Stacking the Deck in Favor of the Blue Ribbon Proposals: Forewarned is Forearmed, by Scott Diekmann

(Editor’s Note by Pastor Rossow: We believe President Kieschnick is manipulating the results of the surveys on the Blue Ribbon Task Force Recommendations at District Conventions. Read Scott Diekman’s well researched story here and see what you think. (Scott normally writes on apologetics for us but this  article on synod politics is pertinent and timely.) The point is that convention goers are made to listen to the Kieschnick crew present the proposals without any discussion and then vote on them. President Kieschnik had promised that he wanted to get lots of feedback from synod members but as you will see from eye-witness accounts, the time for discussion and input was limited and came after the survey.   If this manipulation does not cease, the outcry for a new synodical president will continue to grow louder and louder. For a balanced review of the proposals see the article that Rev. Martin Noland wrote for the John the Steadfast Quarterly, Issue #2.)

Buckle your seatbelts.   It’s going to be a rough ride. The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance (BRTFSSG for “short”) is in the months-long-process of giving a presentation to each of the Synod’s District Conventions on their proposed restructuring of the Synod.   Earlier in the week I was told by one of my friends that officials in their district were discouraged by someone higher up in the Synod from spending much time at the District level discussing the restructuring issues.   Since this was essentially hearsay, I didn’t mention it.   Now, however, this “rumor” seems as though it may be valid.


The North Dakota District Convention was held this week.   In attendance was Pastor Arie Bertsch, the pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Minot, North Dakota.   Here is what Pastor Bertsch had to say, which I reprint with his permission and encouragement:

To all,

The North Dakota District Convention closed yesterday. Be aware that the Blue Ribbon Task Force does a survey the first hour of their presentation. As they present the 20 points of restructuring you are asked to respond with “Strongly Agree” “Agree” “Unsure” “Disagree” and “Strongly Disagree”. That gives you about 3 minutes to think through and make a decision. After the first hour presentation we had a break. When I returned to change some of my responses the survey had been collected. The second hour of presentation was the chance to question any of the 20 points. There was not enough time to get through them all.   There were 4 overtures that the floor committee were holding until after the Task Force presentation and the floor committee decided that they were irrelevant after the presentation, and they were not going to bring them to the floor. I tried to bring them back to the floor but the question was called before there was opportune time to discuss if they should be brought to the floor. The vocal vote was close but was decided in favor of keeping the overtures from going to the assembly. The overtures were in the Convention work book. My concern for the rest of the District Conventions is that you do not allow them to ask for a survey without proper discussion first. Also, watch your floor committees on overtures that they do not keep the overtures offered from reaching the floor.

Rev. Arie Bertsch

Now, 2nd Vice President North Dakota District


After receiving Pastor Bertsch’s note, I corroborated his statements with several other pastors who were in attendance.   One pastor said “I can verify that what Arie said about how things went down is 100% accurate and his opinions are well founded and well thought out.”   A second said “I believe that Pastor Bertsch’s comments are accurate.”   A third said “Yes, I can confirm that what Arie says is accurate.”   Pastor Michael Swofford stated “The comments made by our 2nd Vice President, Arie Bertch, are most defiantly true and I agree with him and stand behind him 100%.”


Pastor Scott Hojnacki had this to say:


The presentation to the North Dakota District Convention was made collaboratively by President Kieschnick, Vice-President Diekelman, and Task Force Chairman Greene.   Two hours were allotted for the presentation on Tuesday afternoon, January 20.


At the beginning of the first hour, delegates were provided with a survey and invited to respond to each of the twenty points of the proposal (some of which were divided into subpoints), using a numerical ranking system:   Strongly Agree (5), Agree (4), Not Sure (3), Disagree (2), Strongly Disagree (1).   No space or opportunity was provided on the survey for written comments.


During the first hour, the presentation was given as it appears on the Synod website.   The presenters primarily read verbatim from the slides, occasionally adding an explanatory comment.   At the conclusion of each of the twenty points, delegates were instructed to respond on the survey to that particular point, and were given approximately 15-20 seconds to do so.   Questions or comments from the floor were strongly discouraged, with the assurance that the second hour of the presentation would be available for delegate questions.   With twenty points to cover in one hour, the presentation needed to proceed efficiently and without interruption.   At the end of the first hour, the surveys were collected by the Task Force and the convention took a short break.


The second hour of the presentation was designed specifically for questions of clarification.   Personal opinions or evaluations of the proposals were discouraged, with the explanation that that was the function of the surveys, and again, time was of the essence.   The twenty points were once again addressed in order, with the three presenters answering clarifying questions to the best of their knowledge (some of the proposals were still incomplete).   At the end of the hour, discussion was ended and the convention proceeded with its other business.   Delegates were invited to address further questions to the presenters privately at a later time.   During the second hour, there was only enough time for questions on the first seventeen points.   Points 18-20 were not addressed, and no additional time was given.


