The Two Amendments: Why I’m Recommending “Against” (by Pr. Charles Henrickson)

On Sunday, March 6, at a special voters’ assembly, our congregation will be voting on two proposed amendments to the Constitution of our Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. (The deadline for the ballot to be received is March 15.) I am recommending that we vote “against the proposed amendment” on each. Let me tell you a little bit about these amendments and why I’m inclined to vote against them.

Both of these proposals came out of former President Kieschnick’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance. They then went through Floor Committee 8 and were presented as resolutions (8-10 and 8-27) to the LCMS Convention in Houston last July. They were approved by the necessary two-thirds vote and sent out to all the congregations of the Synod for possible ratification. If approved by two-thirds of the congregations responding, the proposed amendments would go into effect. Short of that two-thirds ratification, the amendments fail.

Right off the bat, my “default mode” is to vote “No” on these two amendments. First, in general, I am wary of amending constitutions, period. Unless someone can make a compelling case for why this or that amendment is necessary, I say “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Up to this point, I have not seen a compelling, persuasive argument for why either of these amendments is needed. The burden of proof should be on those who want to change the Constitution.

Second, I am wary of anything coming out of the previous president’s Blue Ribbon Task Force. As a whole, I was very much opposed to the direction that that president and his task force were taking: moving power up and away from congregations and the Synod in convention, and amassing power “up the ladder” of the hierarchy. So again, my “default mode” is to vote “No” on proposals from the previous president’s task force and the floor committee he appointed.

Now as to the amendments themselves: Proposed Constitutional Amendment A would amend Articles X and XI by striking “Vice-President-Finance–Treasurer” from the list of officers of Synod. But this proposed amendment is related to a bylaw change that was approved–by a very narrow margin, 52%-48%–in a different resolution (8-39) at the convention. That resolution changed the Treasurer from being an elected office to an appointed office. Instead of being elected by the Synod in convention, as was historically the case, the Treasurer now is appointed by a smaller group, the Board of Directors, with the concurrence of the Synod President.

I thought that was a bad idea at the time and, as a delegate, voted against it. It takes power away from the Synod in convention and moves it to a smaller group of people. I am generally in favor of such positions being elected rather than appointed. In every congregation I’ve been a part of, the treasurer has been elected and has been one of the executive officers of the church council. I think that should be the case also at the synodical level and would like to see that bylaw change reversed at a future convention.

Can we get a good Treasurer via appointment rather than election? Yes, to be sure, and I hope that our newly appointed Treasurer will be such a man. But we have had good treasurers via election in the past, and I would rather have the convention as a whole “take ownership” and be able to elect this office.

However, if we pass this proposed amendment, it will “lock us in” more on the Treasurer being appointed rather than elected. It will make it harder to undo the bylaw change in the future. So these are reasons I would vote “against the proposed amendment” on Constitutional Amendment A.

More briefly, on Constitutional Amendment B, this would add a new article to the Constitution, on the relation of the Bylaws to the Constitution. But I do not see any need for such an article. I am not aware of any problem in that regard. It seems fairly self-evident, and our synod has functioned for over 160 years without such an article. I don’t know why this proposal was put forward, and there is enough language in the wording (e.g., “binding regulations”) to cause one to wonder how it could be used politically at some point in the future. So, lacking a compelling argument for its necessity, I would vote “against the proposed amendment” also on Constitutional Amendment B.


The Two Amendments: Why I’m Recommending “Against” (by Pr. Charles Henrickson) — 21 Comments

  1. There are additional reasons to oppose these two amendments, which are discussed in the earlier BJS thread, “Handling 2010 Convention Resolutions 8-10 and 9-27

    It is disturbing that the text of the amendment texts that has NOT yet been constitutionally approved is now included within the Constitution in the 2010 Handbook and the currently, and still valid (!), constitutional text has been relegated as a footnote (pp. 17 and 22).

  2. Carl,
    A very interesting point. It has been my understanding in the past that the handbook after convention was not to be printed or put together until after such things as these admendments had fully passed!! Interesting indeed!

  3. “there is enough language in the wording (e.g., “binding regulations”) to cause one to wonder how it could be used politically at some point in the future.”

    Having some experience with the previous administration I can say that there were many occasions when what seemed to be a minor provision or loophole in the bylaws, procedures, etc. was used either to obstruct or thrust through something that no one else ever envisioned or imagined was authorised by those provisions, i.e. “An opening big enough to drive a Mack truck through.”

    Everything that came out of that Blue Ribbon Task Force should be scrutinized very carefully with the consideration of how it might be construed in the future. Based on my experience I too see all sorts of possible repercussions that on the surface would not be evident to anyone reading it through the lens of how our Synod has normally functioned in the past.

    I realize Pres. Harrison has to “play the hand he has been dealt” and I think people in the Synod are fed up anyway with endless structure task forces, bylaw changes, etc. So I don’t think he can propose undoing all of it already at the next convention. But he and his team need to identify the worst changes that could be the most troublesome should the Synod’s leadership shift again and get changed what they reasonably can. Lord willing if he stays in office a number of terms I hope most of the changes will be gradually turned back over a series of conventions — without spending millions on another special task force, endlessly flying people all over the country, mini pre-convention conventions, etc.

