Pr. Martin Noland Offers a High Level Critique of the Blue Ribbon Proposals on Structure

(Editor’s Note: Pastor Noland offered this comment on Mollie’s post from Monday where she passed on information from Publius Aequillus. That prompted Pastor Noland to make the following general and over-arching comments on the Blue Ribbon proposals. I am sure we can expect more detailed analysis from Pastor Noland when he has time.)

Mollie, Tim, and Norm, thanks again for another great post. This time from Publius Aequillus, who is obviously well informed on these topics and has excellent judgment. I hope I can meet him or her someday.

I hope that, maybe, this particular post by Publius can get into the hands of the delegates who are heading to their caucus meetings in the next couple of months. It would be good if someone can encourage the delegates to speak up (if they are allowed to speak at all) and to express these concerns, as well as other concerns about the Blue Ribbon Proposals found on this site.

I have not had the time to digest the “Final Report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Structure and Governance,” which includes a number of appendices plus the complete bylaws revisions (my printer ran out of ink on that last one). So this is only my preliminary impression of that “Final Report.”

FIRST MAJOR POINT, in my opinion, Appendix Five is the most important document, which is actually from the Blue Ribbon Task Force for Funding the Mission. It is an excellent proposal. David Buegler, the author of Appendix Five, is a smart man, a good writer, and should have been the author of the original report from BRTFFM. The only thing I disagree with in Appendix Five is “mandated-congregational-fee-for service.” If synod pushes that, the pastors and laymen will rebel.

It is much better if the synod RECOMMENDS a certain level of giving to an individual congregation, based on the total number of communicants, %s of communicant vocations (student, military, employed, and retired), and the average income level of its census district (which is smaller than zip codes, and more accurately reflects socio-economic levels, since the congregation’s economic ability is a reflection of its local neighborhood). Recommendation is really the only thing synod CAN do in this respect, if you read our constitution correctly.

SECOND MAJOR POINT, Appendix Three needs to be looked at by the delegates very carefully. This is the new synod organization chart. If they don’t read anything else because their eyes glaze over, they should at least look at the chart.

First, they need to notice the many fine-print disclaimers: 1) in the lower right corner, organizational lines mean three things: “Additional reporting,” “Elected,” and “Appointed and Elected”; 2) in lower left corner “This chart is not intended to represent all duties and responsibilities of the President as defined in Article XI of the Constitution”; 3) in the lower right corner again, “Administrative, Organizational Chart Only (to be used in conjunction with the BRTFSSG report).”

What do these disclaimers mean? 1) They mean that the six new commissions of the synod will not really be “national convention committees.” They mean that the synodically-elected commission members will have some voice, but the appointed members will be the power and majority. Whoever appoints these members (either synod president, or Council of Presidents, or by “regional election”) will control that commission. 2) They mean that the President has a lot more power than what you see on the chart. 3) They mean that other relationships, for example, budgeting, fiscal control, theological oversight, and canon law, are not indicated at all.

I think that this chart is deceptive. I don’t think that the creator of the chart intended it to be, because he/she followed what synod has used in the past. People looking at the chart will think, “Oh, those commissions are under the control of the national convention.” My answer: “No, they aren’t, if the national convention does not directly control who serves on them through its nomination and election.”

For example, presently, the Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) is controlled by the synodical president, who has the power of election and veto of nominations for that commission. That arrangement will not change under the new structure.

By the way, if you thought that the CCM has published some ridiculous MANDATORY opinions since 2001, you need to look to the guy who elected them. They are probably doing the best they can with their limited abilities and with the constant threat of a phone call from the guy who elected them. If they ever want to serve the synod again, they had better do what he says. In this way, the President of the Synod controls all outcomes of adjudications, appeals, disputes, and even matters theological, if they are brought to this commission. I once thought the CCM was the source of a lot of our problems. Now I realize they are scared “little” men, and I truly have pity on them!