A congregation of the district had submitted overtures to the convention regarding the Task Force proposals (based on the August 20, 2008 document).   The floor committee declined those overtures and did not propose any resolutions regarding the Task Force.   A motion was made (and seconded) from the floor to bring those congregational overtures to the floor as resolutions, but the motion failed.


Those are the facts.   Now, a few personal comments:


The timing of the distribution and recollection of the surveys was peculiar.   Delegates were asked to respond to each point immediately, after only two or three minutes of information, with only a few seconds to think, and without the benefit of any clarification.   Several delegates complained during the second hour that their responses would have changed if they had been allowed to ask clarifying questions before filling out the surveys.   Based on the general reaction of the convention, this procedure may change at subsequent conventions, with the surveys being collected at the end of the second hour.


The inherent insufficiency of numerical responses may make it difficult for the Task Force to receive accurate feedback.   There is little ambiguity connected to positive responses (“agree”), but a great deal of uncertainty regarding negative responses (“disagree”).   Why did the delegates disagree with one or more points?   Do they like the current system?   Is the proposal mostly good with one or two untenable details?   Do they just not understand it?   There’s no way to know why a delegate disagreed with a proposal on the basis of a simple numerical survey.


This uncertainty is only compounded by the various ways in which more detailed and specific responses were disallowed.   There was no place on the survey for comments or rationales beyond the numbers.   Personal comments from the floor during the presentation were strongly discouraged.   The floor committee rejected detailed, specific responses in the form of overtures because the presentation and surveys were deemed to be sufficient.   Unfortunately, it was only a minority of the convention delegates that believed such thorough responses were needed.


What did North Dakota think of the Task Force proposals?   No one knows, since nothing has been or will be made public.   And I think that’s a shame.


Thus my advice to delegates to the remaining thirty-four district conventions is this:   Study the twenty proposals ahead of time.   Have clarifying questions prepared in advance.   Understand not only whether you agree or disagree with a proposal, but also why you agree or disagree.   Avail yourselves of every possible opportunity to respond to the Task Force, not with just a number, but with a clear, detailed rationale.


Above all, let us have a public discussion of the pros and cons of the Task Force proposals, and not limit the permitted responses to a few circled numbers on a stack of papers in an office somewhere in St. Louis.


There is a well established play book of convention tricks that are often rolled out to squelch protest and steamroll through items that those in power have selected for approval.   Waiting to bring the subject up until the waning moments of the convention is a favorite.   Delegates are eager to go home and less interested in debating the topic at hand; some delegates have already left the building.   Strategically timed delegate actions, such as “calling the question,” and other moves that block resolutions of protest can be employed.   Refusing to recognize delegates on the floor is another.   Lumping protest resolutions of multiple congregations, circuits, and districts into one resolution can minimize the “damage” and silence dissenting points of view.   Minimizing the time allotted for discussion and creating a “let’s hurry through this in the interest of time” atmosphere prevents discussion.   All of these types of tactics are unbefitting of Christians, no matter which side of the aisle you are on.   To purposely maneuver in order to avoid a fruitful discussion of the matters confronting Christ’s Church is nothing other than a sin.


The Task Force’s twenty recommendations are available here on the Synod’s website. They are presented in bullet form, each as a goal, challenge, recommended solution, and rationale, and are woefully short in providing any detail.   At the end of the online document is this statement:   “For more information, please visit www.lcmsorg/lcmsfuture.”   Ironically, or perhaps not, when I clicked on the link, I ended up at a page which read: “Sorry, the page you were looking for cannot be found.”   The correct link is


Please take the time to study these proposals within your own congregations, circuits, and districts. Be prepared when you head for your District Convention.   These proposals, if implemented, will impact our Synod for decades to come.   Forewarned is forearmed.

About Scott Diekmann

Scott is a lifelong LCMS layman. Some of his vocations include husband, dad, jet driver, runner, and collector of more books than he can read. Oh, and also chocolate lover. He’s been involved in apologetics for over a decade, is on the Board of Regents at Concordia Portland, and is a column writer for the sometimes operational Around the Word Journal. He’s also written for Higher Things Magazine, The Lutheran Clarion, and has been a guest on Issues Etc. as well as the KFUO program Concord Matters.


Stacking the Deck in Favor of the Blue Ribbon Proposals: Forewarned is Forearmed, by Scott Diekmann — 16 Comments

  1. I think LCMS Inc. should change it’s name to the Lutheran Church Chicago Synod Inc. because like the “city that works” it wants to be the “synod that works.” :o)

  2. BRTFSSG: Blue Ribbon Task Force on Skewed Survey Gimmickry

    BRTFSSG: Blue Ribbon Task Force on Spreading Sheeplike Groupthink

    BRTFSSG: Blue Ribbon Task Force on Squelching Serious Grievances

  3. How about a discussion of the points here on this forum? Laymen such as I would appreciate a clear and simple explanation of each point, and the implications of their passage.

