04 August 2007

Floor Committee 4: Program and Finance

By and large, the resolutions stemming from Floor Committee 4 tended to sail through without much adieu. There were fewer amendments and more minimal discussion, overall, than occurred with most of the other floor committees. Ironically, this was the only committee to have a resolution (4-12A) voted down (although some of the other committees did have resolutions die on the table). Let's face it, "Program and Finance" is less exciting and more difficult to wrap one's head around than most other areas of consideration. Nevertheless, it should not be supposed that these matters are inconsequential. The way that money is spent is most indicative of real priorities in action.

4-01A To Plan Summit to Restore Harmony and Trust (1014 pro; 169 against; 85.7%). I'm sorry to be skeptical, but I'm not much impressed with this plan for a summit. In contrast to the theological conferences on worship (Res. 2-01) and the broad-based study of fundamental doctrines (Res. 3-11), this proposed summit is to "bring together a representative group of respected leaders throughout this church." So what is that supposed to mean? It seems to me that, if the goal is a restoration of harmony and trust, far better to elicit widespread participation and input from the entire membership of the Synod (pastors, congregations and other rostered workers). Obviously, it wouldn't work to bring everyone together for any sort of "summit." Nor would a massive assembly of small group discussion around little round tables accomplish anything. But neither will genuine peace and unity be achieved by fiat from on high. What "respected leaders" within the Synod ought to be doing is finding ways to encourage and facilitate the mutual conversation and consolation of all the brethren on the basis of the Word of God. That sort of ongoing theological conversation, coupled with a regular rhythm of life in the means of grace, is the only foundation and context for true harmony. If that will be the aim of the proposed "summit," then so be it, and God bless it. Just so it isn't approached in the way of the Law, but in the way of the Gospel, which is to say, with the divinely-given means of grace.

4-02 To Begin a Stewardship Renewal through Enhanced Communication (914 pro; 277 against; 76.7%). Something about having stewardship resolutions under "Program and Finance" really rubs me the wrong way. If the way that money is spent is a solid indication of priorities, it also remains the case that the love of money is the root of all evil. Yet, protests notwithstanding, it's hard to avoid the impression that "stewardship renewal" amounts to a drive for more money. More troubling is the deeper theological issue involved in all of this. "Stewardship" presents a particular case of the way that "sanctification" in general is understood and approached. Here is a point at which substantive theological discussion and debate desperately need to be engaged, because there is significant disagreement in this area. Is stewardship (or sanctification) renewed by the preaching and teaching of the so-called "third use of the Law," or by the preaching of the Law and the Gospel unto repentance for the forgiveness of sins? That is a general way of stating the question, but the diverse ways in which some very different answers to this question play themselves out in specific practices are indicative of a wide theological disparity. Enhanced communication within the Synod would be a good thing, no doubt, but, unless it is the Gospel that is ultimately being communicated, there will be no real renewal of "stewardship" in the proper sense of the word. Perhaps more money will be gotten, in any case, which is likely to be counted as a measure of success. For my part, however, I am quite leery about "the development of resources, training, and stategic components for an expanding stewardship renewal," because I believe this sort of approach stems from a misunderstanding of sanctification.

4-03 To Develop Program to Emphasize Biblical Whole Life Stewardship (941 pro; 226 against; 80.6%). My concerns with respect to Res. 4-02 (above) pertain in this case, too. I also have to wonder what "a mentoring and training program for clergy with emphasis on biblical whole life stewardship" will mean in practice. It is intended as a form of "continuing education" for pastors. I'm all in favor of continuing education, but I don't believe that a stewardship program ought to be the focus. Maybe that isn't the point; the resolution appears to be rather vague and open-ended. Whatever the goal may be, I am not optimistic that the sort of "stewardship" in view is in keeping with a truly evangelical theology of vocation. If it turns out to be, then I will be among the first to applaud and support the efforts and results.

4-04 To Authorize Exception to 2004 Res. 4-11 re Property Reversionary Provisions (1039 pro; 86 against; 94%). This is basic housekeeping, necessitated by the laws of the state of New York. Despite the evident attitude of some toward the laws of the state of Missouri, Lutheran do not suppose themselves to be above or exempt from the law of the land, but submit themselves to the governing authorities as being established by God for our good.

4-05 To Amend Bylaws (e)(2) and (i)(2) re Financial Management (1037 pro; 87 against; 92.3%). This resolution shifts the management of all surplus institutional funds from the office of the Treasurer of the Synod to the responsibility of the Concordia University System. This is probably a legitimate move, but it does not alleviate concerns over the apparently increasing independence of the colleges from the Synod. The rationale for this resolution indicates that "institutions of higher education are largely responsible for their own financing of operation, either from tuition or through donor gifts." Fair enough, then; they ought to manage their own monies. Yet, the Synod ought to retain responsibility for the support and operation of its colleges, rather than leaving them to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, these are not simple arrangements or relationships, and I do not presume to have the answers.

4-06 To Revise Bylaw Sections re Name Change to Concordia Plans and Concordia Plan Services (1133 pro; 17 against). Basic housekeeping.

