THE BLUE RIBBON PLAN #18 AND THE SPOILS SYSTEM, By Martin R. Noland

A recent post by the Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow at “Brothers of the John the Steadfast” made me realize an extremely significant consequence of the Blue Ribbon Plan Recommendation #18.   His post is at: https://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=9487.   This is the particular quote that caught my attention:

[Recommendation #18 of the Blue Ribbon Plan] is the proposal that most clearly violates a scriptural approach to making sure that authority in the synod is based on scripture and not on personal power. It is President Kieschnick’s bold step to have all of the “ministry work” of the synod run through his office and to get all staff members reporting to him. This makes our synod president a CEO and not a shepherd. This makes the church a business and not a family. One of the reasons the LCMS has flourished for 150 years is because its polity has always been slow, encumbered, and bogged down in processes that allow even the humblest of members of an LCMS parish to use God’s word against the synod when necessary. That is all gone with one fell swoop of proposal #18 which gives the president supreme power rather than the boards elected by the delegates.

It is the nature of a blog that it encourages discussion and argument.   I was going to “argue” with Pastor Rossow on his point about the CEO, with a comment something like this:   “#18 would not make the Synodical President a CEO.   When a CEO hires and fires staff in a corporation, he does not have a political party of persons loyal to him who are ready to take those vacant offices.   Nor does the existing staff have the ability to campaign for the CEO’s re-election with his electorate, i.e., the Board of Directors who elects him.   #18 would make the Synodical President a . . . ”   That is when I suddenly realized the consequences of #18.

Recommendation #18 would make the synodical president, not a CEO, but the “boss” of a political “machine.”   As an example of such a “machine,” consider one of America’s most notorious political “bosses,” Democrat William M. Tweed (1823-78), more commonly known as “Boss Tweed” (see “The Greediest of All Time” at http://www.newsweek.com/id/190715; Tweed is #6 in the lineup).   Tweed and his Tammany Hall cronies ruled with absolute power over the city and state of New York by means of their political “machine” that was created by the Democratic party’s “spoils system.”

In the politics of the United States, a spoil system (also known as a patronage system) is an informal practice where a political party, after winning an election, gives government jobs to its members as a reward for working toward victory, and as an incentive to keep working for the party—as opposed to a system of awarding offices on the basis of some measure of merit independent of political activity (from Wikipedia, see “Spoils system”).

The spoils system was introduced to the United States by the victory of the Democrats with Andrew Jackson’s presidency in 1828.   The end of the spoils system at the federal level came with the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883, which created the bipartisan Civil Service Commission.   The principle of separating political activity and civil service was made stronger with the Hatch Act of 1939, which prohibited federal employees from engaging in many political activities.   The spoils system survived much longer in state, counties, and municipalities.   For example, the city of Chicago officially ended the practice as late as the Shakman Decreees of 1972 and 1983 (from Wikipedia, ibid.).   Unofficially, the practices have continued in Chicago and elsewhere.

In the time-tested and traditional government of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the spoils system is not practical, or at least greatly hindered, because the hiring and firing of staff members is controlled either by a Board of Directors (controlling “Service Units” at the International Center and their equivalent at the 35 districts offices) or by program boards.  

Recommendation #18 would eliminate the program boards at the International Center, with the consequence that the Synodical President would control all hiring and firing of their personnel through his personally appointed Chief Mission Officer.   According to the Blue Ribbon Plan, this would include all missionaries, all seminary faculty, all seminary staff, all university theology faculty, all synodical fundraising staff, and all staff presently under the Board for Black Ministry Services, Board for Communication Services, Board for District and Congregational Services, Board for Pastoral Education, Board for Human Care Ministries, and Board for Mission Services.   All these positions, which I am guessing is over 600 professional positions, would become rewards for those persons who worked with the president toward his political victory in the synod.   Those who worked against his candidacy, or showed no loyalty either way, could expect to terminated.

Is this a good system?   It is certainly good for the man who “wins” the synodical presidency.   As Senator William Marcy said of Andrew Jackson in 1828, “to the victor belong the spoils.”   But sixty years of this system in the US government proved that it was corrupting of morals and good government.   Political scientists and historians in the US know about the evils of the “spoils system.”   So why is the Blue Ribbon Task Force advocating this system for a CHURCH?

Leader of “Jesus First Leadership,” the Rev. David S. Luecke, states that Recommendation #18 is the first priority on his “most important” list of Blue Ribbon Task Force proposals   (see “Jesus First” newsletter for January 2010 at: http://www.jesusfirst.net/2010Jan1.htm).   Luecke says that #18 has to be done for financial reasons, i.e., to reduce costs.   But the most practical way to reduce costs is for the Board of Directors to strictly enforce a hiring and spending limit on all those with that authority.   If the Board of Directors cannot do that job, nobody can.

