Indiana District Convention – A View from the Floor, by Glen Piper

(Editor’s Note – We thank regular BJS website reader Glen Piper for this summary of the Indiana District Convention. You can also read this and his other posts on his blog.)

On Thu 6/25 & Fri 6/26, the Indiana District met in convention, the 30th out of 35 District conventions this year. I was the lay delegate for Heritage, Valparaiso, and from my view in Section C, Row 3, Seat 120, we did some good, some bad, and a whole lot of indifferent during our time in Hall A of the Grand Wayne Convention Center in Fort Wayne…

This was my third convention (District in 2003 & 2009, and Synod in 2007), and God help me, I loves me some Lutheran conventioneering! Sure, there’s a whole lot of frustration, and it can be physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing; but, when there *is* a flash of theological debate on the convention floor, or when you *do* get the chance to engage some outstanding theological & pastoral minds like Rick Stuckwisch or Matt Harrison (just to drop two of the more “famous” names…), or partake in the Divine Service (LSB Setting 4) at Historic St. Paul’s as part of a full house… well, for me, the good far outweighs the bad.

On to the event run-down…

The Indifferent:
We were presented with the usual amount of fluff that you get at every convention — the “Mom & Apple Pie” resolutions, wherein you commend folks/projects & thank God for them. These are the types of things that only heartless ogres would dare vote against. Even so, none of them passed with a full 100% approval.

And they’re the types of resolutions that fill the front end of conventions, draining the delegates’ energy away from the more substantive (read “difficult/contentious”) business that typically backloads a convention agenda. IMO, 17 of the 22 resolutions before us fell into this “Indifferent” category.

Given the overall tenor of the proceedings, and what we were given to do by/on the agenda (e.g., reports, recognizing various & sundry folks, eating, etc…), the vast majority of what we did reasonably fell into the “Indifferent” category. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, IMO.

The Bad:

“Trouble in River City” – Yup, we got the stump speech, both in its recorded and live forms, as SP Kieschnick (SPK hereafter) was in the house. We got the full laundry list of his bona fides, along with the list of four areas in which there is some disagreement within the LCMS today (1. Open/Close(d) Communion Policy, 2. The Service of Women, 3. Worship Styles, & 4. Unionism & Engagement — i.e., the same list that he put forth in his recent Pastoral Letter). The interesting thing to note was his emphasis, shaded but still given, that somehow these four areas are not as significant, doctrinally/theologically speaking, as those “agreements” on the laundry list of bona fides.

Ablaze! Focus in Examples – As expected, all of the examples given throughout the Synodically produced video clips were heavy on Ablaze! participants. While not (necessarily) bad in and of itself, the examples tended towards the Law-driven, in that they emphasized what people/congregations needed to be doing in order to “win souls” and “keep people from going to Hell”. There was much talk of “revitalization”, numbers, growth, effectiveness, and the like, and not so much on Sacramental life, faithfulness, or vocation. Nothing new, I know, but still enough to fall into the “Bad” category.

Our Trip to the Woodshed – Right after the River City extravaganza, SPK made mention of the fact that he knows that there are some things about Ablaze! that many folks don’t like; in fact, he admitted, there are some things about it that even he doesn’t like. That said, he also said that, as an agent of the Synod, he knows he has to carry out that which the Synod has determined & agreed to do. He also said that he knew that three years ago, the IN-D voted to not participate in Ablaze!/Fan The Flame. He wanted to remind us that the IN-D, and we as the voting assembly, were the Synod in that place, and thus also had an obligation to fully carry out that which the Synod had decided/agreed to, even if/when we didn’t fully agree with every part of it. Shortly after that admonition, Floor Committee (FC) 1 brought Resolution 1-05 (TO ENCOURAGE AND ASSIST CONGREGATIONS IN THEIR INVOLVEMENT WITH ABLAZE!) to the floor, where it was passed 55%-45%. I count this as bad, although the silver lining is that I’m not sure it would’ve passed without the Presidential scolding, and neither was it a resounding victory; rather, I don’t think it’ll matter all that much, other than providing The Reporter with their main factoid about the IN-D Convention.

