18 August 2007

Floor Committee 8: Synod Structure and Governance

If the work of Floor Committee 7 managed to reach the low point of the Convention (with Res. 7-08), it was still this Floor Committee 8 on Synod Structure and Governance that really scraped rock bottom overall. Whereas most of the other committees demonstrated a willingness, even a desire, to hear what delegates had to say and to incorporate their constructive criticism and suggestions, that did not seem to be the case with this group. Maybe my perception has been skewed by the fact that this floor committee chose to ignore, not simply my comments at the open hearing, but the overture from our Indiana District pertaining to the synodical dispute resolution process

For the past two conventions now, we've been hearing about how representative the Council of Presidents is, because all of the district presidents are elected by pastoral and lay delegates from every congregation within their respective constituencies. That is likewise the rhetoric concerning the Synodical Nominations Committee, because it is comprised of members elected by the districts in convention. But that rhetoric is strangely absent in the case of overtures adopted and submitted by entire districts. Evidently, the handful of presidentially-appointed floor committee members is to be considered far wiser and more discerning than district conventions.

Nothing else that happened at the Convention this summer was more frustrating to me than the refusal of this group to acknowledge the conscientious concerns of my district and others. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, since the pertinent floor committee of our Indiana District Convention attempted to pull the same stunt. There, at least, it was still possible to bring the matter to the floor, whereupon it was adopted by a sizeable majority. Perhaps that was the fear of this synodical floor committee: if the delegates had actually been given a chance to discuss and deliberate the matter, they might have done something about the current travesty parading as a process for resolving disputes. Such is the power of these tiny little floor committees, that nothing is permitted to come before the assembly without their approval. It calls to mind the words of our Lord Jesus: "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' But it is not this way with you" (St. Luke 22:25-26a). It ought not to be that way, at any rate. It is shameful.

The ability of the floor committees to hold the Convention in such a choke-hold does go to show that this particular committee was right about one thing: the polity of this Synod is in need of repair. Either we ought to be honest with ourselves and simply turn over the governance of the whole shebang to the Council of Presidents; or else, if we actually want to recover and retain a governance of the Synod by its members, that is to say, by the pastors and congregations and other rostered church workers who properly comprise this Synod, then those members ought to insist upon a real voice in what is done and exercise some real authority over what happens. As a starting point, floor committees should not have the prerogative to ignore the overtures of entire districts. Anything coming to the Synod in Convention from a district convention should be considered, discussed and debated, and acted upon, one way or the other. If conflicting overtures are submitted by different districts, so be it; let the Convention hash it out together, rather than leaving it to such a miniscule percentage of the delegation to think and decide for all the rest.

My experience is a case in point. As a delegate to the 2004 Convention, I reported to my congregation, to my brother pastors, and to my circuit on what happened. I was most concerned about Res. 8-01A of that previous Convention, which put into place the current dispute resolution process. For the better part of the next year, I brought my critique of this new legislation to the joint South Bend-LaPorte Circuit Pastors Conference for discussion and debate. Although there was not complete agreement among us as to how this thing ought to be dealt with, there was unanimous consensus that it needed to be addressed. I was asked to draft an overture on behalf of our conference, which I did. It was shared with our district president, who commended it to the pastors and teachers of the Indiana District for their careful consideration. Regrettably, we were prevented from bringing it to the district pastors' conference for any official action, because no time was allowed in the schedule for any synodical business, but the overture was distributed there (with the president's permission and blessing). It was then discussed by the northern and southern pastors' conferences of the district the following spring; the southern conference even voted to adopt it. Meanwhile, both our South Bend Circuit Forum and my own congregation, along with others in the district, adopted the overture and submitted it to the Indiana District Convention. Every step of this process was done out in the open, according to the protocols of our Synod; everything was done in good faith, with integrity, and in consultation with our district president.

So, what happened? First, even though the overture had been duly submitted by multiple entities, it was omitted from the district convention workbook. When this was pointed out, it was subsequently published as a "late overture" (despite the fact that it was not late at all) at the beginning of the convention. Fine, except that, as previously noted, the floor committee chose to ignore it altogether. When asked why that was, the chairman of the committee made the lame excuse that other districts had already passed resolutions pertaining to the same topic, and that it would be redundant for our district to consider it. Nevertheless, we were given the opportunity to bring it to the floor at that point. One of the members of the floor committee then spoke against it, on the pretense that it hadn't originated within our district. Excuse me? Since I drafted it myself, on behalf of my circuit colleagues, following many months of careful consideration, it most certainly did originate within our district. At any rate, after discussion of the matter, the resolution was passed by a 76% vote in the affirmative. Pretty impressive for a "controversial" matter that the floor committee did its best to hide from our district convention.

