17 July 2007

How Long, O Lord? How Long?

Today was the longest day of the Convention, and not only with respect to the schedule. We were in session (with lunch and supper breaks) from 8:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. That would certainly have been long enough, even if everything had been pleasant. But, in contrast to the more friendly atmosphere that seemed to prevail yesterday, there were various indications of a mean-spiritedness today. As it is, I have been wrestling with some real anger in my heart, for which I must repent. I am grateful for the handful of brothers who, at various points in the day, spoke encouraging and uplifting words of grace and peace to me, perhaps without even realizing how needed their fraternal comments were at the time. The Lord surely blesses me greatly, and I pray that His divine mercy, His patience and steadfast love, will enable me to turn the other cheek rather than clenching my fists.

I'm sorry that I do not have the heart or the spirit to go into lengthy details about the business of the day. There is much that could and should be said about many of the things that happened, most of them not good. Yet, I am weary in both mind and body, and not of the right disposition to consider things as dispassionately as I would prefer. For the sake of keeping up with the events of this week, I intend only to identify and discuss a few of the highlights (or low points, as the case may be).

The discussion and debate has been far more productive, in my opinion, than it was in 2004. The margins of the various votes have varied far more widely, apparently fluctuating in response to the comments made from the microphones on the floor of the Convention. That is precisely as it should be. Which makes it all the more frustrating that so many of the discussions have been cut dramatically short by the calling of the question. Of course, the assembly is then given the option of voting to proceed with debate, but without the time and opportunity for persuasive arguments, one way or the other, many of the delegates are caught up in the push to move on. There is such an artificial, manufactured sense of "urgency" about getting through the business of the Convention, that we end up not taking the time to do the real hard work that we ought to be doing, namely, the thoughtful and serious discussion, debate, even argument, and careful consideration of each motion that is set before us. There were a number of striking examples, in which debate was haulted while numerous people were left waiting at the microphones to speak.

In the case of Res. 8-02A, which may have been the most volatile resolution of the Convention, discussion and debate were terminated, remarkably, after only two or three speakers! That was one of the many times when I was at the microphone myself, waiting to speak, but not able to do so. This Resolution dealt with the matter of how disputes between members of Synod are to be handled. It set up a false set of options, between civil lawsuits on the one hand, and the Synod's flawed and faulty dispute resolution process on the other hand. The dispute resolution process is the one introduced by the vile 2004 Res. 8-01A, which I have spent much time and energy working to refute according to the proper protocols of the Church over the past several years. An overture that I drafted two years ago for our Indiana District Convention, stemming from the consensus of the joint South Bend and LaPorte Circuits Pastors' Conference after a year of fruitful discussion, which passed by a large majority at last year's District Convention, was not even given the courtesy of any attention by the pertinent floor committee of this Synodical Convention. Our Indiana District was not the only one calling for the same or similar action on the 2004 Res. 8-01A, either; there were half a dozen or more entire districts that memorialized the Synod in Convention to rescind or greatly revise that resolution of the previous Convention. But such is the power of the floor committees in general, and evidently the hubris of Floor Committee 8 in particular, that all of those districts have simply been ignored. The opportunity that I might have had to raise at least some of the concerns relative to the dispute resolution process was taken from me by the ceasing of debate after only two or three speakers. At that point, I was one of several dozen delegates waiting at the microphones to address the assembly.

The drumbeat of the administration, and the apparent mindset of the reigning majority at this Convention, is that power and authority ought to be more and more centralized in the hands of a relatively small number of "respected leaders," whether elected or appointed. Thus, by way of one shocking example, one of the vice presidents of the Synod gave a speech in which he scolded the delegates for making floor nominations in the normal course of the election process! What was the point in having a "nominations committee," he asked, if we were going to allow the making of nominations from the floor? He actually went so far as to say that those people, who had been passed over by the nominations committee, were "clearly not the best." Wow! And this prejudice was reinforced by the Chair of the Convention, who made a point of distinguishing the floor nominees from those that were placed on the ballot by the nominations committee.