Talking of scared people: I need to say, frankly and passionately, that I truly have pity on the many godly and excellent people who serve at our national offices and at our district offices. I know many of them at Kirkwood, perhaps most of them, personally. Almost all of the church-workers are scared stiff. They are afraid of saying anything to contradict the administration, because they know that they will be next in line for either termination or “involuntary resignation.” Or they are afraid that they will become the scapegoat for the administration’s own foolish policies or decisions. Or they are afraid they will be caught between two feuding masters. In today’s economy, and with a sudden vanishing of pastoral and teacher vacancies, this means unemployment, possibly for the rest of their career. I could give individual cases of when and how this has happened at the national office, but the individuals would be embarassed or frightened even more, so I can talk only in generalities.

Back to the subject: The essence of the proposed changes to the national offices are in the redistribution of “line and staff” on the organization chart. As Publius notes, the program boards with synodically-elected members, are eliminated. All of the program board functions are subsumed under the direct authority of the synodical president, via the “Chief Mission Officer.” This means that the synod in convention will have even less control through the election process over the functions of the synodical offices. The synod convention will, under the new plan, have only three elections for officers, plus eleven for Board of Directors. The other elections don’t really count, because their Commissions are dominated by appointments, as I noted above.

Really, why doesn’t the Task Force just come out and say what this means? The Blue Ribbon Task Force, and the synodical president who appointed it, do not trust the national convention to nominate and elect competent people to boards and commissions. They must believe that existing boards and commissions are incompetent, and so they blame the LCMS convention for this. The BRTFSSG and the Synod President, therefore, obviously believe that the rank-and-file-pastor and the lay-delegate-from-the-pew are incompetent to elect competent people.

If we look at the departments under the “Chief Mission Officer,” this is where the consolidation and biggest changes have come. First, it is obvious that the President of the “seminary” is the President of the Synod. Just follow the line of authority up from the “seminary” box to the top. I know that a few previous presidents thought that they should be the Master of the Masters of the Masters of Divinity, but this is just way too much concentration of power and influence in a church-body that depends on an educated clergy.

Second, “fundraising” and “communications” are really staff components, i.e., they serve the needs of the function-departments. That leaves only “Office of National Mission” and “Office of International Mission” for everything else the synod does, or used to do. That is the impression given by the new chart.

Now does this make any sense? The BRTFSSG is going to gut the divisions at synod (i.e., those under program boards) that actually DO something outside of the synodical office, while keeping all the departments that service them? That is the impression that is given, in any event, by the organizational chart.

To find out what is really proposed here, you have to go to the proposed bylaws. “Office of National Mission,” per proposed bylaw, will be responsible for these function-departments: a) Lutheran schools; b) human care and domestic relief; c) stewardship; d) evangelism; e) church planting and revitalization. “Office of International Mission,” per proposed bylaw will be responsible for: a) foreign missionaries; b) international schools; c) international relief; d) support of partner churches. This is the real guts of synodical work. These departments are why we need a synodical office in Saint Louis. All of these departments will be under the authority of the synodical president for everything they are and do. That is the single biggest proposed concentration of power in one person that the Missouri Synod has seen in its history.

All this restructuring, and concentrating of power, will not help the synodical budget to reduce costs or increase revenues.

THIRD MAJOR POINT. The Constitutional revisions need to be carefully reviewed by the delegates. Except for clarification on the status of laymen (proposed Article V.C.), the proposed revisions are either useless, verbose, or contrary to the chief purposes of our synod’s founders (see Walther’s letter to Ernst, August 21, 1845, in “Moving Frontiers” (CPH, 1964), page 143). Or the proposed constitutional revisions are useless, verbose, AND contrary to 1847. Delegates just need to defeat the constitutional revisions, without amendment. No good will come from adopting any of it.

There is more that could be written. But that is all that I have had time to review.

Delegates need to be reminded of their obligation before God and our children–the next generation of Lutheran laymen. The delegates need to speak up and address their concerns at the caucuses, and at the convention, as best as they are able. Comments from the lay people are especially important, because these are the people that we ultimately serve, besides our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

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