Analysis of the 1977 convention elections

Analysis of the 1977 convention elections
And a correction

Far be it from me correct my colleague Mollie Zeigler Hemmingway, but… she has repeated an inaccuracy which has been floating around since the announcement of the nominations was made last Wednesday.

Everyone seems to accept uncritically that in 1977 J A O Preus “won handily on the first ballot.” That is not true. Actually, according to the minutes of the 1977 convention Preus did not win until the second ballot and then it was not that handy.

The minutes of that convention read as follows:

Chairman Zeigler (no relation to Mollie I assume) of the floor Committee on Elections presented the election report for the office of President (Keep in mine that there were paper ballots back then which need counted. It all lead to great suspense). He reported that 1097 ballots had been cast of which seven were declared to be invalid. A majority of 546 was required for election. Results of the first ballot were as follows: Bernthal – 80; Heckmann – 19; Maier – 168; Mueller – 279; Preus 544.

Points to be made:

  • Of the five candidates Maier and Preus were considered conservative. The others were “moderate.” Preus failed to be elected by 2 votes. He was very disappointed not to have gained a majority on the first ballot and was particularly irked at Walter A Maier who campaigned against him vigorously especially through the pages of Christian News. (As much as presidential candidates dare to campaign without being accused of “seeking the office” which has always been deemed “impious” by Missouri).
  • This was in the immediate aftermath of the Seminex events. J A O Preus was opposed, obviously, by those who supported Seminex. Their guy was Charlie Mueller senior. Mueller is currently working for Jesus first and has been a chronic thorn in the flesh to confessional candidates in Missouri. Those who supported Seminex and the old St. Louis seminary back in the 70s ultimately supported Gerald Kieschnick in the 21st century.
  • But J A O Preus was also opposed by Walter A Maier and a sizable group of delegates. They were upset because J A O Preus was not aggressive enough for them and had not cleaned house as thoroughly as they had wanted. I will let the historians bicker over whether such charges were well-founded or not. Let the reader know that the conservatives were divided back in the seventies.
  • J A O Preus was elected on the second ballot. “…542 were required for a majority. The results of the election were as follows; Bernthal – 38, Maier – 119, Mueller 330, Preus – 596.” So even on the second ballot Preus received less than 55% of the vote.
  • Note Well. In my opinion this shows that the conservative/confessional movement in Missouri has for 50 years been unable to stay united for any extended period of time. This has not only resulted in poor convention showings it has detracted from the credibility of the movement itself. If we can’t agree with ourselves how can we expect others to agree with us? The charge that we are just contrary is not without foundation.
  • I expect that someone will come along in the nest three months and say or do something which will have the effect of undermining the conservative/confessional cause in 2010. Who, when, where? I don’t know. But it will happen. And when it does we should sigh and not be too distracted.
  • In 1977 J A O Preus had 75% of the nominations which had been made for the top five candidates. Yet he received 49% of the votes. That is a difference of 26%. Delegates are not bound to follow the trends of the nominations. They vote on the basis of their own perceptions and insights. Good or bad that’s they way it is.

Take these observations for what they are worth. I have never believed that history does or does not repeat itself. I am pleased for Pastor Harrison and for those who have been praying for change in the leadership of Missouri including myself. I will continue to pray.


Analysis of the 1977 convention elections — 17 Comments

  1. Thanks for the correction, Pastor! I have corrected Mollie’s article according to your figures, and will correct the information on as well.

  2. Good blog post. Thank you Rev. Preus. Always good to learn about Missouri’s history.

  3. Thanks for this post. Lest I get replies rebuking me for the confusion of the two kingdoms, I will issue the caveat that this is just an analysis. However, it seems that “liberals” do a better job of being vocal and united, whether in the civil realm or in the Church. Why this is, I don’t know for sure, but would speculate that it is because liberalism appeals to emotions and feeling good about oneself (“I’m making a difference”).

    No doubt, the “other side” is working OT to manipulate July’s outcome. Although the current stats are encouraging, it’s far from over.

  4. By the way, I’m a Ziegler, not a Zeigler. I can’t speak for the other dude in question but since my parents are both converts to Lutheranism, I doubt there’s any relation.

  5. @Mollie #5

    The daughter of a jolly man living in the state of Colorado. Do you fish as much as he? Loved and still love that father of yours.

    Roger Sterle

  6. Klemet,

    I am sure you will correct me if I am wrong–which is okay–but was not Mueller, the Sr. of the Jr. one of the DP’s that should have been removed but was not because he resigned a couple of days before your Uncle could remove him?? Is that perhaps one of the reasons for Walter M. and the others to have fought about JAO’s election????

  7. I was trying to lurk, but I can’t help but disagree sharply with the idea presented, which I perceive to be summed up by “if you’re not for us, you’re against us”.

    I’m too young to have had direct experience with the Seminex fallout, and I’m only starting to piece things together. The reason I’m able to get balanced information on it is because I listen to people like you all. In effect, I have allowed the prevailing cause to be undermined by things that people are doing and saying.

    Please be advised that any expectation that I will be remaining with the conservative/confessional cause purely to be part of a voting block will be frustrated. If someone else convinces my conscience that their cause is right… to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.