  4. @Carl Vehse #1

    Can anyone explain why the 2010 Handbook was published with the as yet un-ratified changes to the LCMS Constitution as the main text? Shouldn’t the main text of the Constitution remain unchanged until the proposed changes are ratified? Shouldn’t the as yet un-ratified changes be the footnote?

    Why couldn’t we wait to publish the Handbook until the congregations have approved or disapproved the changes?


  5. Todd Wilken : Why couldn’t we wait to publish the Handbook until the congregations have approved or disapproved the changes?

    I’m hoping that is what happens. What is posted right now may be only a tentative, online draft. I agree, though, that even an online draft should have the current wording “up top” and put the proposed wording in the footnote.

    As far as I know, the print edition of the 2010 Handbook has not yet been published. The print copy should surely wait until we know the results of the balloting. We’re only talking a few more weeks, in order to know one way or the other. The deadline for the official ballots to be received by the Secretary is March 15.

    BTW, if anyone’s congregation has not yet voted, and you would like to, but you cannot find the official ballot (it was mailed out back in September), you should contact Secretary Hartwig’s office ASAP to request a replacement ballot, and you should also get a special voters’ assembly scheduled ASAP. (A special, single-issue VA like this could take as little as ten minutes after service, if people have read the proposals ahead of time.)

    Again, your congregation’s completed ballot has to be received by Secretary Hartwig’s office by March 15.

  6. What kind of response is expected on these proposed amendments? Our congregation to my knowledge is not even voting on them

  7. It doesn’t seem to be a “draft” version here. Nor do the footnotes on pp. 17 and 22 indicated a “final” final version of the 2010 Handbook will be produced. Also, in the Foreward Secretary Raymond L. Hartwig states

    “Other changes resulting from the much-publicized work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance permeate the entire content of this Handbook, including two possible constitutional changes, to be ratified by the congregations of the Synod”

    and then Hartwig concludes

    “The Commission on Handbook presents this 2010 edition of the Handbook of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod to the Synod with changes in place” [emphasis added]

    Perhaps the CCM has a novel interpretation of the requirement in the 2007 Handbook, Article XIV.4: “… The proposed amendment shall become effective at the expiration of six months from the date on which the amendment is submitted for vote, provided a two-thirds majority of the votes cast within that period shall have favored the amendment.

    Or maybe the six-month wait from September 15, 2010 , is simply moot, if more that two-thirds of the congregations had already reported their approval of the amendments by the time the 2010 Handbook was produced and published on the LCMS site earlier this month.

  8. Regarding the amendments themselves, I tend to agree with Pastor Henrickson about Amendment A. I would rather leave this with the Convention than with the Board of Directors, which under the current process still has the privilege of nominating the only candidate (other than floor nominations) for treasurer.

    Regarding Amendment B, however, I would respectfully disagree … and for reasons related to my opposition to Amendment A. Amendment B simply says that the Constitution trumps the Bylaws, not the other way around. This should be a no-brainer, but a few years ago, the Board of Directors tried to call into question the primacy of the Constitution over the Bylaws. It could happen again. (At the same time, the Constitution will continue to trump the Bylaws, even if this amendment is not ratified.)

  9. @Larry Kleinschmidt #9
    Larry – If our Synod has(d) a Board of Directors which cannot comprehend the primacy of a constitution over the secondary nature of by-laws, I would conclude the least of our problems would be in their attempt at application. Put another way, in forty years when your grandchildren are reading the LC-MS Constitution, would you want them to ponder why, in 2010, did we find it necessary to state what is a given throughout all organizations in our society? I can not conceive of any organization being so scatter-brained as to confuse the function of a constitution verses a set of by-laws. There’s a reason they are called BY-LAWS! You were most correct by referring to this as a “no-brainer;” it’s very existance frightens me (if they cannot differentiate constitution vs. by-laws, by God’s mercy, how will they ever distinguish between Law and Gospel – really – is this leadership???)

    PS Our congregation saw no benefit to be derived from either proposal; ergo, we cast negative votes on proposal A and proposal B.


  10. If Res 9-27 gets ratified then the phrase, ” binding resolutions “, gets ensconced in the Constitution and then the CCM will then determine if a said bylaw that was ratified by a convention is constitutional or against the constitution, and as the CCM is an appointed committee at the discretion of the Synod President, guess what the decisions will be.

    Oh blessed tyranny, slaves of the C.O.P. and Synod Presidency, church and ministry and all things holy given to men of the devil’s own, what will deliver us if not His Word, if not His Word then all devils rejoice when His Word is ignored, falsified and covered over, Antichrist reigns in the church, by the breath of His mouth and blessed coming we shall overcome.

  11. # 9: “Amendment B simply says that the Constitution trumps the Bylaws”

    Amendment B does NOT simply say that. The Bylaws ALREADY say that. The Bylaws also give the CCM the responsibility to make sure proposed Bylaws do not trump the Constitution.

