Not Our Children’s Church
By Stewart Marshall
As a member of synod I am relatively young. As a pastor, I am part of the largest age group within Synod.
I attended my sixth convention this year. I have been a delegate or observer to the conventions of the Synod since 1998.
This was my third time attending as a delegate. My wife attended the last convention and the pre-convention meetings and workshops in 2010.
This convention was different from previous ones, largely because of its atmosphere and the fact that it was so managed from the start.
The convention usually starts with nominations and requests for memorials in the fall of the year before the actual beginning of the convention. This time, however, the delegates (pastoral and lay) who attended their district convention the year before would be the electors of the Syndical President. The nominations and elections processes for the vice presidents also changed now that each region will have its elected vice president.
These are some of the changes that were expected as a result of the implementation of the restructuring that was authorized in 2010.
There were some unexpected changes this time, too. Before the convention, after I had been elected a delegate, I started hearing other rumblings. The districts were being cut out of a lot of the process.
This time around, when the floor committees met in late May they were given explicit instructions (See the Presidents Report, convention Workbook) on what the Synodical President expected them to do. Traditionally the floor committees met with some input from the leadership but usually worked mostly as a committee, taking the memorials assigned to the committee and boiling them down to become resolutions for the convention.
Upon receiving the first issue of Today’s Business (The book that contains the resolutions the convention will be considering, plus a lot more information) I looked over the proposed resolutions for the convention. One of the changes that was made at the 2010 convention was to move a lot of decision making and policy making power out of the Synodical President’s office and to keep it more locally, where it belonged. Such a move helped to keep the focus on the decision-making of congregations and regional districts of the Synod, rather than centrally in St. Louis (in a top-down model of governance). There were multiple resolutions to move all decision-making directly into the hands of the Synodical President. This included even the need for the President’s approval of all faculty calling/hiring at the Concordia’s. There was also a resolution requiring all RSO’s and Auxiliaries to coordinate their activities with the Synod.
As was explained to us in pre-convention meetings, many of the resolutions were not well thought out and in some cases they asked for us to approve something that needed such approval to avoid conflict with other parts of the Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws.
The nominations were good. The lists of names officially proposed were well balanced and had many good names on them.
I attended the convention with a lot of trepidation and fear. Such feelings proved to be well founded.
When I registered at the desk, I got a name tag identifying me as a voting delegate which is what I remember, but I was also handed a new device. It was explained to me that this was to identify me so that I would be eligible to speak at a microphone–and not just any microphone, but my assigned microphone. At the first possible chance I went into the convention floor to find my seat. I was seated on the back row in the middle. There were two microphones close to me, but neither was my assigned microphone. During the delegate orientation, it was explained to us that the device we were issued was to help identify us in the speaking queue and whether we were pro or con. We were only allowed to speak at our assigned microphone. What a change.
As the convention started there was a different feel. I noticed right off that all the worship services were very formal in nature. In years past the opening service was high Lutheran, but the other services were a mix of formal and informal worship services. I also felt that we were being rushed through things. Previous conventions built in breaks, both in the morning and in the evening, so that people could visit the restroom and such. This time round there were no breaks scheduled except for meals. Therefore whenever there was a break from voting and a speaker got up, the room emptied for rest room breaks.
The other thing I noticed was that the floor committees sometimes felt ill prepared to present their resolutions. When questions were asked about the whys and wherefores of some of the resolutions they did not always have answers. Of course the age-old problem of some individuals who just wanted to hear themselves on the microphone prevailed. The delegates quickly tired of this, but that led to the question being called within minutes of a resolution being brought to the floor, and allowed many resolutions to be voted on with little discussion. Some of the changes I should have noted earlier were changes to the standing rules. The standing rules are the basic guidelines that are voted on to follow as procedure during the convention. These include any exceptions to Roberts Rules of order or any other procedural guidelines. Usually the same standing rules have been used for the many conventions I have attended. I believe the changes that were made allowed some of this nonsense.
One of the other things I noticed about this convention was the amount of friendly banter up on the podium. It was only after the convention that I realized what was going on. Much like magician bantering that tries to keep the audience’s attention to what he is saying while he performs his magic (sleight of hand) this banter was to keep us occupied and unaware of what was going on with the resolutions.
Finally at previous conventions the ration had been 48 to 52 on many of the close votes, but usually 48-52 for the more moderate side. This time round the close votes were 40-60 the other way. Harrison has obviously had a deep influence on the church and the selection of delegates to get the following he has had. I believe it is a dangerous following and can only lead to more concentration of power and influence within the Synodical President’s office. This concentration can easily lead to total influence on anything the Synod does. I can’t remember who said it, but the saying “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” does apply in all areas.
As former President Kieschnick was apt to say, “This is not your grandfather’s synod anymore.” That is so true, but I am also afraid it is not our children’s synod anymore either.