England town meeting, this time in Winsted, Conn. The graphic humorously showed a queue of townsfolk filing past a mobile marquee that read: "Town Meeting 2Night, Check Pitchforks at Door, Pie (& Democracy) Served."

Everything from the workings of book clubs to those of nations may be poised on this ideal.

For example, I belong to a church that's governed by its membership in a democratic process. There's no hierarchy and no directors. In agreement with bylaws, the membership legislates action that is then carried out by an elected executive committee.

I am a committed churchgoer. So, the theory and practice of democracy particularly, though not exclusively, as it applies to church, is of more than passing interest to me.

So, how do Winstedians do it, I wondered.

Apparently, with "passion and pique: Sometimes it can turn into a free-for-all."

There's got to be more to it than a brawl. More to it than merely the notion that it is sufficient for a mathematical majority to rule. More to it even than consensus. In such a scenario, numbers carry the day, though not necessarily wisdom, compassion, or progress, either for the individual or the organization.

A holier and more ennobling sense of democracy emerges in the writings of church founder Mary Baker Eddy. "Distinctly democratic" is the model she established for the Christian Science church in her "Church Manual." In the margin, I've drawn a bright red question mark.

One answer may be that several times she quoted Wendell Phillips, an American abolitionist whose spiritual intuition let roll the phrase: "One on God's side is the majority."

A Harvard Law School graduate (1833), Phillips later quit the practice of law to dedicate himself to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society – an action that prompted his family to try to commit him to an asylum. That's mild by comparison to what was attempted in an effort to arrest Christ Jesus who, in my book, is the unequivocal master of democracy.

There is perhaps no more consummate example of this mastery than is given in the Bible's accounting of the scribes' and Pharisees' taunting of Jesus with the case of a woman caught in the act of adultery.

Infidelity was then considered punishable by stoning. What's more, disagreement with that majority opinion might carry a similarly sobering sentence for the lone voice of opposition. No pun intended, but the phrase "two birds with one stone" illustrates the intent here – a consensual mob was defying Jesus to disagree with their righteous sentencing of her to this unspeakable cruelty.

Yet, this master of Christianity had the prescience and, therefore, the divinely democratic potency to nonchalantly stoop and draw in the dirt when ignorantly and maliciously attacked – to wait meekly on the direction of God, Love, before casting his ballot.

And, the phrase that then rolled – "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" – dispersed that ancient madness. Armed well with his commitment to agree only with what is God-like, Love-like in its inclusion of everyone on the scene, this one on God's side prevailed.

Would we consider it a democratic victory had Jesus agreed with their plan to stone her? Or had they stoned her despite his vote?

If God's law is that we love others as we love ourselves, then nothing short of consenting to that is truly democratic, no matter how the numbers add up. Nothing is so vital to church as is agreeing with God.

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