ALPB President Evaluates President Harrison’s Election, By Martin R. Noland

Moderates in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod have not made much comment on the election of Matthew Harrison as President of the LCMS.  This is wise, since they did not expect his election and their political plans for the future would seem uncertain.

Yesterday while looking for something else, I found some commentary on the subject on the web here:

http://www.lutheranforum.org/articles/john-hannah/Change_of_Command/

The post is from September 2nd, 2010, so it is a bit dated by Internet standards, but I think worthy of a broader audience and discussion.

The author, the Rev. John Hannah, is the President of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau (ALPB) and a pastor in the Bronx.  He brings distinguished service and experience as a career pastor and U.S. Army chaplain, finishing as a Colonel.  The ALPB publishes Lutheran Forum and Lutheran Forum Online. The ALPB also publishes Forum Letter, and also has published an occasional book or two.  It has been known for its advocacy for an “American” form of Lutheranism in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, thus its name.  I used to read Lutheran Forum and Forum Letter regularly, especially when Richard John Neuhaus was involved; these days much less.

The relevant section about Harrison’s election, in Hannah’s article, states this:

“Harrison’s election was a surprise to many, including his supporters. Several factors seemed to play in his victory. Harrison aggressively sought the position; a great deal of money went into literature supporting his candidacy. (It seems that Lutherans no longer care that their pastors and bishops imitate American political candidates.) The very vocal purity cult of the LCMS supported him. There seems to be a clear transference of attitudes and sympathies from the secular political scene (e.g., Tea Party).”

I think there may be some truth to each of these factors, thus my interest in this article by Hannah.  But I am not convinced that he has characterized these factors, or causes, correctly.  Here is my perspective on these factors, for what my opinion is worth:

FACTOR ONE:  “Harrison aggressively sought the position.”  Well, yes, he did let his name stand and he cooperated with those who wanted to nominate him.  If you don’t do that, you can’t get elected—it is as simple as that.

The talk I heard from the conservatives, after summer 2007, was simply “Who is in the best position in terms of experience, electability, and loyalty to the official [i.e., Constitution Article II & VI] theology of the LCMS”?   When the question was phrased that way, it gradually became obvious that Harrison was the man.  There wasn’t a big debate over that issue; and, to my knowledge, he did not push himself, as others have done in the past.

FACTOR TWO:  “A great deal of money went into literature supporting his candidacy.”  I was not a delegate, so I didn’t receive much of anything in the mail, and so have no basis to judge.  You could argue that Lutheran Forum and Lutheran Forum Online get a lot of East Coast money to promote causes that are favorable to moderates and significantly affect elections.  I know Jesus First campaigned significantly for their candidates and issues.  To characterize this factor correctly, you need to look at both sides, not just at the side that supported Harrison.

FACTOR THREE:  “It seems that Lutherans no longer care that their pastors and bishops imitate American political candidates.”  I don’t like the alternative, namely, that the “bishops” determine what is good for the synod by determining its president.  We don’t have “bishops” in the LCMS for good reason.  We are a people’s church in our polity; but a confession-normed church in our theology and religious practice.  Since we are a people’s church in that way, with elections, some type of sorting out of potential candidates and publicizing of their qualities and positions is going to be necessary.  As long as it is done in a fraternal and Christian way, I can’t see anything wrong with that.  But it is true that it is often not fraternal or Christian.

FACTOR FOUR:  “The very vocal purity cult of the LCMS supported him.”  This depends on whom Hannah considers to be a member of the “LCMS purity cult.”  The following excerpt from the same article might help us understand what he means:

“Division is a construct of a dysfunctional group that cannot accept that we are allowed diversity, within the boundaries of Scripture and Confessions. Those who believe that they alone hold positions of synodical purity do not have a constitutional right to demand that all others agree with them. Nor do they have a constitutional right to disrupt the synod. Presumably members of this group trust Harrison and he is therefore well positioned to convince them to desist. No greater gift could be given the synod than a resolution to this persistent nuisance.”

I completely agree with Hannah that “we are allowed diversity within the boundaries of Scripture and Confessions.”  That is what we sign on to when we become LCMS rostered workers or when congregations are accepted into LCMS membership.  Variety and diversity is something I approve of, as long as it is within those boundaries.

