12 August 2007

Floor Committee 7: Planning and Administration

This floor committee was like the polar opposite of the friendly, feel-good Committee 6. One might normally expect "Planning and Administration" to be as much a matter of basic housekeeping as the relatively uneventful work of Committee 4 on "Program and Finance." There was some of that, to be sure, but not all of the housekeeping here was quite so simple or so innocent. I suspect it is because administrative process has more and more become a way of achieving and asserting power, in lieu of serious theological engagement and persuasion. Well, whatever the reasons may have been, there was generally more amending of these resolutions from Floor Committee 7 than with those of the other committees; and there were two resolutions that ended up dying on the table, which didn't happen in any other case. The typically high percentages with which these resolutions were adopted belie the underlying tension and contention with which a number of them were discussed and negotiated.

7-01A To Standardize Candidate Information (1073 pro; 100 against; 91.5%). This is all fine and good, allowing for increased and more uniform candidate information in the Convention Workbook, not only for the offices of synodical president and vice-presidents, but for all of the other elected offices. Great. Only let's not have anyone delude himself into thinking that the little bits and pieces of information that are published for the delegates really enable them to know the nominees. And let's not allow this increase of information to become another prejudice against floor nominations. In general, the more information available to delegates concerning any and all nominees, the better it will be.

7-02 To Amend Bylaw 2.11.1 (k) re Roster Eligibility (1077 pro; 84 against; 92.8%). Basic housekeeping.

7-03A To Amend Bylaw 3.2.5 (774 pro; 399 against; 66%). This resolution, adopted by one of the lowest majorities of the Convention, establishes yet another blow against the regular democratic process of floor nominations. In this case, pertaining to vacancies on synodical boards and commissions, it should be clarified that nominations are broadly permitted up front. Good. Then, a very small "committee," comprised of "the chairman and two members of the Committee for Convention Nominations of the Synod," prepares a slate of three to five names from which the appointing authority is to select. Okay, fine. This is the process that has already been in place. What this resolution has now done is to specify that "the appointing board may not amend the list of candidates." Note that "the appointing board" in most cases would be the Board of Directors of the Synod. So what this means is that, once the little three-person nominations subcommittee has determined a slate, the Board of Directors has no prerogative to add any names to the list. Not only does this provision undermine the basic right of floor nominations; it places a tremendous amount of power in the hands of a very small group of people. Normally, one might be inclined to view all of this as a simple case of "checks and balances," and there's a part of me that would like to think of that way. However, given the sustained rhetoric against floor nominations in general, which pervaded this Convention, and especially given the contesting of the current administration with the Board of Directors over the past six years, it is hard to avoid the impression of partisan politics at work in this resolution. All the more so, considering that the now beefed-up boards of regents of the colleges and seminaries are going to include a fair number of members appointed by those very boards. If checks and balances are necessary, as of course they often are, should they not be in place more uniformly and consistently? How is it that the boards of regents are given the prerogative to appoint a solid bloc of their own respective members, but the Board of Directors of the Synod has its hands tied by a three-person nominating committee in filling vacancies on other synodical boards and commissions? No doubt there was a need to clarify the process for filling vacancies, but a better job should have been done of it than this.

7-04A To Amend Bylaw re Emeritus Members (965 pro; 172 against; 84.9%). This resolution was probably intended as basic housekeeping, and perhaps that's all it amounts to. As a general rule, however, I'm not much in favor of increased bureaucracy and paperwork. This resolution requires an emeritus member of the Synod to submit an annual report to his district president, including current contact information and addressing "the criteria for remaining an inactive member of the Synod." It appears that the intentions were good, but pertinent questions were raised as to how this protocol will impact the families of members of advanced age or ill health. A "friendly amendment" provided for a representative of the member (identified by his district president) to make the annual report, but I'm skeptical of the need for this further red tape in life's great paper chase.

7-05B To Promote Transparency in Governance of Synod and Its Institutions (1053 pro; 109 against; 90.6%). This seems good and right to me. I'm all in favor of such openness and transparency in the public decisions and actions of synodical boards and commissions. Having access to the minutes and proceedings of those boards and comissions (and exercising that right) helps to clarify that the Synod, properly speaking, is comprised of pastors, congregations and rostered church workers, and that the synodical administration is hired and elected to work for us. Offices of service and responsibility remain accountable to the members of the Synod, and there can be no such accountability without ready access to official proceedings. Tedious as it may be, the members of this Synod ought to be availing themselves of that prerogative, rather than simply handing over the governance of our fellowship to full-time executives.

7-06A To Amend Bylaws and (1044 pro; 80 against; 92.9%). This resolution deals with an area of recent contentiousness, namely, the respective responsibilities of the Board of Directors of the Synod and the Commission on Constitutional Matters. It appears to have done so in a helpful manner, clarifying that the CCM is responsible for examining the governing instruments of synodical agencies, and that the Board of Directors is responsible for coordinating the policies and directives of the Synod. If not for the disagreements of the past six years, this would really amount to nothing more than simple housekeeping. As it is, hopefully, the greater specificity introduced by this resolution will help to avoid conflict in the future.

