Task Force Proposals and Treatise 55

This paper was originally published on the Wittenberg Trail by Rev. Scott Hojnacki; we at BJS thought our readership would like to review it. This analysis is based on the North Dakota presentation.

The papacy is the most efficient form of ecclesiastical governance on earth. The pope speaks, and the matter is decided. Any form of governance that is consistent with the principles of the Lutheran Reformation will, of necessity, be less efficient.

“Even if the pope holds councils, how can the Church be healed if he allows nothing to be decreed against his will? Or if he allows no one to express an opinion except his followers, whom he has bound by dreadful oaths and curses to defend his tyranny and impiety without leaving any place for God’s Word?” (Treatise, 55)

It appears that the Task Force recognizes the basic principle at work here: the fewer people that are involved in making any decisions, the more efficient that decision-making process will be. Fewer voices (to be more precise, fewer dissenting voices) = greater efficiency. While none of the individual Task Force proposals claim this goal overtly, taken together, there is a clear pattern.

Proposal #6: Decrease the frequency of National Conventions. The Synod in Convention, while nominally “the” authoritative assembly of the Synod, and the only assembly with authoritative oversight of the President, the Commission on Constitutional Matters, et.al., will meet once every four years.

Proposal #8: Reduce the number of delegates to the National Convention by 50%. Again, fewer is better, from an efficiency standpoint. Some have argued that there is great irony in that the current administration has consistently encouraged an increase in the number of delegates in recent years. However, this proposal cannot be considered independent of #9.

Proposal #9: Election of Delegates to the National Convention at the District level, not the Circuit level. While it is by no means a perfect system, the current election of delegates at the Circuit level allows for a greater level of communication and personal interaction between the delegates and their constituents. Every pastor and layman can know clearly who “my delegates” to the convention are. Delegates discussing convention business beforehand and reporting about the convention afterwards are responsible only to their circuits. A District-level election means that delegates could be receiving input from, and later reporting to, every congregation and pastor in the district. This, to a great extent, would further impersonalize the process, inhibit meaningful discussion, and functionally increase the distance between the delegates and their constituents, a problem which is only exacerbated by having a fewer number of delegates. This election process may also be corrupted by the same inherent inequity which plagues proposal #10.

Proposal #10: Prioritization of Overtures to National and District Conventions. On paper, this one makes a lot of sense. While this proposal might be perfectly valid in streamlining the functioning of an ideal (utopian) convention cycle, actually implementing it, in view of how conventions are really conducted, creates significant adverse effects. In order for this to work, the proceedings of every Circuit Forum and District Convention would have to be an accurate representation of the attitudes and opinions of all the participants. In reality, this is not necessarily the case, for a number of reasons. The majority of District Convention business, particularly resolutions, do not originate with the congregations, pastors, or even Circuits of the District, but are generated by the floor committees, whose members are appointed by the President. Even the overtures which are submitted are subject to revision, modification, or outright rejection by the same committees. Many delegates are reluctant, particularly in a “church” meeting, to vigorously and fully assert their rights to speak and be heard at the Convention. It is far more charitable and irenic simply to defer to the committees, and there are usually individuals or organizations calling for the delegates to “trust” the committees and voluntarily waive their right to speak against a committee decision. As a result, what comes from Circuits or Districts to the Synod is not necessarily the opinion of the Circuit or District as a whole, but rather a compromise or a concession to the leadership. As a result of this, any overtures that make it to the Synod Convention from a District (which must also then be filtered through the Synod President and the appointed floor committees), are more likely to be representative of the opinions of the District leadership and less likely to be representative of the opinions of the member pastors and congregations of that District. This contradicts the stated purpose of this proposal, but further enables an efficient process where decisions are made by only a few. Individual congregations would be effectively deprived of their right to present overtures to the Synod.

Proposal #13: National Synod Structure. Some Boards and Commissions reclassified as advisory rather than executive. Some offices and positions reclassified as appointed, rather than elected (including a portion of the Board of Directors, as per proposal #12). The inevitable result: more decided by one man (the President), less decided by the Convention or the Synod as a whole.

Proposal #16: Elimination of Term Limits. Again, on paper, this proposal is quite rational. However, given the “real world” propensity toward pro-incumbent bias, over time the Synod comes to be defined by the person who holds the office rather than the office itself (i.e., governance is not determined on the basis of “what should the President do/not do,” but “what should Jerry Kieschnick do/not do”—in fact, too many of the current duties of the President were instituted on the basis of “Al Barry should do this”). Besides, isn’t change for the sake of change supposed to be a good thing?

Proposal #18: Delayed Certification Process for Pastoral Candidates. Apparently, this proposal would mirror some of the current standards of the SMP program, wherein seminary graduates would be “supervised” for an additional two three years in their first calls prior to being officially certified, which certification would then require the approval of the District President, Circuit Counselor, and calling congregation. The potential implications for responsible pastoral ministry are disturbing. What pastor in such a situation would be able to speak an “unpopular” but necessary Word to an erring member (or “supervisor”), knowing that his certification (and vocational life) may be on the line? Though the Confessions clearly prohibit it, the Synod is in the process of establishing a hierarchy of “grades” in the Holy Ministry, whereby only some are permitted to speak.

Proposal #20: Realignment and Reduction in Number of Districts. Smaller districts enable greater levels of communication and participation in district-wide activities. They increase the effectiveness of District Presidents, who are able to have greater personal knowledge of the pastors and congregations they serve. Increasing the size of the districts would make them more impersonal, potentially lowering the level of conversation from fraternal to professional.

The Reformers recognized the futility of a council in which no one was allowed to speak except the pope and those loyal to him. But they couldn’t argue with its efficiency…

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