CENTRALIZED CONTROL IN THE OBAMA HEALTH PLAN AND THE KIESCHNICK STRUCTURE PLAN, by Pr. Martin Noland

In a recent post on the blog “Brother’s of John the Steadfast,” the Rev. Dr. Tim Rossow comments on the eerie similiarity between President Obama’s health care plan and President Kieschnick’s synodical structure plan:

Both are about Centralized Control – The Obama health care plan would bring one sixth of our economy under the control of the government. The Kieschnick Blue Ribbon Proposal brings an inordinate amount of control under the president of the synod and other centralized power. Just as church growth congregations are x-ing out their voters assemblies and putting control of the parish in the hands of a board of directors, likewise the Blue Ribbon proposals take control out of the boards elected by the synod and puts synod programs under the direct control of the synod president. Currently circuits nominate and elect their circuit counselors. Under the new proposals the district president nominates the candidates. Currently circuits choose their own delegates to the synod convention but in the proposals the district president and district convention can choose the delegates. There are numerous other power grabs in the proposals that we do not have space to describe here. (see https://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=8952).

Opponents of the health care plan argue that it gives government the power to control the most private of all relationships, i.e., the relationship between a doctor and his/her patient.   In that sense, it is an unprecedented invasion of privacy for the American public.   Opponents also argue that it will lead to rationing of medical care, reduction in overall quality of medical care, and increase in national total expenditures for medical care.   Supporters of the health plan argue that changes in the medical delivery system in the last fifty years have made medical care, even basic care, inaccessible to those people who need it.   Supporters also argue that if those who need the care can’t get it, then it denies to them the “right to life” guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence.   Whatever you think about the Obama health plan, proponents of nationalized health care are really “modern social democrats,” i.e., a type of moderate socialists (see Wikipedia article on “socialism,” 5th paragraph, and the Wikipedia article on “Mixed Economy”).

Is Dr. Rossow correct that the Obama health care plan and the Kieschnick structure plan are both about centralized control?  The proponents of these two plans don’t see it that way.   The social democrats see inefficiency in our medical care system, which results in the poor not getting needed care.   Centralized control is not the goal, but the means to efficiency.   The supporters of Kieschnick’s Blue Ribbon plan see inefficiency in our LCMS national offices, delegate system, and circuits.   Centralized control is not the goal, but the means to efficiency.   This does not mean that the supporters of Kieschnick’s plan are “social democrats,” but they do agree on the same means to their goals of efficiency.

But centralized control is not always a means to efficiency!   Anyone who thinks otherwise just needs to look at the economic record of the Soviet Union in the 20th century, which is just now coming to light through excellent books on the subject.   Centralized control of farms led to lack of incentive for farm labor, thus diminished efficiency and productivity.   Centralized control of industry led to lack of competition between corporations, thus diminished efficiency and productivity.   Furthermore, all the party officers who were supposed to be serving the people were instead serving their own private interests.   The Soviet Union was a “workers’ paradise” and productivity disaster!

There is nothing wrong with the LCMS delegate system or circuits.   The problem with circuit exceptions has come about because district presidents have not been re-drawing the electoral circuit lines at their conventions every year, as they are supposed to do.   And they don’t do it, because their cronies prefer the circuits they are in, and don’t want to change.   This is not an efficiency problem.   Let’s tell the truth on this, folks!

 There is a problem, and big one, at the national headquarters.   It is not an efficiency problem.   It is a financial control and funding problem.     The term “financial control” is used here in a more general sense, not in the specific sense of “financial controls,” such as two-person counting of cash, audits, etc.

The basic problem is that, over thirty years, more and more parts of the synodical financial system have been severed from the control of the LCMS Board of Directors.   Look at the back pages of the Lutheran Annual (page 769 of the 2010 Annual).   There it lists all of the corporate parts of the LCMS, under #s 1 to 12.   There are a total of seventy-five agencies that constitute the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.   Each one of these agencies has its own board (or commission), budget, and control over its financial affairs.

 The only parts of this conglomerate over which the LCMS Board of Directors has direct financial control are those listed under #1:   program boards, commissions, and Council of Presidents.   All the other sixty agencies have varying degrees of relationship to the synod and the Board of Directors.   All the other sixty agencies have control over capital assets that really “belong” to the LCMS, but the LCMS Board of Directors has little or no say in how those assets are used.   All the thirty-five districts have control over regular unrestricted revenue, which is the overwhelming source of revenue for the program boards and commissions, but the LCMS Board of Directors has little or no say in how those assets are used.   Furthermore, the LCMS Board of Directors get annual requests from all seventy-five agencies for revenue streams, grants, loans, debt assumption, and guaranteed lines of credit, and many of those dollars never get paid back.

 Even before the recession hit in 2008, the synod realized that there was a significant financial control and funding problem.   2004 Resolution 4-07 called for a task force to examine the problem and make recommendations to the synod.   The resulting Task Force, “Blue Ribbon Task Force for Funding the Mission” made its report to the 2007 convention and no action was taken.   Why was no action taken on this “mission critical” report?   Insiders have said that certain people don’t want change.   Who are those people?   The resisters are executives and staff of those seventy-five agencies who would be affected, one way or another.   They have lobbyists at every convention, and connections to important people, so the most likely reason is that the constituent agencies of the synod (as found in #1-12 on page 769 of the Lutheran Annual) scuttled the Task Force in 2007!   Then the recession came in 2008, and the problems have only become worse.

 Kieschnick’s answer to these problems, as found in Recommendation #18 of the Blue Ribbon Task Force for Structure and Governance final report, is to centralize control under his office.   But that would give him, and the next president, way too much to do, resulting in lowered efficiency.

 A much better solution is to centralize financial control under the LCMS Board of Directors.   That is their job!   Give them real control over the unrestricted revenue stream from congregations.   Give them more real control, where needed, over the finances of the Concordia University System and other national-service agencies.   Give them the means to ensure that program boards and commissions follow budgets.   Ask the Board of Directors to undertake a study, including paid consultants who are experts in corporate structuring, to determine what is the best financial structure for our synod and its various agencies that ensures financial control, solvency, and flexibility (Bredholt & Co. and Epley Research, who were consulted by the Blue Ribbon Task Force for Structure and Governance, are not experts in these fields).

 The synod’s financial system needs work, but the ability of its various boards and commissions to concentrate on the task at hand would be hindered by the proposed Blue Ribbon centralization of control.   Centralization of control (i.e., non-financial control) would actually reduce the efficiency of those people at the LCMS national offices who serve the synod.

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