7-07A To Revise Bylaw Section 1.5 and to Add Definitions to Handbook (997 pro; 116 against; 89.6%). This resolution appears to have been a basic housekeeping sort of action, stemming from the work of the Commission on Structure. It clarifies and regularizes human resources policies for "corporate Synod" and agencies of the Synod. It also defines procedure for the disclosure of conflicts of interest. The real mischief that might otherwise have worked its way in was thankfully proposed under a separate resolution (7-08A), which died on the table.

7-08A To Add Bylaw re Removal of Individual Members from Board or Commission Membership. Tabled; no final action taken. The presentation and defense of this resolution were a real low point of the entire Convention. No matter how well-intentioned the floor committee surely was, the proposed Bylaw for "Removal of Individual Members from Board or Commission Membership" would have introduced a heavy-handed bit of legislation with a high degree of potential for serious abuse. It was riddled with ambiguous terms like "duty of loyalty" and "insubordination," attempted definitions of which did nothing to assuage concerns. As one delegate pointed out, our "duty of loyalty" is not finally to "the organization," but to the Lord who commands us to fear, love and trust in Him above all things. Our conscience is bound by His Word, and we dare not introduce language that would presume to bind anyone's conscience to the will of man-made institutions. Thankfully, when it was pointed out that "insubordination" has application in the realm of employment, but not in the case of board or commission members, that "cause for removal" was stricken from the original list of nine such causes. One of the eight remaining "causes for removal" was vaguely stated as "conflicts of interest," instead of providing for the disclosure of such conflicts (as in the Bylaw revisions adopted by Res. 7-07A). "Conduct unbecoming a Christian," yet another "cause for removal," seems obvious enough on the surface of it, but hardly conveys the precision that one would expect in a legally binding Bylaw addressing itself to situations of conflict. All of this ambiguity and vaguery was troubling enough, but the most distressing thing about this resolution was the specific inclusion of the Board of Directors of the Synod; that betrayed a rather transparent attempt to "deal with" those members of that Board who have not "toed the line" with the present administration. One sadly expects that kind of power politics, distasteful as it is. However, when it was pointed out that members of the Board of Directors of a corporate entity (under Missouri state law) can only be removed from office by the same body that elected them (in this case, the Synod in Convention), we were treated to some of the most appalling spin-doctoring imaginable. One of the Synod's legal counselors got up and said, in short, that, while we would be enacting a Bylaw in conflict with the law of the land, we could probably get away with it; and furtheremore, that we ought to be allowed to get away with it, because we are a religious organization. Talk about "conflicts of interest" and "conduct unbecoming a Christian," it seems to me that corporate Synod ought to be looking for new legal counsel, preferably one with a "duty of loyalty" to the law of the land! I applaud the integrity of the floor committee in withdrawing this resolution from consideration, once it became aware of the inherent conflict involved. Even to vote on something that has been demonstrated to be at odds with the law would have been inappropriate and unseemly.

7-09 To Affirm Use of Synod Dispute Resolution Process. No action taken here, but consider Res. 8-02A (To Affirm Christian Resolution of Disputes).

7-10A To Amend Bylaws 1.9 and 3.9.3 Pertaining to Doctrinal Review Process (761 pro; 119 against; 86.5%). The adoption of this resolution may allow for some mischief, I suppose, but it seems straightforward enough, appropriate and helpful. It clarifies aspects of the doctrinal review process, and aims to streamline that process by specifying time frames within which it is to occur. The potential for mischief is found in its provision for the publication of study materials by "boards, commissions, or other subordinate groups of the Synod," apart from the doctrinal review process (to be clearly designated as study material that hasn't been doctrinally reviewed). Sure, that could be abused, and I suppose it probably will be abused from time to time, but, by and large, I think it is a good and helpful provision. Frankly, I'd like to see more thinking out loud and open discussion within this Synod. It ought to be understood, in any case, that the publication of materials in St. Louis with the LCMS "stamp of approval" is not the guarantor of orthodoxy. Every Christian, and especially every called and ordained servant of the Word, is obliged to constant vigilance. The doctrinal review process ought to assist us in that responsibility; it does not relieve us of responsibility.

7-11 To Improve Process for Floor Nominations at Synod Conventions. No action taken. It might have been helpful to consider this resolution, in order to underscore the basic legitimacy of floor nominations. Given the sort of rhetoric that was flying around against the very principle of floor nominations, it needs to be emphasized that this is a fundamental rule of good order. As work is undertaken to restructure the polity of this Synod, we ought to be on our guard against any attempt to discourage or remove altogether the process for floor nominations. Reasonable regulations of the process are fine, but not prejudicially.

7-12 To Equalize Terms of Office. Tabled; no final action taken.

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