President Kieschnick in his “Response of the President of the Synod,” December 1, 2009 (at: http://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/Office%20of%20the%20President/President_Response_to_Task_Force_Report.pdf) also cites financial concerns (points 1-5, page 6) as the chief reason for adopting Recommendation #18.   Although Kieschnick offers some minor revisions to Recommendation #18, these revisions do not affect the primary proposals that would result in a patronage or “spoils system.”   So one must conclude that, through his appointment of the Blue Ribbon Task Force members and his general support of their work, the synodical president approves of Recommendation #18 and its patronage consequences.

Do you really want a system of governance in the church that has been proved to be corrupting in American politics?   If you don’t want the “spoils system” in the Missouri Synod, call your synodical delegate today and tell him “Vote NO on Blue Ribbon Task Force Recommendation #18 and whatever other resolution may implement its primary features.”

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.

Comments

THE BLUE RIBBON PLAN #18 AND THE SPOILS SYSTEM, By Martin R. Noland — 18 Comments

  1. “Recommendation #18 would eliminate the program boards at the International Center, with the consequence that the Synodical President would control all hiring and firing of their personnel through his personally appointed Chief Mission Officer. According to the Blue Ribbon Plan, this would include all missionaries, all seminary faculty, all seminary faculty staff, all university theology faculty, all synodical fundraising staff, and all staff presently under the Board for Black Ministry Services, Board for Communication Services, Board for District and Congregational Services, Board for Pastoral Education, Board for Human Care Ministries, and Board for Mission Services. All these positions, which I am guessing is over 600 professional positions, would become rewards for those persons who worked with the president toward his political victory in the synod. Those who worked against his candidacy, or showed no loyalty either way, could expect to terminated.”

    Why would this authority be limited to theological faculty only? Couldn’t this be a good thing if the “right” candidate wins?

  2. I agree, Prop 18 would run the great risk of turning the IC into a political machine. Rather than serving the Lord or adhering to Biblical principals the temptation (and likely the reality) of those on staff’s primary concern would be about staying on the “good side” of the president and his direct reports.

    At the regional gathering I attended there was a lot of talk about Prop 18 “saving the Synod financially. ” I was very confused by that. Saving less than $1 million on an $81 million annual budget is a drop in the bucket.

    On page 6 of Pres. Kieschnick’s response to the proposals, he supports Prop 18 and sites several “realities.” Some of which are,

    “Another board allowed and approved travel budgets for one fiscal year of several hundred thousand dollars.”

    “Yet another program board discovered a significant over expenditure of its budget only after the departure of its former excecutive director.”

    Both of those “realities” are internal control, budgeting issues, not structural. Change the structure, but if there is no enforcemnt of budgetary limits nothing will chage. As Dr. Noland states, “. . . . the Board of Directors (must) strictly enforce a hiring and spending limit on all those with that authority. If the Board of Directors cannot do that job, nobody can.”

    Clearly cutbacks need to take place both at the Synodical and District levels given the economic realities. We faced the same pressures in our congregation and have had to make tough decisions. It wasn’t easy, but we did it. Changing the strucure to a top-down, arguably “consolidation of power” scenario does not address the real problem. We need ALL the leaders in both St. Louis and in the Districts to be wise stewards of the resources which they have been entrusted with.

  3. The other phrase that sticks in my mind from the regional gathering regarding this recommendation is that this proposal would eliminate the “silo mentality” of the program boards. My question is, “is this silo mentality inherent in the structure or is it the result of the personalities within the structure?” Aren’t there ex officio representatives on each of these program boards so that the BoD and CoP get a first hand understanding of what is going on, and isn’t it the responsibility of these ex officio representatives to help coordinate efforts between boards where there is overlap or where efforts could complement one another?

  4. “Recommendation #18 would eliminate the program boards at the International Center, with the consequence that the Synodical President would control all hiring and firing of their personnel through his personally appointed Chief Mission Officer. According to the Blue Ribbon Plan, this would include all missionaries, all seminary faculty, all seminary staff, all university theology faculty, all synodical fundraising staff, and all staff presently under the Board for Black Ministry Services, Board for Communication Services, Board for District and Congregational Services, Board for Pastoral Education, Board for Human Care Ministries, and Board for Mission Services. All these positions, which I am guessing is over 600 professional positions, would become rewards for those persons who worked with the president toward his political victory in the synod. Those who worked against his candidacy, or showed no loyalty either way, could expect to terminated.”

    This is very concerning. I am especially concerned about what this could mean for our seminaries and future pastors. Imagine a man self described as “not a theologian” hand picking the theologians who teach our pastors. Imagine a man who embraces non-Lutheran doctrine and practice also choosing the same. If I cannot trust the faithfulness of the Synod President who picks Seminary Professors who teach our pastors, I will be filled with doubt whenever I attend a church served by one of these men. This is a recipe for disaster.