The BRTFSSG – this bad boy gets its own set of sub-bullets…

  • Everything you’ve heard about the presentation is true…
  • It’s too fast
  • There’s not enough time for any substantive discussion/debate
  • Specificity is kept to a bare minimum
  • Both sides of the fence are played, wrt the “proposals” being actual, you know, proposals, or merely being placeholders until someone tells the Task Force what they should put in as actual proposals
  • Some attempts at rationales were given, although many of those were lacking the same specificity as the “proposals”
  • Other rationales were just plain troubling. Some of my faves:
    • Comm. Ministers can be lay delegates because it “utilizes their gifts and gives flexibility to congregations…” — my question: if they’re “ministers”, why aren’t they splitting the clergy/minister vote? Why dilute & disenfranchise the lay vote? While I do think that Comm. “Ministers” are laity (and that they whole “minister” thing is just a tax dodge), it just irks me that the default thought is to disenfranchise the pewsitting layman. You can’t have it both ways…
    • Funneling of Overtures through Circuit Forums & District Conventions, “expands leadership & participation of congregations, and fosters more meaningful participation at District conventions…” — The spin of this proposal was laid bare when, after it was stated that the “priority” given to overtures submitted via the Circuit->District channel was not actually a way to disenfranchise congregations & have that official channel serve as a chokepoint to stifle non-sanctioned change, someone rose from the floor to lay out just how it would serve that purpose. There was no response from the presenter, Rev. Greene.
    • Most all of the Officer/Election rationales centered on geographic representation, symmetry, equity, and that, somehow even when it was only symbolic, it would all result in things being more “effective.” Trouble is, that “effective” was never defined…
    • Cost Savings was another recurring rationale. Oddly enough, though, when pressed for details on just how and when the cost savings would be realized, details were once again sorely lacking. Terms like “immediately” and “several million dollars” were bandied about, but never with specific dates or amounts attached to specific proposals or plans.
    • Also of note was the response when the recent Reporter statement by Tom Kuchta was mentioned, in which the Synod’s Treasurer stated that none of the BRTFSSG proposals would result in significant savings at this point. Rev. Greene responded that he was aware of that statement, and that he and the Task Force disagreed, noting that Kuchta has a different understanding of “significant” than the Task Force. Kuchta’s “significant”, it was hinted, falls north of $5 million, and the Task Force doesn’t think that savings of (potentially) $1 – $5 million is anything to sneeze at. (Frankly, in this context, I’ll side with Treasurer Kuchta on this matter…)
  • At one point, in order to blunt the force of some criticism (note: I don’t think this is an unfair assessment; rather, it is an objective take on motive — no 8th Commandment bombs, please…), Rev. Greene made the statement that three Districts had fully commended the work of the Task Force.
    • I followed up with a question, asking if he could provide us with the number of Districts that had passed resolutions against the work of the Task Force.
    • Rev. Greene response was that, to his knowledge, no other District had passed the type of resolution (that we were debating) rejecting all of the work done by the Task Force.
    • Let the Reader understand the difference between the question I asked, and the one that Rev. Greene answered…
  • Perhaps the most fascinating exchange came when XIV and the proposal for additional pastoral “evaluation” prior to certification (aka, “conditional ordination” or “shacking-up”). When presented with that question, Rev. Greene’s response was, “I’m not a theologian. I’m a bureaucrat.” This was met with a stunned silence, shortly followed by the statement from the original questioner, “Well, maybe that’s the problem; we need more theologians working on this.”

The Good:

The Elections – Dan May got re-elected to his third term as DP, and the entire slate of VPs were also re-elected. I view this as a good thing. We ain’t perfect here in the IN-D, but we’re doing better than most when it comes to our executive branch, from what I can see & hear, and for that I’m thankful. We elected some good folks on the various committees & boards, and my own failure to get elected aside, I’m pleased.