I do not see myself as “holding a position of synodical purity.”  Maybe others do.  I don’t even know what that means or if this refers to me.  I consider myself faithful to what I obligated myself to when became ordained, and I consider it my duty to uphold that.  I see faithfulness to our confessions, not as a matter of purity, but as a matter of church unity.  If we all agree to accept the Lutheran confessions, in all their parts without conditions attached, then there is much less opportunity for discord.  That has always been the LCMS way of doing things, as any respectable scholar knows (e.g., see Theodore Tappert in his Lutheran Confessional Theology in America 1840-1880 [New York: Oxford, 1972]).  Does Hannah disagree with that?  I don’t know and can’t tell.

FACTOR FIVE:  “There seems to be a clear transference of attitudes and sympathies from the secular political scene (e.g., Tea Party).”

As far as I can tell, the “Tea Party” was anti-elitist and populist.  As far as I can tell, the “Tea Party” in the Republican Party helped the G.O.P. recover the House, gain five seats in the Senate, and gave a majority to Republican Governors.  Time magazine said: “Sarah Palin, Senator Jim DeMint, and Representative Ron Paul . . . define themselves as lonely agents of change fighting impossibly large institutional powers” (TIME  Sept., 27, 2010, p. 29).

I do not remember President Harrison defining himself in that way, nor do I think those who supported him used that approach.  So that was not a factor that defined Harrison, but it may have defined President Kieschnick.

Did the President of Synod give preferential treatment to pastors of mega-churches, or did he treat all pastors and congregations equally?  Is the Council of Presidents seen by most pastors and people as a group that attempts to help, or is it seen as a group that attempts to dominate?  Have the officers in the LCMS used their powers to “get their own way,” or used their powers to serve the pastors and congregations of the synod in a fair and equitable way?  These are questions that could answer the matter of the “Tea Party” effect.  These are questions that synodical officers always need to keep in mind.

Thanks to Pastor Hannah for offering a thought-provoking article!  What do you think?

Pastor Dr. Martin R. Noland
Trinity Lutheran Church
Evansville, IN


Comments

ALPB President Evaluates President Harrison’s Election, By Martin R. Noland — 33 Comments

  1. For the record, the ALPB still publishes Forum Letter. I’m the editor, and LCMS Pr. Peter Speckhard is the associate editor.

    Richard Johnson

  2. It doesn’t seem that he can say much for Harrison. I think Dr. Noland has bent over backwards to give a fair-minded evaluation of the article. But the author does seem to have an agenda, and it has a slightly sour grapes aroma. Not even faint praise.

    It also has a vaguely familiar ring to it, but I just can’t seem to place it. Where have I heard/read this kind of rhetoric and reporting before?

    Johannes

  3. Marty,

    Only LCMS Libs could read the word “purity” and think it was a bad thing.

    What do I think?

    I think I hear the sound of dinosaurs sinking slowly into the tar pit (or retirement).

    TW

  4. Pastor Noland was too kind on Hannah. There is nothing moderate about his comments. Simply put he is a very bad loser. Talk about “cult of purity” and “diversity” is a smoke screen. Every church body does and must draw a circle to define what is and what is not acceptable. Harrison was supported by those who have a certain vision of that circle and opposed by those who have a different vision. It is no more simple or complicated than that.

    Personally, I suspect that Harrison will have a very hard time changing that circle (notice I didn’t say making it smaller just changing it). He will set a different tone and emphasis. But I will be happy to buy the contributors to Steadfast a nice cigar after the first heresy trial is conducted in the LCMS under Harrison’s watch. He isn’t going to please Otten and he may not please Steadfast people in the long run. He’s a whole lot more Lutheran than the past President. But is he really ready for the house cleaning called for by confessionalists? Time will tell.

  5. Hannah’s bereaucraitc-sounding missive could have lined him up for a good Kieshnick PR person… 😛

  6. Division is a construct of a dysfunctional group that cannot accept that we are allowed diversity, within the boundaries of Scripture and Confessions.

    That statement seems to mean that anything outside those boundaries are extraneous and inappropriate to confess; hence a “purity cult.” I suppose one man’s “purity cult” is another man’s unconditional subscription to the doctrines we confess in the BoC.

  7. When I read articles like this and the infamous leaked letter to the editor that BJS brought up months ago I get really confused. This does not in any manner reflect the Rev. Matt Harrison who I have heard on Issues Etc, preaching sermons, and giving his address to the Synodical Convention. I thought he made it quite clear time after time that he did not really want this position.