Again, there appears to be a concerted push toward a far more hierarchical structure and a centralization of power. Which is my number one reason for opposing the Resolution 8-07A, now pending (because the day mercifully came to an end in the midst of discussion), which calls for a special Convention of the Synod in 2009. The express purpose of that special Convention is a complete restructuring of the Synod's entire polity and governance. Not simply amendments to the Constitution and Bylaws, but a completely new structure altogether, built from the ground up. When someone proposed an amendment to this motion, which would have prohibited any changes in the doctrinal standard of the Synod, the spokesman of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synodical Structure and Governance, hemmed and hawed about how they didn't want to change the content of the doctrinal standard, but they did want the freedom to "tweak" and refocus that article of the Constitution, and in the process to establish some new emphases. That was a chilling remark, in my opinion, and one that ought to put everyone on guard.

Judging from the policy-based governance that has come to dominate the boards, commissions, and districts of the Synod over the past decade, it is my estimination that the Blue Ribbon Task Force is hoping to use that same model for the governance of the entire Synod. What that would amount to, in short, is that the executive officers of the Synod would be free and clear to do whatever they were not explicitly forbidden from doing. That's bad business, in my opinion, but it is a far worse way of going about things as a fellowship of Christ's holy Church on earth. Whether there is a special Convention or not, I hope and pray most earnestly that it will not come to that.

There were other actions of note. One of them assigned the CTCR to prepare a study on so-called "serial prayer," in which Christians offer prayer in succession with people of other religions. As one brother delegate expressed, it is hard to believe that such shenanigans are seriously entertained. I stand by the position I have taken on this question since the Yankee Stadium debacle of September 2001: The Holy Triune God does not stand in line for His turn at the podium! He is a jealous God, who does not suffer His bride to be ravaged, nor His children to be kidnapped. We ought to fear Him alone, who can destroy both soul and body in hell; even as we all the more love and trust in Him, who lavishes grace and every blessing upon us solely in the Name and for the sake of our dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The schitzophrenic attitudes of the Synod toward "worship" were also evident in a series of resolutions from Floor Committee 2, all of them adopted. One called for the study of worship through model theological conferences, in order to arrive at greater clarity and unity in this area. In the very next resolution, the Convention called upon the Commission on Worship to provides resources for those who are using "contemporary" (sic) worship forms, despite the fact that such forms are at the very center of the controversy to be addressed by theological study. The chairman of the floor committee expressed his opinion that, while there is a great deal of diversity among us in practice, there is no great diversity in our theology of "worship." I agree with the delegate who pointed out that such an opinion, in itself, expresses a very different theology of "worship" than many of us hold and confess. While there is certainly much freedom in externals when it comes to worship, one cannot so easily separate theology and practice, and, in any case, the differences in practice within the LCMS stem from real theological differences.

Yet, we overwhelmingly resolved to commend the Commission on Worship, and others, for the Lutheran Service Book, which has been so well received across the Synod. It was in the discussion of that resolution that I finally had an opportunity to speak at the microphone! Hooray! I managed to be there in time to avoid having the question called before I was able to speak. I was glad for the chance to publicly express my thanks to the Reverend Dr. Paul Grime, who so capably and faithfully served as the project director for the Lutheran Service Book. As I indicated in my little speech, his pastoral care of the project, and of those many people such as myself who worked on the project, is deeply appreciated. My prayers go with Paul and his family, as he now leaves St. Louis for his new position as the dean of the chapel at the Seminary in Fort Wayne. Godspeed his family's move and his new vocation.


Cheryl said...

Hi Pastor S.,

I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your blog, and I am honored that you check in on mine from time to time, too!

God's blessings upon you, your family, and your ministry to the Lord's people.

Cheryl Magness

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Cheryl, thanks for your kind words. I'm glad my little updates on the convention have been of interest to you. Please know that I do regularly enjoy your blog, which I generally check each day.

Blessings to you and your family.