The saga didn't end there. For months after the convention, I periodically tried to determine whether or not the overture had been duly submitted to the President of the Synod for the 2007 LCMS Convention, as our district had voted to do. Nope. Nope. Nope. It finally took the efforts of my friend and colleague, Rev. Greg Fiechtner, the former secretrary of our district, to expedite this business half a year later. If he hadn't been on the ball to get that done, it does not seem likely that it would have happened.

Okay, so there it was, published in the Convention Workbook. Turns out that another district had picked up our overture and also submitted it. Great. Surely this would now have its turn to be considered by the Synod in Convention. But, no, those sixteen folks on Floor Committeee 8 simply disregarded it. Didn't do a thing with it. Didn't even show it the courtesy of putting it in the omnibus resolution of stuff to be declined. They just acted like it wasn't there, even after I called it to their attention at the open hearings. It's like that old Lily Tomlin spoof on ATT: "We don't care. We don't have to. We're the telephone company." Uh-huh. Which means that several years of real effort, playing by the rules and doing everything by the book, all got flushed away.

So, as I say, this floor committee on Synod Structure and Governance got one thing right: The polity is busted. Let's fix it. Let's start with the floor committees.

As far as the resolutions that Floor Committee 8 did bring to the consideration of the delegates, most of these were not impressive or encouraging, but some were downright disheartening.

8-01 To Adopt Amendments to the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws re Resolution 7-02A (905 pro; 292 against; 74%). Ostensibly, this resolution brings some closure to the impasse between the Board of Directors of the Synod and the Commission on Constitutional Matters, as to the Board's legal authority, responsibility, and liability on behalf of the Synod under the laws of the State of Missouri. Included in the "whereas" clauses was a statement from the Board itself, asking that the Convention "look upon the recommendations positively and adopt them." Sounds good, but I'm not convinced that anything was finally solved. The Bylaw amendments adopted by this resolution indicate, more than once, that cases of "conflict or uncertainty relative to the applicability of the laws of the State of Missouri" are to be "resolved in accord with the provisions in the Constitution and Bylaws of the Synod." That appears to beg the question, for one thing, but it also seems to presume that the Synod may interpret the law of the land according to its own proclivities, instead of simply submitting to the governing authorities established by God. I mean, shouldn't "the applicability of the laws of the State of Missouri" be the prerogative of the state's judiciary, rather than the Synod's own judgment?

8-02A To Affirm Christian Resolution of Disputes (665 pro; 341 against; 67%). Nothing was made more clear from the word "go" of this Convention, than the fact that civil lawsuits should not be tolerated. There was no nuance or sophistication in the way this point was hammered into the delegates, but only a persistent and (ironically) legalistic assertion of the case. Of course, the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 can seem very obvious on the surface, unless one takes into account the same holy Apostle's own use of the Roman legal system. Even the rationale set forth for this resolution, which has for its first main purpose the condemnation of lawsuits, indicates occasions when legal recourse would be permitted, as in disputes over "property rights or contract arrangements." I don't suppose that anyone relishes such legal action, no more than any Christian desires to be in conflict with another, but the fact is that Christians individually and the Church collectively live in the world as citizens and legal entitites of the government, which is God's servant for our good. Unpleasant as it may be, there are times when appealing to those governing authorities for the resolution of disputes pertaining to our life together in God's "kingdom of the left hand," also for us Christians, is not only tolerable but even godly and right. In any case, this resolution is misleading in its contrast between civil lawsuits and the Synod's dispute resolution process, as though there were no other options or any middle ground between these two approaches. There is this desperation to defend and support the dispute resolution process, but it is flawed throughout and difficult to use. It is no wonder that lawsuits have not been avoided, but encouraged, because the synodical process now in place discourages and hinders, if it does not actually prevent, the resolution of disputes. The goal is evidently not resolution, but an attempt to deny disputes by force of law. Don't argue! Don't fight! Be nice! Yeah, that ought to fix things. But, no, trying to compel people to behave themselves and get along by creating and enforcing rules (and removing God-given freedoms) does not work; it does not strengthen faith or sanctify anyone, but exacerbates sin and hardens hearts. This kind of legislation, which despises God's daily bread of "good government," and attempts to establish and maintain a utopia on earth, will neither prevent nor resolve disputes, but it does run the risk of turning us into a synod of sectarian fanatics instead of Lutherans.

