By Rob Hartwell
I observed the LC—MS Convention from a slightly different perspective this year (2013). Although I have been at prior conventions, this was my first as an advisory delegate. Freed from voting and perched in the back of the expansive hall, I had plenty of time to watch and reflect on the convention.
An overall awareness was how uniquely male, white, and older the delegates were. There was diversity, but not at the levels that many of our congregations (which border water or are in urban areas) are used to experiencing. It was jarring for me.
The convention was unique in that the voting for President was decided by district convention delegates prior to the Synodical Convention. President Harrison won handily, although any feeling of euphoria that he (or his supporters) may have felt was tempered by an inability to judge the meaning, since no election was done this way to offer comparison. Unique in this new model was that a large percentage of delegates did not vote. Is this apathy or a technological glitch? Also noteworthy was an almost complete lack of pre-election rhetoric that would curry favor to elect a competitor.
The convention was noteworthy in that the majority of motions sent to the floor committees that had some decisive right-of-center “teeth” did not get acted upon. In almost all cases the theological “dentists” went to work and by the time most hit the floor they either directed study or were lacking their most serious bite. As a moderate I felt more mosquito bitten than anything else. The anxiety that prevails is whether this will hold under President Harrison’s leadership.
Trends in voting included near unanimity in non-controversial items. It reiterates the truth that we are more united than almost any other denomination, even though some moan that we are divided. Items that would contain some tension between right or moderate ideals tended to come in at the 65/35 result range, respectively. Our history reminds us that this balance can swing quickly if issues arise that aggravate congregations or if either side is split. The only anomaly to these tended to be resolutions that seemed to advocate more power from the top. This caught the attention (and created anxiety) among those who hold to the congregational genesis and makeup of synod.
President Harrison, and the Praesidium as a team, were running the convention for the first time. I think they should be commended (and I have done so), however their leadership was uneven. Having never been a DP, this must have been a steep learning curve for the President. All were very quick to apologize and remind delegates they were learning. Kudos!
In addition, Harrison is very adept at public speaking and in particular at rousing a sense of heritage that is appealing. His use of the gavel in his address was stunning and effective. He and Vice-President Murray have a repertoire that was endearing. The President’s Office, Secretary’s Office and the Today’s Business staff were honored and rightly so. My impression was that they were an integral part of the convention running smoothly.
An important observation regards worship and the convention essays. What is notable here is the almost total absence of women’s voices. As a Lutheran in the evangelical catholic style, I was very fond of the worship. It is the only piece of convention “paper” that I saved. I was impressed at the artistic and diverse elements included in the planning. And the essays were outstanding. They were often used as bathroom breaks, yet I pray they can have a larger audience through video and transcripts. The “fly in the ointment” for me was the exclusion of women–except for the singing (which they did beautifully). No women addressed the convention through any of the essays, although we have a goodly number of LC-MS female scholars who could have benefited the delegation with their wisdom and insights. Women were also non-existent in assisting minister roles at the worship.
The majority of LC–MS worshippers on a weekend are used to women participating at worship. Congregations have allowed women’s participation in worship for years, if not decades. I believe this is accurate in that the greatest bulk of our membership comes from larger urban and suburban congregations where women’s participation is assumed rather than an obstacle or a matter of controversy. In our culture, women are a respected voice in all areas. We literally put our lives and livelihood in the hands of our female doctors, administrators, lawyers and politicians. How jarring that the convention worship and catechetical program left them out. I am not speaking of ordination but participation. In this case, Rome is a wonderful example of upholding male-only priesthood while seeking many opportunities for inclusion of women academics and ministries in non-sacramental roles. The absence of women’s voices is one that I am sure startled many and will only grow worse over time as the delegates get older and older and younger delegates take their place.
Second only to the welcoming of new partner churches, a favorite part of the convention by far was the theme, “Baptized for This Moment.” This tagline, borrowed directly from the Atlantic District after 9/11, was apt and highlights the great opportunity to be an effective light of Christ in our time. I am prayerful that this may be the start of a new Missouri and a new kind of walking together as we study, reason and demonstrate charity through a willingness to walk together in peace despite our relative minor differences. As in all things, time will tell.