SPK’s Q&A Session – I put this into the good column for one reason: he took questions from the floor! This yielded some interesting info, IMO, including the following…

  • LCMS Future – pretty standard stuff, i.e., the same as has been reported from other conventions, wrt changing the “spirit of rancor” in Synod, the “very bright” future of Synod, and the “strong agreement on fundamentals” in Synod, etc…
  • Challenges Facing Seminaries – $$$/Funding, Growth of Alternate Routes, & Declining Enrollments, with the greatest challenge being that of “How to still operate two seminaries?”
  • Any Discussion of Closing One Seminary? – “No serious conversations of significance.”
  • Impact of Hate Crimes Bill – It is being watched closely, but we must not compromise our message.
  • Pastoral Promotion of Gay Lifestyle – This was interesting, because after some initial vagueness, Washington State was mentioned. And SPK was forceful in stating that the promotion of the gay lifestyle was/is something that would not be tolerated, and that should fall under church discipline if it continued in an unrepentant fashion. However, to his knowledge, he was unaware of any such promotion in Washington.

Matt Harrison – The high point of the whole event, though, was quite possibly Matt Harrison’s greeting and presentation on behalf of LCMS World Relief. It was the strongest, clearest, sweetest proclamation of the Gospel that we got. Was it also a bit of a stump speech, in stark contrast to that of SPK’s? You betcha! Did that detract at all from the brilliant simplicity of the Gospel, simply but powerfully proclaimed? Nope. We got a clear distinction between the Law of “River City” on one hand, and the Gospel of the Balm of Gilead on the other.

By a vote of 65%-35% we passed resolution 4-04A, which has a key resolution that reads, “RESOLVED, that the Indiana District memorialize Synod to reject the presented proposals of the BRTFSSG.” (note: the amendment had been to substitute “presented proposals” for “recommendation” in the quoted resolved…)

We voted down (56%-44%) a resolution (1-06) encouraging District congregations to utilize the District “revitalization process” – Now, to my knowledge, this process does not have any hooks into the TCN process; however, that still doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing, IMO, and there were a few passionate statements from the floor against the process. Which, when combined with the general lack of up-front specificity about the program, I think helped carry the day.

Devotions/Music/Worship – Everything was, as far as I could tell, solidly liturgical, theological, and orthodox. No happy-clappy, contempo-worship for the IN-D! The in-session devotions were nicely done, and the Divine Service, Friday morning at Historic St. Paul, was LSB Setting IV.

Guidelines for Corporate Worship for Conventions, Meetings, Workshops, and Gatherings of The Indiana District – The previous bullet point was possible thanks to the great work done by the Committee on Worship and Spiritual Care, led by the Rev. Dr. Rick Stuckwisch. Included in the 6/26 “Today’s Business” was document starting this bullet point. In short, it recommends “that conventions, meetings, workshops, and other gatherings of the Indiana District use the hymns, orders of service, and other material from Lutheran Service Book.” (note: there is much good, solid, theological & fraternal rationale given in the document for this endorsed position of encouragement, I just didn’t quote it here; Pr. Stuckwisch did a great job of explaining it during his report.) Thank you for that, Pr. Stuckwisch!

In Conclusion:
I know the “Bad” list is a bit longer than the “Good” list; however, I don’t mean that to be taken as an indictment of the work that was done by this convention. No, my intent is to clearly state that I think that much good was done by the Indiana District this go-around. Was there a lot left on the table? Sure, but that’s true at every convention. Nothing truly bad was enacted or ratified, and some very good things were passed and endorsed. When combined with the massive inertia of indifference that pervades so much of Synodical conventions, I think this can be tallied up on the positive side of the ledger.

Thanks for reading this far, and sorry for running on so long. But a lot of stuff happened, and I wanted to make sure that I presented it in as complete, accurate, and readable a form as possible.

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