This is Part 8 of a continuing series analyzing the final report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Structure and Governance (BRTFSG). All posts in this series are listed here.
DuPage County Illinois is Slowly Growing Liberal and so is the LCMS
DuPage County, Illinois in the western suburbs of Chicago has long been a stronghold of conservative politics but over the last fifteen years it is growing more and more liberal. As the average American grows less and less interested in politics there is a natural slide toward tolerance and this favors liberalism in the polling booth. This same loss of interest in the parochialism that is needed to maintain a confessional synod (loss of interest in thinking about theology) is occurring in the LCMS and the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Structure and Governance (BRTFSG) is banking on and participating this slide.
Proposal #5 suggests that commissioned “ministers” (teachers, DCE’s, etc.) be allowed to fill the congregational delegate spot normally filled by the pastor. This will upset the ag-old balance of one pastor to one layman at the conventions. This is the partner proposal to proposal #2 which allows commissioned “ministers” to replace pastors at synod conventions as well. This means that there will be fewer pastoral delegates at district and synodical conventions. This is a problematic proposal.
I am not interested in protecting pastoral turf. I am also not interested in keeping the vote from commissioned “ministers.” I think it would be fine if they are allowed to vote. But, they should not be taking the place of the pastors. If they are going to be allowed to vote, it should be as the laymen that they are and not as pastors.
By the way, there is a case that can be made that it is good to leave things just as they are with the commissioned “ministers” as non-voting advisory delegates. I am OK with that. I do not think this is such a big issue. What is troubling is not so much the proposal itself but the liberalism couched in the explanation of the proposal. Let me explain.
Liberalism in the Proposals
The most significant thing about this proposal is the manner in which the Task Force considers the Office of the Holy Ministry. Here is how they explain this change.
While working to formulate this recommendation, the members of the task force first considered suggesting that congregations choose an ordained minister as one of their voting delegates and also choose, as desired, a lay voting delegate OR a commissioned minister as their other voting delegate. However, ultimately, this could decrease the number and percentage of lay delegates at circuit and district gatherings. In a church body whose pastors constitute less than half of 1 percent of its baptized membership but exercise 50 percent of its voting authority, the task force questioned the wisdom of reducing the number of lay delegates, even slightly, especially at a time when the church is striving to increase lay ownership of, and involvement in, mission and ministry. (pp. 25-26, Final Report)
Notice the bias against the clergy and notice how it is the changed is done under the guise of democracy. “The clergy are only one percent of us and yet they get fifty percent of the votes! How terrible are those over-lording clergy. Something must be done about this injustice!” What exactly do they do to fight this so-called 99% misrepresentation by the big bad mean clergy? They give a few votes to the commissioned “ministers.” In the end my guess is that at most 10% of the congregations will elect commissioned “ministers” in place of the clergy so this still leaves the tiny little 1% of clergy amongst us holding 45% of the votes! That still seems like a gross injustice according to the liberal logic of the Task Force. Does this actually solve that problem? No it does not. All that it does is make clear the liberal bias the Task Force has against the clergy. Delegates and other members of the LCMS – this is a huge problem of which you need to mark well. The fact that the synodical president could find so many LCMS leaders to appoint to a task force that would have a bias against the God-given office of the ministry is a huge problem and allowing them to determine the new structure of the synod is not a solution, it is a part of the problem.
Bluntly speaking, when it comes to representation the Task Force has a politically liberal bias against institutionalism and this shows up as a bias against pastors. This is a mild LCMS version of 1960’s style liberalism and we recommend the delegates pay close attention to it. In the 1960’s the battle cry was down with the powers that be. Up with the people. Sadly, President Kieschnick’s Task Force has politicized the structure question n the LCMS. They have pitted clergy dominance against lay popularism. Ironically, when it comes to power structures they have a bias toward control and centralization. Even though they are opposed to the clergy, they support granting all sorts of new powers to the synodical presidency. (See Christian Preus’ article on this.) This too, bluntly speaking, is a liberal bias. Liberals are all about sloganizing “power to the people” but in the end, as we are seeing with the health care debate in the US Senate, when liberals are in control there is often little room for openness and bi-partisanship.
We are not alone in identifying the liberal bias of the Task Force. Rev. Warren Graff from New Mexico has written a fine piece that illustrates the liberal bias of the Task Force based on their use of the term “the voice of the people.” We will be posting that paper here on the BJS website in the next few weeks.
This is also consistent with our assertion that the Task Force is not interested in congregations, as they claim. Instead they are interested in the laity. Laity does not equal congregation. A bias toward the laity is not the same as acknowledging the Congregation Principle. They want us to think that they are all for congregations but actually they are all for laity.
A Bias Toward the Laity is not Acknowledging the Congregational Principle
Here is a newsflash for the Task Force: Pastors are members of the congregation they serve. A congregation consists of preachers and hearers. A congregation is not the laity. The Task Force’s foolish equation of laity and congregation demonstrates their warmed over 1960’s liberal bias. The Task Force wrongly pits the laity against the pastors.
The founder of the LCMS, C. F. W. Walther along with his fellow lay and clergy leaders founded the synod on the principle of what we will call Biblical congregationalism. This is different than political congregationalism which makes the congregation the supreme voice of authority. The supreme voice of authority in the LCMS is not the congregation but is God’s word. This is Biblical congregationalism. The LCMS was founded on the principle, among others, that the synod shall not have any binding authority over congregations to assess them with fees or issue doctrinal decrees that they must follow. The local congregation is bound by the word of God, not by synodical resolutions. The congregation is the place where it all happens. It is the place that the word and sacraments are administered. That is the congregational principle. The Task Force at several points in the proposals changes this congregational principle into a laity principle.
We do not pit pastors against the laity in the LCMS. According to Martin Luther in the Small Catechism, pastors are the preachers and the laymen are the hearers. God has created a nice order and fit between pastors and laity just as He did with wives and husbands. They are not in competition with each other as the Task Force would have it. Instead they live in service to each other and are bound not by democratic principles but by the Word of God.
Pastors are the trained servants of the Word and ought to be welcomed into our conventions. The LCMS founding fathers’ view that we ought to have one lay vote for each clergy vote is a fine mix. If we were to change that mix one way or the other, it ought not to be done for the reasons the Task Force gives which reveal a liberal bias against institutionalism and in favor of populism. We do not oppose giving commissioned “ministers” a vote at district and synodical conventions. If they are to vote they should vote as the layman that they are and not in place of pastors. We need our pastors to guide and lead us in convention because they are the called servants of God to know and teach His Word to us.