18 July 2007

Friendly Amendments

Despite the fact that fuses are short and tempers on edge, today was the day of "friendly" amendments, seemingly to every resolution that was considered. Since the floor committees control everything, they are given the prerogative to accept any amendments proposed from the floor of the Convention, if such amendments are deemed "friendly" to their motion and its intentions. I'm not opposed to this procedure, because it does facilitate things, but I am amused at how frequently it was invoked in the course of this day. I don't recall that any such "friendly" amendments occurred at the 2004 Convention (which wasn't very friendly, anyway), but we had dozens of them today. Those that were not deemed "friendly" enough to the floor committees were then put before the assembly for consideration, as usual. What did cause me to wonder a bit were those several occasions when the person posing the "friendly amendment," the Chair of the Convention, and the chair of the floor committee, essentially engaged in a bit of back-and-forth, three-way conversation, trying to negotiate the wording of an amendment. I'm somewhat surprised that no one objected to the apparent suspension of any and all rules of order at such points, but I guess it never got out of hand.

We finished up the elections this afternoon, so that is all said and done. I was impressed by the efficiency of the process, all things considered. Credit where credit is due. Can't say that I'm delighted with the outcomes, but exactly one-third of the people I voted for were elected (27 people out of the 81 elected to boards and commissions of the Synod). I suppose that I've also been on the prevailing side of the vote on as many as one-third of the resolutions, too. Of course that includes the mom-and-apple-pie resolutions that only a Nazi or a Communist would vote against. (The only unanimous vote has been for the re-election of Tom Kuchta to be the Treasurer of the Synod, who was unopposed for that office.)

As for the resolutions dealt with today, the Convention did adopt (by a 76% majority) the Specific Ministry Pastor Program. Perhaps I will need to think out loud about that particular matter at some later point, but I don't want to say too much about it for the time being. I am aware of the very mixed feelings that many of my friends and like-minded colleagues have had about it, and I myself have had similar mixed feelings, too. I realize that it is prone to abuse, though I don't believe that is the intention of those who have developed and proposed it. Of course, we all know the road that good intentions pave, so I won't try to argue that point either way. As I indicated earlier this week, I think the Specific Ministry Pastor Program, despite the somewhat hokey title, has the potential to be a rather good thing for the Synod. It may be hoped that it can help restore the practice of Augsburg Confession XIV, by gradually doing away with the licensing of lay ministers to preach and administer the Sacraments. We'll see. I'm not holding my breath, but I would like to be optimistic about something. I still have concerns about this new program, don't get me wrong. Yet, in all fairness, I believe that it does have some theological integrity and genuinely historic precedent, especially with reference to the ordained deacons and parish priests of the early church, as well as the men who were trained by apprenticeship for the Office of the Ministry in 19th-century Lutheranism. Nevertheless, I am sympathetic to those who are opposed to the Specific Ministry Pastor Program, and I hope they will not think me loosey-goosey for trying to look on the bright side of things.

Actually, I'm trying to take my cues from some of my younger friends and colleagues here, who have maintained a cheerful disposition and a measure of enthusiasm - not because things are going well (they aren't), but rather in the joyful confidence of the Gospel. Better to be good-humored in the face of adversity than to become morbid and down in the mouth about it. Let us rejoice when we are counted worthy to carry the cross and to share in the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us also give thanks for the Lord's discipline and call to repentance, not only for "the other guy," but especially for ourselves, who must also repent.

I have been reminded, yesterday and today, of Abimelech in the Old Testament. We studied him recently in Bible Class. He relied upon nepotism and favoritism to recruit support for his rebellious takeover of Israel. The priests of Baal from Shechem funded him with 70 pieces of silver, with which he hired 70 worthless fellows to kill off his 70 half-brothers, the sons of Gideon. Only Gideon's youngest son survived, by going into hiding, and he then uttered a prophetic curse against his half-brother Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. If they had dealt honorably with each other and the house of Gideon, then God bless 'em, one and all. But if they had dealt dishonorably, then would fire come out from Abimelech to destroy Shechem, and fire would come out from Shechem to destroy Abimelech. Well, sure enough, after Abimelech had reigned in Israel for three years, Shechem rebelled against him, and when all was said and done, they were all dead and gone. "Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father in killing his seventy brothers. Also God returned all the wickedness of the men of Shechem on their heads" (Judges 9:56-67). I'm not suggesting a one-for-one comparison or correspondence between Abimelech and Shechem and current synodical politics, but I am admonishing myself (and anyone else who cares to listen) that justice belongs to the Lord, and He is more than able to visit vengeance upon those who live by the sword. What is all the more amazing, and encouraging, is that He is all the more willing and able to bring even us to repentance and faith in the free and full forgiveness of sins, for the sake of Christ Jesus alone.