    1st option- the malcontents are incredibly ignorant about Rev. Harrison.
    2nd option- they are performing an incredible defamation of character.
    3rd option- Rev. Harrison is that good of con artist- preaching and teaching as if he is a humble servant of the church, dedicated to acts of mercy all the while sporting a hidden political agenda for self-gain.

    A sad state of our synod when ignorance truly is the “best construction” on the given situation.

  8. I don’t have a specific comment on the article re: Pastor Harrison other than it seems to over reach. However as a student, observer and participant in politics I have felt for quite some time that the divisions within the LCMS have often mirrored and played themselves out with an uncanny similarity to the divisions within the Republican party. For me that is somewhat disturbing and, at least to my observation, show too much secular political influence within the church body …. on both sides of the fence.

  9. In addition to being an associater editor for Forum Letter, Peter Speckhard is the pastor at Faith Lutheran Church (LCMS), Green Bay, WI, and one of the moderators of ALPB Forum Online’s Your Turn blog. Recently he completed a review of the CTCR’s 162-page environmental report, “together with all creatures,” to be published in the Forum Letter. Rev. Speckhard also has been discussing his (unfavorable) review of the CTCR report on a couple of ALPB Forum Online threads, “stewardship of the environment haiku,” which he initially intended to be a haiku contest to summarize the CTCR document in a seventeen-syllable haiku poem (later expanded to include sonnets, villanelle, limericks, and other poems) and “together with all creatures,” for a more serious discussion.

    A (brief) comment on one of the ALPB blogs pointed out a “heretical” statement in the CTCR report (p. 89):

    “We are the first generation in history to see the population of the world double in our own lifetimes.”

  10. “Division is a construct of a dysfunctional group that cannot accept that we are allowed diversity, within the boundaries of Scripture and Confessions. Those who believe that they alone hold positions of synodical purity do not have a constitutional right to demand that all others agree with them. Nor do they have a constitutional right to disrupt the synod. Presumably members of this group trust Harrison and he is therefore well positioned to convince them to desist. No greater gift could be given the synod than a resolution to this persistent nuisance.”

    So in their allowance of diversity in the LCMS where exactly do the unionists draw the boundaries of Scripture and the Confessions?
    Can we pray with those who are praying to other gods? Can we call women and homosexuals to be our pastors? Must we believe everything God has given us in His word? Are we justified by grace through faith in Christ alone, or do we need to get busy in order to save our neighbor and ourselves?

    I am left to conclude from this author’s words that he thinks he should be the one to decide who will be allowed a seat at the Missouri table and that includes many, but not the supremely unforgivable Confessional purist nuisances. How non-diverse of him. I guess this champion of diversity is at least willing to grant the purists the right to remain silent.

  11. CS states things well.

    At first read, I find this to be a political whine from the side that lost. I find “diveristy” people have a tendancy to always want to push the boundries to see how far they will go, and maybe stretch them farther yet. I liken it to the marriage triangle concept. Three people in the marraige, and if you want to grow closer together, it is best to grow closer to God. Because the closer you grow to Jesus, it is only natural that you will then be brought closer to your spouse. So diveristy values the differences, and I say that then has us focus on things other the the cross. It is only natural that there is disunity in the church when far too many are relying on secular constructs than the Word of God. I think it basically is an abuse of our Christian freedom.

    And let’s be clear: Satan absolutes relishes this disharmony.

  12. I got it! The only word missing from Hannah’s article is “extremist.” When you get right down to it, that’s what he’s really saying about those who worked for and voted for Pres. Harrison. Oh, he’s not calling Harrison an extremist–just anyone associated with him. Now the familiar ring makes sense, and we can all figure out the similarity to other such rhetoric we’ve seen and heard in the media.

    Johannes (extreme curmudgeon)

  13. I would just like to say that ALPB Forum Online is a great place for interplay and interaction across the Lutheran fabric of the U.S. Perhaps because there is a range between staunch LCMS conservatives to hard core ELCA liberals it comes off as moderate. In that sense it is, and in that sense it is extremely valuable as a resource for observing the trends and currents in modern American Lutheranism. The LCMS comes in for criticism as does the ELCA (especially the ELCA). During the run up to Pr. Harrison’s election I did not detect any notable bias for or against either Pr. Kieschnick or Pr. Harrison. The greatest controversy involving BJS (or this site, rather) was over the formation of the ACELC, which was viewed by many, including many of the conservatives, as being premature. I will not name names as to who the LCMS conservatives are who frequent ALPB – they are very open about who they are, and they do occasionally disagree with each other – but they are names that are probably very familiar to many of the regular visitors to this site and listeners to Issues, Etc.

