The number of nominations for synodical president and vice-presidents were released last week. The most significant datum was the difference in nominations between the incumbent, President Gerald Kieschnick, and the leading candidate, the Rev. Matthew Harrison. The former received 755 nominations and the latter 1,332 nominations. That is a difference of 577 nominations; or put another way, Harrison obtained 64% of the Kieschnick/Harrison nominations (1332 divided by 755+1322). What does this mean?
Most simply and directly, it means that out of the congregations nominating these two candidates, close to two-thirds nominated Harrison. I am not aware that any synodical convention has seen an incumbent challenged by that big of a difference in nominations by the next closest candidate. Mollie Hemingway has reported on the recent numbers here: https://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=9809
Besides Harrison’s two-thirds lead, what does this mean? We won’t know for sure until the elections in Houston, but I think it means the passing of a generation of Lutheran pastors and their allied lay leaders. If I am right, I will stand at attention and salute them, for they carried on the Gospel during troubled times in our society and our church. They deserve all of our respect and honor.
Here is why I think it is the passing of a generation. Let us say that pastors retire at age 75 from full-time service and activity at the synodical level. I know many retire earlier, but let’s use that figure as an outside number. Let’s also assume that these pastors were ordained and began ministry at age 25. I know a few started younger back when there was only a B.Div., and many have started later due to second-careers. But let’s use that as an outside number.
Here we are in the year 2010. Pastors retiring this year at age 75 were born in 1935 and began their ministry in 1960. These men, who are the most senior pastors active in the synod today, bore the brunt of the synodical controversies in the 1960s and early 1970s. Let’s call them the “troubled generation.” Most of them were torn between their allegiance to their friends and liberal seminary professors, on the one side, and their allegiance to the Lutheran faith and the LCMS, on the other. They endured fifteen years of conflict in the synod, at synodical conventions, district conventions, and circuit meetings. Then the whole thing “blew up” in 1974-76.
Starting with ordinations in 1976, younger pastors entering into ministry were neither trained by liberal-oriented professors nor had to deal with the old synodical conflicts. Let’s call them the “loyal generation.” That means that there presently are 16 years (1960-1976) worth of pastors who were from the “troubled” generation and 33 years (1976-2009) worth of pastors from the “loyal generation.” Doing the math, in a general way, this means that two-thirds of the pastors in our synod are from the “loyal generation” and one-third from the “troubled generation.”
The nominations match the split in generations. It means that the pastors of the “loyal generation” now outnumber the “troubled generation” two to one. That will see significant results in the 2010 and future conventions.
If this thinking is correct, i.e., that nominations approximate the split between generations of pastors in the LCMS, then why didn’t the “loyal generation” of pastors and their lay allies “take the helm” when they were in the majority. That would have happened, by the same calculations, in the year 2001. In that year, the “troubled generation” had 25 years worth of pastors (1951-1976) and the “loyal generation” had 25 years worth of pastors (1976-2001).
The completely unexpected death of President Barry was certainly one reason. The “loyal generation” was expecting his re-election and had not vetted a candidate to replace him, as became obvious when they put forth several candidatesâ€”against each other! The other reason may be that there were no candidates in the “loyal generation” (ordained 1976 or thereafter) who had sufficient administrative and synodical experience to be qualified for synodical president.
Comes now Matthew Harrison, fully qualified in every area. He was ordained in 1991, which makes him younger than 15 years worth of pastors and older than 18 years worth of pastors within the “loyal generation.” He is old enough to remember hearing about the conflicts in the LCMS, but young enough to not have become involved in those battles personally. Like most of his generation, he would rather engage people in dialogue and discussion rather than doctrinaire lecturing or accusation. His approach and manner is winsome and personal, not pedantic or officious. In other words, he appeals to the “loyal generation” and this is why he has become the leader for the present “loyal generation” of LCMS pastors and laymen.