It has been three district conventions cycles since delegates got to ask questions of the synod president without his handlers working them over, the questions that is. In recent memory questions for the synod president had to be written out, turned in well before the Q and A question and then the president would pick and choose ahead of time which questions would be addressed.
That is what made it very refreshing to see President Harrison simply call delegates to the microphones and ask whatever question they had on their mind. That sort of approach builds trust and helps to demonstrate that the synodical president is confident in his doctrinal and bureaucratic positions and policies. It also suggests that he personally practices the principles of his Koinonia project, i.e. be willing to listen to others and have true and open discussion on the matters that divide us.
Here is a paraphrase of two the questions and answers: (delegates to the convention are welcome to fine tune these paraphrases in the comment section below or share other questions and answers that they recall)
Question: Now that you have been in office for a while, what do you think of the Restructuring Proposals that you originally opposed? Answer: Who told you I originally opposed them? (chuckle from the delegates). The synod convention approved the proposals and so it is my duty to carry out their wishes. These proposals give the synod president ten times more authority than he had previously. This authority has allowed us to get much further along in realizing our vision for the synod. I am committed to handling that authority with humility. In the long run, it will be the synod who will decide if I have properly handled this authority or not.
Question: Is there a pastor shortage in the LCMS? Answer: No. However, over the next 10-15 years we face large retiring classes of pastors so I encourage you young men to go to the seminary.
I was surprised that there were no really hard questions. I can think of a few reasons that might be the case. Harrison has been careful in his first year and a half to build trust and confidence and not rock too many boats. He has also been consumed with working out all of the details of the Structure Proposals. They were broad-ranging and sweeping but they were not well thought through and were not necessarily consistent with each other. It has been yeoman’s work to systematize them and get them ready for the real world. It also strikes me that critical questions of Harrison and his confessional approach would be hard to come by. It’s hard to imagine someone going to the mic and saying “Mr. President, why is it that you oppose opening up the communion rail for non-Lutherans?” (By the way, President Harrison made it a point to call it “closed” and not “close” communion.) Or “Mr. President, why have you completely cut off the LCMS from doing joint mercy projects with the ELCA?” Those and other critical questions would just seem out-of-place.
As I listened to President Harrison take questions and answers directly from the convention floor I saw one of my brothers from the other side of the LCMS political fence watching him with curiosity. Moved by Harrison’s Scriptural teaching, energy, humor and charisma, I thought to myself, this guy must be thinking something on the line of “It’s going to be a long time before we get the synod presidency back.” Or maybe he was thinking, “This guy just may be able to lead us to greater unity in the Gospel.” I hope it’s the latter.