  4. Just so you know Blue Ribbon reminds me of the awards given out at a county fair for the best livestock.

  5. From Wilhelm Loehe’s “Three Books About the Church”

    Loehe is giving comment on the false unity of Anglicans when he states:

    “This is not building the church on doctrine but on order, just as in Rome. In the beginning the succession appeared of its own accord, later it was introduced by force where it had not appeared by itself. The longer it existed the more men made of it, until the hierarchical system of the papacy was finally erected on it. Now the pope can tolerate Greeks and Armenians under his shepherd’s staff even when they have different doctrines, as long as they recognize the primacy of the pope, the succession of bishops, and the dominion of Rome. The whole matter has to do with power; this is the difficulty, and from this one can see clearly that the whole tendency is ungodly.
    Yes, there is a unity, a unity in confession and doctrine, a unity in faith! It is what the Lord and his apostles intended and it is the glorious beauty of the church. This is exactly what the Romans do not have and do not especially care to have. On the contrary, they hide Greeks and Armenians in their bosom, tolerate the differences of the scholastics, the Dominicans and Franciscans, the Jesuits, and others. In the Tridentine documents and in other Roman practices the boundaries are deliberately left vague, and they speak definitely only when something has to do with Rome and its government. Matthius Flacius, who was just and right when he spoke rightly as he was wrong when he spoke wrongly, wrote a book called THE SECTS, DISPUTES, AND CONFUSED DOCTRINES OF THE PAPISTS, and he has a good many successors both among us and among the Reformed. Let them call him a fanatic when he says that Roman unity is Satanic, political, warlike, financial (like Iscariot), tyrannical and slavish (like Herod), superficial, and accidental. It is true of all these names what men often say: Something fits! A unity which has as its highest aim to serve and save itself at any price, even at the expense of the truth, and which believes that mankind has won everything if only it survives – such a unity does not come from heaven and does not lead to heaven.
    Let the great ‘It is sufficient’ with which the Augsburg Confession insists upon unity in doctrine and sacrament be our war cry, our watchword, our banner. “

    Thought it was timely – even though written in the 1800’s.

    I would invite any discussion on this, given the recent push toward unity and harmony…

    From Augsburg VII (cited by Loehe) –
    For this is enough for the true unity of the Christian church that there the gospel is preached harmoniously according to a pure understanding and the sacraments are administered in conformity with the divine Word. (Kolb/Wengert)

    Pr. Scheer

  6. Marcy,

    I grew up across the street from the county fair but I must confess “Blue Ribbon” reminds me of beer. 🙂

    “Ah, alcohol, the cause of and solution for all of life’s problems.” Homer Simpson

    Pastor Rossow

  7. The Blue Ribbon Committee is but another block in the facade that is being erected by the present establishment to give the impression that GOOD THINGS are happening in the LCMS Inc. The PotS understands that theology IS divisive in the LCMS Inc. (I doubt we could get unanimity regarding the deity of Jesus within the Synod, so those matters (theology) are avoided like the plague) Therefore, if he is to remain in power something must be done to make it appear that GOOD THINGS are happening. “Ablaze” and the Blue Ribbon Committee are the answer to the question: “How can we make the pastors and lay folk of the Synod believe that we are a healthy/vibrant growing church body?”

  8. I would agree with Kevin in Indiana (#5) that either a discussion here or directions to such a discussion would be very beneficial.

    I would rather not have the deer in headlights look on my face when we have our district convention.
    For warned is for armed! Game on!

  9. It would seem evident that a serious understanding of what everyone who is voting really thinks is not the goal of the survey. Therefore, it is likely that a “not so serious” response is needed. I would suggest simply responding “STRONGLY DISAGREE” to every point. This position is based on the surveyors not really being interested in my opinion to start with.

    David Schwarz

  10. Alas, my lingering hope to avoid questioning the motives of those driving this impending train wreck are rapidly dwindling. I’m a confessional who actually thinks that SOME degree of change in synodical structure and governance is a healthy, long-overdue thing, done rightly and with full disclosure and discussion. As I’ve told friends, we can’t dwell in a 1950s Golden Age time warp forever. Even the early Church in the apostolic era evolved in its structure and governance.

    Nevertheless, the methods being employed to move even any helpful proposals forward are such that I’m tempted to fight tooth and nail to oppose them, just out of principle (or maybe it’s just sinful spite at this point; Kyrie eleison). With each day, I grow more glad that my ordination vows were to the Scriptures and the Confessions, and not to a denominational church body. It’ll be that much easier to remain a member of The Lutheran Church – No Synod.

  11. Playing with structure is a fun pastime like playing with Lincoln Logs (legos for the younger). Unlike these childish games messing with, developing, or changing church structure is always a confession of faith. The theology held by those constructing is implemented in the structure. The theological presuppositions of the Blue ribbon committee are not Lutheran but reformed. They are off on the doctrine of the Church, sanctification, conversion. They have a reformed understanding of the depravity (or in this case lack of total depravity) man. This report does not pass the theological smell test, I would not expect the roll out to smell any different.Time that is spent separating the “good” from the “bad” will only serve to further entrench false doctrine that is at the root of the problem I believe that is in fact what Matthew Harrison was pointing out. But of course in a much more winsome way.

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