  5. In case of waste and/or inefficiency in a specific “silo” one would think about regular audits, procedures for accountbility, etc. that congregations of every size and description deal with on a monthly basis. I wouldn’t think about vaporizing the “silo” just because I don’t control process and outcomes. What would cultivate trust and openness? Not #18 that’s for sure.

  6. One wants the “rules of the game” such that no matter who is “running” things, there are preventive measures set up to prevent damage to the organization. That is, a system of checks and balances, with no one person in charge of everything. One must realize that the “good guys” may not always be in charge.

  7. @PPPadre #3

    After myself hearing the “silo” argument, I must admit, I’m not sure why this is necessarily “bad.” Have you ever asked yourself why farms have multiple silo’s separated by a little distance? Have you ever driven by an oil refinery and seen that there are numerous smaller holding tanks and not just one huge one? Have you ever seen a propane field with several propane holding tanks and asked yourself, “why not just one big one?”

    Consider what happens if one of those silos, holding tanks, or propane tanks, catastrophically fails. There may be some collateral damage to the others, but that is by no means guaranteed. The result is that the main operations of the facility are protected by distributing things to discrete units. A failure of one unit will not automatically destroy the entire enterprise.

    If a silo fails on a farm with multiple silo’s, there may be severe spoilage, but the animals will still be fed. If one propane tank explodes, the integrity of others may be compromised, but hopefully they won’t immediately fail. In an oil refinery, if one holding tank blows up, production and distribution of product can continue (perhaps after some repairs), but the fact is it will continue.

    Now consider if all the eggs were put in a single basket. What happens when that basket is dropped by a fallible human being corrupted by original sin? What happens to the farm with only one silo, the oil refinery with only one storage tank or the propane field with only one, huge, tank – when that silo or tank fails?

    Currently, although bad theology can spread like a contagion throughout the different boards and committees, it takes time. During that time, wrongs can be righted and false theology and practice can be combated with the truth.

    Since, under our view of original sin, it is inevitable that human beings WILL screw things up (I don’t care WHAT their political stripes are), why would we want to give all power to a single individual or small groups of individuals?

    Regarding the issue of restructuring of the “human institution” of Synod, the proper question to ask is, “What structure will best serve the purposes for which it exists EVEN IF an enemy of the Gospel were to hold office within it?” Because of the simul of Lutheran theology, our assumption MUST BE (at a certain level) that an enemy of the Gospel DOES hold each and every office within the institution. The reason “governance and structure” (a “left-handed kingdom” construction) exists at all is as a curb to the evil that a given individual can do to the entity.

    Put another way, doesn’t consolidating power in a single individual or a small group of individuals overturn the Scriptural teaching of original sin by assuming they can and will act rightly? Is our system of “governance and structure” really an adiaphoron?

    Anyway – my 2 cents.

  8. What I find terribly ironic is the claim that proposal 18 is fiscally necessary and unless it is implemented there will be a tremendous financial crisis. This claim was echoed by the task force at the regional meetings. There were doomsday predictions of financial meltdown. Yet the charts that appeared on this website back in November tell a different story. https://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=8071 Yes there is a deficit. but that deficit is mirrored by the spending of ONE board; the Board for Missions Services (see the slide entitled “BFMS Deficit Spending Vs Synod Unrestricted Deficit”). Yes the synod is leaking money, but the truth is that the money is leaking through one very large hole. I suppose we also might add the spending for Ablaze fund raising into the mix. If the synod were to stop the leaks in the BFMS and do away with Ablaze we would remove the need for proposal 18, assuming that it would fix the problems in the first place.

  9. Hello! What do you think they teach at PLT? Why are so many enamored with Policy Based Governance? Having just experienced the actual practical use of PBG in our congregation I can tell you that it’s biggest danger is that it attracks ego centric and narcissistic pastors with which we are not yet done dealing with. I have lost all patience with these “brilliant” men and thier “blue ribbon” ideas.

  10. LCMS often draws lines in the sand and this summer appears to be another line in the sand? What do confessional Lutheran pastors and congregations in the LCMS do yet again when the line in the sand is breached? Say that the Blue Ribbon Plan is defeated, when and how does the line move back towards our “Grandfather’s Church” or perhaps even our “great Grandfather’s Church”?

    Having come from a Pastor’s Bible study this morning of circuit pastors in the WELS, we were joined by an LCMS pastor who is awaiting the events to unfold at convention. However we and he are all to aware of the past lines in the sand that were drawn and then broached without much thinking.

  11. @Rev. M. Dent #7

    Excellent argument on silos and original sin. I wish I had your words when a Blue Ribbon supporter asked me, “Would centralization of power be all that bad if we’ve elected a godly man?”