8-03 To Encourage Study of "Congregation-Synod-Church," a Study of Basic Theological Principles Underlying LCMS Structure and Governance, April 2007. No action taken. It is odd that nothing was done with this resolution, since it is the baby of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synodical Structure and Governance, which is supposedly going to solve all of our problems over the next couple of years. Then again, with the groundwork laid for a special convention in 2009 (Res. 8-07S), perhaps it is assumed that this "Congregation-Synod-Church" study will provide the blueprint for the business of that convention. One thing is certain, everyone surely ought to read this document carefully, consider it well, and be prepared to respond thoughtfully with solid constructive criticism. Otherwise, the restructuring of our synodical polity and governance will simply be done for us, and then adopted by the force of momentum and rhetoric.

8-04 To Provide Wording for Congregations' Constitutions and Bylaws (1054 pro; 35 against; 96.8%). This resolution was one refreshing bright spot that managed to find its way into the work of Floor Committee 8, although it is a shame that such a resolution was necessary. It affirms "that the words 'inspired,' 'inerrant,' 'infallible,' and/or 'revealed' with respect to the written Word of God are in harmony with the confessional basis of the Synod (Art. II)," and that these words may therefore be included in the constitutions and bylaws of LCMS congregations. In fact, by way of a friendly amendment, the resolution not only permits but encourages the use of such language. Wonderful. What wasn't mentioned in the course of discussion is the reason for this resolution. Sadly, it came to the Convention because the Pacific Southwest District Constitution Committee had instructed congregations to avoid such words in their constitutions, and went so far as to disallow at least one congregation's entrance into the Synod based on those words appearing in their drafted constitution. Not only that, but the LCMS Commission on Constitutional Matters supported those actions, opining that such language goes beyond the Synod's confessional basis and should not be used in the constitutions of member congregations! This is all rather shocking and amazing, but it is reassuring and gratifying that the Synod in Convention was, at least in this case, given the opportunity to undo such gross theological error on the part of the CCM.

8-05A To Encourage the Study of CTCR Documents Relating to the Public Rebuke of Public Sin and to Amend Synodical Bylaws Relating to Matthew 18 (950 pro; 122 against; 88.6%). Despite the fact that the dispute resolution process was not really dealt with as it should be, it is a matter of great rejoicing that its most offensive doctrinal flaw was corrected by this resolution. It clarifies - and it instructs the CCM to amend the Bylaws of the Synod accordingly - that the Word of our Lord in St. Matthew 18 does not prohibit the public rebuke of public sin. The dispute resolution process adopted by the 2004 Convention, along with its numerous other flaws and weaknesses, cited St. Matthew 18 in its requirement of a face-to-face meeting, which, it insisted, was necessary even in the case of public sin. Irrespective of anything else, this contradiction of the Large Catechism's clear distinction between public and private sins was a matter of conscience for myself and many others, which could not be allowed to go unchallenged. Thanks to those pastors, congregations, and districts that objected to this blurring and confusion of public and private sin, this resolution has corrected the problem. This is not only a significant accomplishment, but also an encouraging sign of hope for the future. The Missouri Synod is still able to correct itself where it has fallen into error.

8-06 To Recommend Further Study of Composition of Hearing Panels in Bylaws 2.14, 2.15, and 2.17 (654 pro; 89 against; 88%). This resolution begins to address another flaw in the dispute resolution process that was adopted and put into place by the 2004 Convention. Specifically, that new process includes no provision for any laity on the hearing panels that make decisions for or against an accused member who is facing expulsion from membership in Synod. That's one of several unprecedented changes that were introduced, as compared to our Synod's historical practices. This resolution does not undo the change in question, but it has called for a special task force to study further the composion of the hearing panels. The task force will include at least one layperson (who is a hearing facilitator), and at least one commissioned minister. It is to report the results of its study, and any recommendations that it may have, no later than the 2010 Regular Convention of the Synod. There are no guarantees as to what will come of this, but a legitimate concern was hereby acknowledged and will be taken into account (which is certainly more than can be said regarding other concerns with the dispute process).

