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.”

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