  14. @SKPeterson #14
    I have no problem with conservative Lutherans interacting with liberals at the ALPB Forum Online or at any other place of dialogue. In my estimation this is a good thing. I know little about the ALPB, but it appears that it is a leftward leaning organization based on the viewpoints of some in its leadership.

    I do find it humorous that one of their leaders apparently can’t handle having to interact with Missouri’s purists. This sounds kind of elitist and exclusionary coming from such an open minded guy. I wonder how upsetting it is to him that purists are even allowed a voice on ALPB’s Forum.

  15. Perhaps Rev. Hannah’s use of the word “purity” in his statement “the very vocal purity cult of the LCMS supported him” is akin to President Kieschnick’s straw man of “incessant internal purification.”

  16. Dear Pastor @Richard Johnson #1

    Thanks for catching my error regarding “Forum Letter.” I have asked that my post be revised to reflect your correction.

    I based my statements on the tab “About Us” in the “Lutheran Forum” homepage. It does not mention “Forum Letter” and I had heard that your newsletter had gone online, and it has been awhile since I have seen it in print. But then I don’t frequent the Fuerbringer library once a month like I used to. Maybe some other publication went online with its newsletter.

    Anyway, my apologies for my error. No mischief or slight intended. I am glad that you are keeping Forum Letter in print, because it is a good source for us Midwesterners to find out what East Coast Lutherans are doing and thinking.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  17. @CS #16 – It is interesting. Maybe it is because the Forum Online does not have any litmus tests whatsoever that more conservative voices are heard there. From what I can tell, they are actually in the ascendancy, or at least a very active component, on Forum Online. ALPB has served as a unique form of inter-pastoral ministry in many respects with several of the LCMS conservatives reaching out and providing encouragement, advice and counsel to many of the ELCA traditionalists who have been marginalized and/or are moving out of the ELCA to other denominations. It is also a soapbox for those whining about the travails that have befallen the ELCA.

    I do encourage BJS readers/members to check out ALPB on occasion. There is a great diversity of viewpoints (some maybe not so Lutheran or even borderline heretical, so be warned) that would be of benefit to many laymen. I know I have learned quite a bit from the postings on the Forum and from the discussions, insights and the give-and-take that characterize the posts.

  18. @SKPeterson #20
    I do check out ALPB occasionally and often learn a bit of LCMS history in the process. I really should read it more often because I really enjoy reading the posts of the Revs. Gard, Weedon, and Hess.

  19. @Martin R. Noland #18
    Anyway, my apologies for my error. No mischief or slight intended. I am glad that you are keeping Forum Letter in print, because it is a good source for us Midwesterners to find out what East Coast Lutherans are doing and thinking.

    No mischief attributed. But if you want to take advantage of that good source, you really should read it. Then you’d know it was still in print.

    But as for “East Coast Lutherans,” well . . . I live in California, as my family has since 1852. And Pr. Speckhard is in Wisconsin. Last time I looked, neither of us were representative of “East Coast Lutherans.”

  20. I do not believe Rev. Hannah understands the inner workings of LCMS politics very well at all. First, anyone who has been a delegate to a Synodical convention in the past decade can attest to how much money gets spent on campaigning; not by the candidates themselves but by their supporters and fellow travelers. It is annoying and unseemly at times but certainly nothing new. Second; behind the scenes politicing by the candidates has been around since the little log cabin in Perry county. Third, his ‘purity cult’ comment is rubbish. The same group of delegates that elected Rev. Harrison also approved sweeping changes to the structure of the synod, which is to say it gave former President Keishnick virtually everything he asked for, except another term in office. What happened at the 2010 convention is to say the least complex, and more than a little bizarre. It will take more than slapping a few ideological labels on the usual subjects to understand what exactly was going on.

  21. “What happened at the 2010 convention is to say the least complex, and more than a little bizarre. It will take more than slapping a few ideological labels on the usual subjects to understand what exactly was going on.”

    Do you think it is possible that through all the efforts to “sell” certain ideas that the promoters did not clearly communicate what they were selling?

    Also, the “purity cult” comment seems pretty offensive. Does he think that is salve for the situation? I mean “cult” certainly has negative connotations. So what is the other end of the spectrum from purity? corruption? Should some be called the “corruption cult”? Would that be helpful? I can’t see how.