4-07 To Amend Bylaw re Membership of Board of Directors - Concordia Plan Services and Board of Trustees - Concordia Plans (1121 pro; 31 against; 97.3%). Increases the number of voting members on these boards (each comprised of the same members) from ten to thirteen. It does so by increasing the number of lay members and specifying that at least four of them (out of ten) be experienced in the management of benefit plan investments (and at least one of them be experienced in financial/audit experience). All voting members are appointed by the Board of Directors of Synod. Housekeeping.

4-08 To Amend Bylaw (i)(2) re Financial Management (1093 pro; 52 against; 95.5%). See comments on Res. 4-05 (above), which pertained to the colleges of the Concordia University System. This resolution makes a similar move with respect to the two seminaries. It shifts the management of each seminary's income and cash flow from the office of the Treasurer of the Synod to the seminary's board of regents. Again, this makes sense, given that the seminaries are now "largely responsible for their own financing of operations, either from tuition or donor gifts." Especially in the case of the seminaries, however, it seems to me that the Synod ought to be taking greater responsibility for supporting and financially sustaining these schools of the prophets. Should we not allow and encourage the seminaries to focus all of their energies and commitments on the priority of theological education and pastoral formation, rather than leaving them to be consumed with fundraising for their own survival? Again, I don't presume to have this all figured out. I would just prefer to see the seminaries less driven by the need for money. (Significantly, these very concerns appear to be addressed by the following resolution, 4-09A.)

4-09A To Provide Financial Support and Adopt Funding Model for Seminaries (1051 pro; 89 aginst; 92.2%). I regard this resolution as a positive step forward, an important development in response to the very sort of concerns I have mentioned above (in connection with Res. 4-08). It calls for the implementation of a funding model adopted by the Board for Pastoral Education. The Synod's direct funding of the seminaries will continue in the form of a (minimal) subsidy. However, the seminaries will return to being "tuition-driven institutions," while "the LCMS as a whole (individuals, congregations, circuits, districts, corporate Synod, and agencies)" will assume the "primary responsibility for gathering funds to support seminary students and assist them in paying undiscounted tuition." I like this very comprehensive description of the Synod, for one thing, and also applaud this sort of model for the budgeting and funding of seminary education. What this means for all of us, is that we all need to be proactive in the real support of seminarians and their families.

4-10 To Encourage Funding for Center for Hispanic Studies (837 pro; 74 against). Presently, the Center for Hispanic Studies is funded by Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, since both the Board for Mission Services and the Board for University Education eleminated their funding of its predecessor program (the Hispanic Institute of Theology). This resolution encourages the Synod's Board of Directors to seek additional funding to maintain and expand the Center, which is described as "the most effective program for preparing LCMS Hispanic church workers, both lay and rostered." I have no knowledge of the ideology or methodology employed by the Center, but I am aware of the pressing need for evangelism among the large Hispanic population in this country. I'm glad that this program is under the auspices of one of our seminaries, and would concur that the Synod ought to support its continuation with adequate funding. I do wonder, though, how this current program will be connected to the office and work of the Director for Strategic Development of Hispanic Ministries (to be created per Res. 2-04A).

4-11 To Encourage Support from Recognized Service Organizations. No action taken. This would have been a meatless resolution anyway, but, as a matter of principle, I would have liked to see this affirmation that RSOs ought to be supportive of the LCMS (rather than free spirits).

4-12A To Encourage Participation in Concordia Plan Services, LCEF, and LCMS Foundations (521 pro; 654 against). Defeated. In fact, this was the only resolution presented by any of the floor committees that was voted down (others were tabled or replaced by substitutes, but this one was put to the vote and defeated). Why? The resolution called for no other action than the encouragement of "all governing boards and committees to review their responsibilities and their opportunities," in relation to the several entities indicated in the title above, "to demonstrate our working together for the 'common good' and to multiply current and future benefits for their congregations, districts, and the whole church body." Resolving to encourage one thing or another, especially something apparently so straightforward and obvious, would normally amount to a mom-and-apple-pie sort of thing. That this resolution was defeated, in striking contrast to the high percentages by which the lion's share of resolutions were affirmed, suggests an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with, and perhaps even a measure of distrust in, the Concordia Plans, LCEF, and/or the LCMS Foundation. It also goes to show that the delegates to this Convention were not inclined simply to rubber stamp whatever was put before them with the "official" LCMS logo attached to it. Whatever else might be said about this particular resolution, I take it as a positive sign that this delegation is of a mind to think for itself.

4-13 To Give Thanks and Praise to God for LCMS Foundation's 50 Years of Service (1027 pro; 41 against; 96.2%). Mom and apple pie.

4-14 To Affirm Fiscal Conferences. No action taken.

4-15 To Respectfully Decline Overtures. No action taken.

4-16 To Hold 2010 Convention in Houston, Texas (805 pro; 118 against; 87.2%). From my perspective, having been a delegate to the 2004 Convention in St. Louis, and now this year a delegate in Houston, it seems fine to me that the next regular convention will be in Houston again. Obviously, a high majority of this year's delegates agreed. Although it will be a different group of pastors and laity in attendance at that Convention, I concur with the request of one delegate, that the districts housed twelve blocks away from the convention center this time (in the Hyatt), should be housed in the Hilton in 2010, which is connected to the convention center. Indiana was housed as far away in St. Louis three years ago, as well, and the additional burden of the distance and the logistics of transportation to and fro each day have been wearisome.

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