    It is the other parts of Amendment B which conflict with, and will alter, Article VI and VI of the Constitution. That is a major problem since it will alter the congregational polity of the Synod.

    It is the other parts of Amendment B that potentially could require holding another convention before 2013, since Amendment B would prevent the implementation of Res. 8-12A and the use of Bylaw 7.1.2.

  12. One thing we can hope for is that the ammendments need 2/3 passage by the congregations. I am very much hoping that this is ALL congregations, not just among the ones votoing. (US Congress is similar in overriding vetoes…) Since these were contentious enough at convention, 2/3 yes votes may not be a given. I don’t know about my new congregation enough yet, but the one I just left was bad about LC-MS participation. I would not be surprised (and kinda hope) that they would not even bother to vote. Hence 2/3 yes to pass mean all no votes AND abstained votes will tally together to make 1/3+, and due to lack of support, the ammendments fail. Can we hope?…

  13. @Larry Kleinschmidt #9

    Larry — including “binding” in the wording makes me very afraid — if this amendment passes what kind of mack truck will pushed through that one word in the future? The relationship between churches and synod now is advisory — including this word may make all kinds of changes in the future.

    For this reason I’m going to strongly recommend to the church that I am a member of that we reject both of these amendments this Sunday at our voter’s meeting.

  14. Todd Wilken :
    Can anyone explain why the 2010 Handbook was published with the as yet un-ratified changes to the LCMS Constitution as the main text? Shouldn’t the main text of the Constitution remain unchanged until the proposed changes are ratified? Shouldn’t the as yet un-ratified changes be the footnote?
    Why couldn’t we wait to publish the Handbook until the congregations have approved or disapproved the changes?

    I cannot provide the answer to this question, but if I were a betting man, I would say that it is probably the same reason the new handbook came out after the 1998 convention with the same “if these amendments are not ratified then the old text is” footnote. And every convention that has had a constitutional amendment since then has published the new handbook in this fashion, with the new text in the main body and the “former” text in the footnote. (I don’t know how far back this practice goes, but I remember ’98 so distinctly because it was my first, new handbook after being ordained, so I skimmed through it immediately upon arrival. Since then, it gets thrown onto the pile of “if I get to it” perusal.) The addition of “Directors of Parish Music” were also included in 2001 before the amendment was ratified. This was even the case in 2004 the CCM and BOD were having their tiff and there was a failed constitutional amendment that attempted to change the Constitution so that it would say what the CCM said it already said. The handbook sent to every congregation has the amendment in the body of the text with the “former” language was in the footnote (2004 Handbook, p. 17).

    It may be bad practice, but it is a practice that is consistent with what we have done in our recent past. If we are going to discuss why it should or should not be the practice, let us at least recognize that it is not a further continuance of the “vast, BRTFSSG conspiracy” but a part of the way that we have done things for at least the past dozen years (and probably longer – I don’t have ready access to handbooks prior to 1998).

  15. Norm Fisher: “what kind of mack truck will pushed through that one word in the future?”

    Norm, how about a bulldozer? Previously, the convention had the authority to overturn a CCM opinion by a simple majority, assuming, of course, the relevant floor committee would even let such a motion ever reach the convention floor.

    If Amendment B passed, the CCM can opine that some given bylaw (as they interpret it!) contradicts the Constitution and thus is void. If the synodical convention were to ever get a chance to vote on a resolution to overturn such a CCM opinion (hey, maybe with genetic engineering pigs could fly!) they may be faced with a requirement that a two-thirds vote by delegates and a two-thirds vote by congregations may be required to reverse the CCM opinion that the bylaw is actually in compliance with the Constitution. Or the CCM could simply opine a ruling that the motion to overturn the previous CCM opinion would violate some aspect of the Constitution.

    Even if the convention were to force through a resolution creating a bylaw stating that the previous CCM opinion could be overruled by a simple majority, the CCM could come back with a opinion, based on Amendment B that such a resolution-enacted bylaw itself violates the Constitution. And the CCM would have another 3-year cycle to shore that opinion up before facing another convention.

    Amendment B would be a ticking time-bomb. With a confessional Lutheran as Synodical President it probably won’t go off. But like the January 1992 CCM opinion did (a decade later), when it goes off you’ll definitely going to hear it!

  16. It seems to me that by removing the treasurer from the board, Amendment A would mean that he would no longer have a guaranteed seat and voice. Currently, he is a non-voting member, but I’ll bet he can stay for the entire meeting and be present when the board goes into executive session. He gets to speak at the meetings and see everything the board sees. Not necessarily so with Amendment A.

    Amendment B would fix in stone the simple majority rule for by-laws by putting it in the constitution. If the delegates in convention can currently choose to adopt a super-majority rule for some big matter before them, then would that still be possible with Amendment B in place?

  17. The big question is, of course: Will this be Pastor Hendrickson’s reaction when his congregation and the Synod shred these amendments?

    [youtube RP4abiHdQpc 450]

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