  12. “On page 6 of Pres. Kieschnick’s response to the proposals, he supports Prop 18 and sites several “realities.” Some of which are, “Another board allowed and approved travel budgets for one fiscal year of several hundred thousand dollars.” “Yet another program board discovered a significant over expenditure of its budget only after the departure of its former excecutive director.”

    So President Kieschnick’s argument is that these multiple boards have a history of over-spending and misspending money. Fine.

    So, before the LCMS consolidates power (and control of 80% of the synodical budget) in the President and his office, shouldn’t the spending history (budget, off-budget, including expense accounts) of the President and his office be thoroughly examined?

    TW

  13. Pastor Wilken,

    “So, before the LCMS consolidates power (and control of 80% of the synodical budget) in the President and his office, shouldn’t the spending history (budget, off-budget, including expense accounts) of the President and his office be thoroughly examined?”

    Yes, but how do we do that? The financial information that is available is for the most part pretty general.

  14. @Conv. Delegate #15

    From the LCMS Constitution:

    Full Financial Disclosure

    1.5.4 The Synod and each of its agencies shall fully disclose their financial books and records to any member congregation of the Synod.

    (a) Full disclosure includes all information (including, but not limited to, information required to be made available under state law) recorded in any fashion, except the following: (1) Information that would violate the expected confidentiality of donors. (2) Personnel files or other information that would violate the expected confidentiality of employees. (3) Information that relates to in-process negotiations of financial matters. (4) Information the disclosure of which would breach a legal obligation of the Synod or its agencies or affect pending litigation or claims against the Synod or its agencies. (5) Information that is preliminary in nature or otherwise has not been finalized in its form and content.

    (b) Salaries of elected officers of the Synod, as identified in Constitution Art. X A, shall be published annually in an official periodical.

    (c) The accounting department of the Synod shall publish annually in an official periodical an invitation to request full, audited financial statements and summary operating budgets of the Synod or its agencies.

    (d) The Synod and its agencies shall share, upon request, the quarterly financial statements as reported to the respective governing boards.

    (e) All information produced for normal publication or distribution shall be provided free of charge.

    (f) Requests for detailed financial information or the inspection of financial records shall be made in writing to the respective corporate boards by a member congregation and shall state the records desired and the time period to be covered. (1) All responses to requests for information involving research or compilation shall be billed to the member on the basis of actual costs. (2) Any inspection of financial records shall be done by (a) member(s) of the congregation or its stated authorized agent at a mutually agreeable time and place. (3) The board may decline to provide the information requested if the board can demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the member congregation’s request is with the specific intent to cause harm to the Synod or one of its agencies or with the sole intent of deliberately and significantly disrupting the operations and affairs of the Synod or one of its agencies. (4) Any declination to provide information or decision to limit inspection shall be explained in writing. (5) Challenges to any board decisions declining to provide information or to limit inspection may be reviewed under the Synod’s dispute resolution process.

    President Kieschnick is arguing that the existing boards have a track record of wasteful and irresponsible financial behavior, and he is asking the convention to give him (should he be reelected) control of 80% of the synodical budget andmost, if not all of the synodical bureaucracy. He is arguing that he will handle the money more responsibly.

    In order to make an informed decision, the delegates should be allowed to completelyexamine President Kieschnick’s financial track record while in office (budget, off-budget, including expense accounts).

    TW

  15. Dear Anon. Delegate (comment #1),

    The list of affected offices and positions comes from the flow chart in Appendix 3 of the Blue Ribbon Task Force Final Report. All affected offices and positions are diagrammed under the control of the “Chief Mission Officer.” The control of theological positions at universities is due to the fact that Bylaw 3.8.3.8.3 mandates that all initial appointments of theology faculty must be approved by the Board of University Education. Since that program board is being eliminated, its function would come under the Office of National Mission. At least, that is how it stands presently based on the report.

    I think the other comments above answer the question whether all that power under one man is good; and the history of US politics, as I briefly outlined it, answers it in another way.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  16. Proposal #18 is simply the corporate version of Transforming Churches. Has anyone noticed that “TC” used to stand for “Transforming Congregations,” but now it stands for “Transforming Churches.” Hello?

    Beware proposed structural changes under any circumstances, but the church should be especially wary of proposed structural revisions for the sake of “effectiveness” or “efficiency.” It’s all about power. And we know how the current SP loves power and how he wields it.

    Dr. Noland quotes David Luecke as supporting this proposal. I wonder if Luecke would support this proposal if Jack Preus were still the president. Would he give this power to Matthew Harrison, or John Wohlrabe, or Herb Mueller, for instance? I doubt it. In fact, I don’t think he’d give this kind of power to Walther himself.

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