8-07S To Call Special Convention to Amend Synod Structure and Governance (793 pro; 325 against; 70.9%). I commented at some length on the process by which we arrived at this substitute resolution and adopted it, as I posted at the end of each day while the Convention was in session. So, I refer back to those thoughts and assessments, rather than rehearsing the whole scenario again. I will only reiterate the following few points: I believe that our synodical polity and governance do need to be addressed and, in some respects, significantly restructured. I am relatively pleased that the delegates to this 2007 Convention will comprise the delegation to a special convention in 2009, because this group seems inclined to consider discussion and debate and take it seriously into account. I remain quite concerned about what sort of polity and governance model will be lobbied for, because I fear there will be a strong push for policy-based management of the entire Synod. For that reason, in particular, and also because the members of Synod ought to be actively involved in establishing their own structure and conscientiously engaged in governing themselves, I urge everyone to participate in and contribute to the restructuring process to the full extent possible. And let us finally be guided and governed by the Word of God, rather than succumbing to partisan politics or pragmatic expediency.

8-08 To Provide a Process for Reconsideration of CCM Opinions. No action taken. It's too bad that nothing was done with this resolution, because the past six years have demonstrated how out of hand things have become. It is surely something that will need to be dealt with in connection with a restructuring of our synodical polity and governance.

8-09 To Amend Bylaws Re Commission on Structure Responsibilities. No action taken.

8-10 To Refer for Theological Study CCM Opinions 02-2296, 02-2309 and 02-2320 (603 pro; 191 against; 75.9%). This resolution strikes me as "too little, too late," but perhaps it does represent a small victory of sorts. Even Floor Committee 8 could not entirely ignore or dismiss the similar overtures submitted by nine different districts (as well as congregations, circuit forums, and pastors' conferences). Of course, there were numerous overtures calling for the overruling or reconsideration of these CCM opinions (pertaining to ecclesiastical supervision) already at the 2004 Convention, at which point nothing was done in response. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. So, this time around, the CCM opinions in question have been referred to the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (in consultation with the Council of Presidents and the Commission on Structure), to determine if there is any cause for concern. I'm sorry that I don't feel terribly optimistic about what the final outcome of this study will be, but rather than being cynical, I will simply acknowledge that persistence has paid off to this extent, and we really ought to remain confident that the Word of God is able to effect repentance. I am thankful that these matters were not simply sent back to the CCM for another set of opinions.

8-11 To Respectfully Decline Overtures Re CCM Opinions. No action taken.

8-12 To Respectfully Decline Overtures. No action taken. Of course, it hardly matters either way, since the floor committees are able to ignore overtures out of hand.

8-13 To Amend Bylaws for Special Convention (937 pro; 156 against; 85.7%). This clarifies that the business of a special convention "is limited to the specific stated purpose(s) for the calling of the special session." It is good to have this provision in place, in order to prevent any attempt (on anyone's part) to "hijack" the special convention in 2009 for any shenanigans.


Rev. Kyle Wright II said...

Dear Brother Stuckwisch,

Thank you so much for going to the convention, and being a real representative voice of not only Lutheran Orthodoxy, but also real Pastoral Care. I really want to say more but it would not be in the right spirit nor would it be beneficial. But thank you for your reflections comments and insights. I look forward to seeing you in our winkles.
Blessings in Christ!

Rev. Dr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes said...

You're right. The system is broken and inherently unjust.

One thing I'd like to see fixed is to have smaller districts where the D.P. can actually exercise pastoral supervision over all the congregations and pastors. I think such a proposal would have broad appeal from all corners of the Synod except perhaps from some of those who are currently enjoying a salary from the district office.

Todd Wilken said...

The Wilken Plan:

100 districts (4 non-geographical).

Synodical Convention every year, lasting 2 days. Business only.

1 year term limits for the Praesidium.

CCM, like every other commission, advisory.

Synodical bureaucracy reduced to only the odd numbered objectives in Article III. Budget to be determined by congregational support alone.

Sell the IC. Move the headquaters to the basement of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Woonsocket, South Dakota.