    But further regarding the point made, what sort of housecleaning can we expect of Rev. Harrison? I haven’t heard yet, but this seems to be a hope that many are at this point hanging their continued Synod membership on. I expect few of us look forward to stake burnings, but accountability seems at least as important now as it was three decades ago, at least to me. How it manifests, though, is secondary to whether it manifests.

    -Joe Milligan

  8. Let us pray for unity among Confessional Lutherans, as well as praying for a change in the leadership of Missouri. ” Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” (James 1:19 ESV). May the Spirit of God unite His people.

    Thank you, Rev. Preus, for an important, informative post.

  9. Fisharmor @ #8:

    For a very concise and “reasonably” accurate historical summary of the Seminex fallout in the early 70’s and the goings-on in the LCMS during the preceding and subsequent years, you may wish to check

    I don’t like to use Wikipedia as a reference for much of anything, but in this case they seem to have captured a more or less accurate accounting of these events and their references seem to be valid though it has an oddly liberal slant in its tone. Any corrections, additions, or worthwhile amplification of some of the issues written in the snip are welcome by one and all on this blog.

  10. Dear Mr. Milligan (comment #8),

    You said: “But further regarding the point made, what sort of housecleaning can we expect of Rev. Harrison? I haven’t heard yet, but this seems to be a hope that many are at this point hanging their continued Synod membership on.”

    The “housecleaning” reference in Klemet Preus’ post above was referring to the fact that JAO Preus only removed four district presidents in 1976, when he could (or should) have removed eight of them. Their offense was the ordination of Seminex graduates, which they had no authority to do under the synodical constitution. JAO Preus’ action was authorized by convention resolution 5-02A in 1975. Details of this may be found in: August Suelflow, “Heritage in Motion” (CPH: 1998), pp. 182-189.

    At the 1977 convention, JAO Preus (Klemet’s uncle) had to deal with the political fallout from his removal of office of the four district presidents. On the one side were the pro-Seminex forces, who were upset at JAO for implementing 5-02A. On the other side were the more conservative forces, who were upset at JAO for only removing four, not eight, district presidents. Those are the events to which Klement makes reference, and which provide context for understanding the “housecleaning” comment.

    “Housecleaning” is not a term or idea I have heard from Pastor Harrison, but he will have to speak for himself. That is not his style, or his ethics, so I would be VERY surprised to see him take that approach. Of course, the web and bloggers and print vehicles are rife with speculation. But that is just speculation.

    More informed persons realize that the LCMS president, under his present powers, has very little “hire and fire” or “removal” authority over anyone. The LCMS President traditionally brings with him one or two professional assistants and confidants, and they normally leave when he leaves the presidency. All other positions are subject to other authorities, such as the LCMS Board of Directors, national program boards, district conventions (for district presidents), college and seminary board of regents, etc. Any synod president who starts trying to push someone out of office, will get pushed right back by the overseeing board.

    This would change significantly if Recommendation #18 of the Blue Ribbon Task Force is adopted by the convention. Then the president of the synod will have vast “hire and fire” and “removal” authority. Over all missionaries, over all seminary faculty, over all university theology faculty, over all seminary staff, and over all staff currently reporting to national program boards. If any of these folks are afraid of “housecleaning,” BY ANY CANDIDATE, they better oppose Recommendation #18 for all they are worth!

    I think our current system, with distributed authority over hiring and firing, is vastly superior and vastly more Christian. Besides that, I consider all the folks at the national offices, at our seminaries, and in the mission field, to be my dearly loved brothers and sisters. I cannot stand the thought that they might lose their jobs and livelihood, and who knows what else, just because of an election of one man.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  11. Just an aside here re: conservative dis-unity and liberal unity.
    As I recall, it was the sainted Dr. Marquart who wrote (somewhere in the ’70s or ’80s), that conservatives, requiring belief in everything, can agree on nothing whereas liberals, believing in nothing, can agree on everything.

  12. And to add to Marquart’s quote: “Lutherans, requiring belief in something, can agree on Someone, namely, Jesus Christ, his Word, his work, his benefits, his church, and his ministry.”

    Martin R. Noland

  13. Thank you Martin, for your usual keen insights and observations. Alwasy appreciated

    Joe… if some think of Harrson as an angry “house-cleaner”, they’ve probably never met Harrison. I’m sure there are some who might like to put forth such an idea for political reasons. I’m sure there are some wounded souls who would like a man who would get them their pound of flesh. But that’s not the kind of man you’re going to get. Harrison is a unifying persona. He will evangelically and winsomly bring our synod together under the pure teaching of the gospel and the confessions. Read Harrison’s paper, “Its time” His books and other writings. There is the heart of the man, a sinner redeemed by Christ.



  14. Thank you Dr. Noland. That brings clarity to my father’s poor impression of JAO Preus over some installation disagreements that happened in the district we lived in back then. In the telling of that story, it never came out that the installations ought not to have been happening in the first place.

  15. Speaking for myself, a victory for Pastor Harrison will go much further as a symbolic statement about the LC-MS’s true, desired future, than any “housecleaning” could ever hope to achieve. Simply having a pastor as our spokesperson who studies and publicly loves our theology will work wonders for many of us on the ground.

    +pax Christi+

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