Anyway, one of the most interesting discussions today was concerning Resolution 7-08A, which would introduce a process for the removal of individual members from boards or commissions. No matter how important it may be to have such legislation put into place, the language of this thing as it was set before us was troubling. Among the nine possible reasons identified for the removal of a board or commission member was the undefined term, "insubordination," which was thankfully stricken from the resolution after persistent questions about its meaning and intention. The remainder of the debate was almost humorous, if not for the seriousness of the matters at stake. A question was raised about the permissability of the provisions for removing even members of the Board of Directors of the Synod. When Synod's legal counsel was consulted on this question, the first lawyer who spoke said, in fairly simple and straightforward words, that state law requires that members of the Board of Directors of a non-profit corporation (such as the LCMS) can only be removed by the body that elected them to that position; which, in our case, would mean the Synod in Convention. That seemed clear enough to me. The resolution, as it was presented, was asking us to put into the bylaws something contrary to the law of the land. That should have settled it, in my opinion. But, no. Instead, we got to listen to the long-winded explanation of another lawyer, who basically said that, yes, if the proposed bylaw were put to the test, and a particular case involving removal of a member from the Board of Directors were tried by a judge, it wouldn't hold up; but it wasn't likely that such a thing would happen, so we could probably get away with it, and, after all, we can say whatever we want in our bylaws, because we're a church. That was the gist of the argument, so far as I could tell. In short, it sounded like the attitude of many of my friends back in high school: it isn't wrong unless you get caught. Uh-huh. I've tried to teach my own children differently, and the Synod should know better. Thankfully, persistent pressing of this point brought back the first lawyer, who repeated even more simply what he had already said previously. The floor committee did then voluntarily withdraw the motion and return it to the drawing board for further work.

The final excitement of the day was a substitute motion from Floor Committee 8, no longer asking us to approve a special Convention of the Synod in 2009, but simply to entrust that decision and action to the Council of Presidents. As one delegate speaking in favor of this new proposal described it, we need to "empower the leaders of our Synod" and trust them to do what needs to be done. Here we go again with the trusting of mortal princes and the relinquishing of rights and responsibilities on the part of the delegates as representatives of the Synod. The fact of the matter is, though, that there will be a special Convention to consider a complete restructuring of the Synod from the ground up. We were told as much again this afternoon. It is not a question of "if," but only of when this will happen.

Treasurer Kuchta, a man I deeply respect, and whose integrity I do not question in the least, indicates that there is a financial urgency for this restructuring, lest the national ministries of the Synod be cut. He is surely correct in urging that something needs to be done, the sooner the better. There is, however, something more important at stake than finances and the ongoing funding of "missions and ministries." The integrity of our doctrinal standard and confession, and of the Synod as a fellowship of Christ's holy Church on earth, must be maintained, first and foremost: for the sake of the proclamation of the Gospel to His own people and to all the nations. Keep the message straight, and get that message out, Missouri. Our Constitution and Bylaws are in many ways theological documents and confessions in their own right, defining our relationship to one another and our place in the world on the basis of our doctrine. These are things, no matter how free, that we ought not be too quick or easily willing to give up. Let us rather take our time and allow the entire Synod to give careful consideration to whatever might be developed, rather than leaving such things largely in the hands of the relatively few.

In fairness, it should be indicated that the substitute resolution we received this afternoon, regarding the proposed special Convention, specifically includes the assertion "that no propsed changes to the Structure and Governance of the Synod will conflict with Article II and Article VI of the Constitution." These are the articles that set forth our doctrinal standard. It is good that such things are protected, at least to this extent, but it would be much better and far stronger to insist that Articles II and VI will simply not be changed. They aren't broke. Don't try 'n' fix 'em.

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