  22. @Mrs. Hume #24
    On the face of it I would say that the Kieshnick administration did too well by half their job of selling change. The purity cult comment is probably insulting, I don’t much care and am not much intrested in namecalling; more importantly it lays blame while ignoring the tenure of President Kieshnick, as well as the fact that Rev. Harrison was well known figure before his candidacy. Both held high level Synodical offices for the same amount of time and at the same time, it was indeed an ‘apples to apples’ comparison between the two candidates. Rev. Hannah is welcome to his own opinion, you can certainly say that President Harrison campaigned agressively, however if you look back to President Kieshnick’s comments about the nomination numbers, (that they indicated that the Synod as a whole was satisfied with his leadership) one gets the impression that President Kieshnick was either out of touch with what was actually going on or had severely underestimated the other candidate’s popularity. This of course is speculation, the dynamics of what happened in the 2010 convention will take careful and unbiased study of facts, not bandying about the usual hyperbolic stereotypes.

  23. “Harrison’s election was a surprise to many, including his supporters. Several factors seemed to play in his victory. Harrison aggressively sought the position; a great deal of money went into literature supporting his candidacy. (It seems that Lutherans no longer care that their pastors and bishops imitate American political candidates.) The very vocal purity cult of the LCMS supported him. There seems to be a clear transference of attitudes and sympathies from the secular political scene (e.g., Tea Party).” –Hannah, via Noland

    This is almost a point for point repetition of the “us1st’ers” arguments against Harrison.
    [Has nobody but me noticed that their complaints about others almost invariably describe what they are doing themselves at the time!?]
    (They’re a cult, but purity hasn’t much to do with it… someone this week said, “They’re pietists”. Could be.)

    The only thing he missed was “small group of bitter [losers]” but it was post-election so… not this time. 😉

    “us1st” has acted for 10+ years as if they were the only group allowed to choose a candidate [“WE will win. I have a plan”] organize, send campaign literature (a flood!) and, in short, control synod.

    IMO, the similarity to the secular scene is a coincidence: People trying to pay their bills get tired of seeing their money wasted at “the top”.

  24. Anyone who thinks that Dr. Kieschnick did not actively campaign before his first election to Pres. is smoking something. I was at our district’s 2000 Convention, and he was the featured speaker. It was a campaign speech from beginning to end, except he didn’t say “vote for me.” He was blatantly critical of Pres. Barry. I have no doubt that he owed a great deal to more than a few DP’s who invited him to speak at their 2000 conventions. Perhaps JF and others did some of his dirty work, but he campaigned from the get-go, and continued for the next nine years.

    So Rev. Hannah has nothing to gripe about, and indeed should not even make “running” an issue.

    Johannes (sheesh!)

  25. I’ve never considered the pursuit of doctrinal “purity” to be something to be ashamed of. The next thing you know we’ll all be answering to the charge of “Word and Sacrament Clique” or the “Justification by Faith Alone Faction”.

  26. #4 Kitty :
    I’ve never considered the pursuit of doctrinal “purity” to be something to be ashamed of. The next thing you know we’ll all be answering to the charge of “Word and Sacrament Clique” or the “Justification by Faith Alone Faction”.

    Very nice, Kitty. You nailed it!

    Johannes

  27. Good observation by Helen. Hannah’s analysis looks like he ripped a page out he the JesusFirst playbook. What has to frost JesusFirst is that they got beat at their own game.

    Regarding the passing of the Blue Ribbon recommendations and the defeat of JK, I believe the best analysis I heard of that was by Molly. In talking to the delegates, she found that many of them were not well versed theologically on the differences but they knew there needed to be a change in the synod. Also the delegates were all for running things more efficiently and cost effectively. (This reflects the business back ground of many.) They felt the Blue Ribbon recommendations would help the synod run more efficiently (and cheaply?). I am not saying I agree with their reasoning but it does explain the voting results.

  28. Too bad the synodical treasurer’s assessment of the likely “savings” from restructuring [“very little”] wasn’t put on a billboard near the convention center…
    Or pasted to every delegate’s bathroom mirror?

  29. I do remember within ‘Scripture and Confessions’ we are called to be faithful, not diverse. I have never been a member of a cult and am not a member at this time. I am a Confessional Lutheran, but that has never been a keyword for ‘purity cult’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.