In light of the recent encouragement of District President Linnemann of the Northwest District, to unseat President Matthew Harrison and replace him with David Maier, I thought it would be helpful to grade Harrison’s first term according to the standard he is accountable to – the LCMS Constitution and By-laws. As Jim Pierce and Scott Diekmann have shown in other posts, DP Linnemann used an unusual metric by which to measure President Harrison – his ability to engage the culture. That is an interesting measurement but really has nothing to do with the president’s stated duties.
I give President Harrison a grade of A-. It might have been a lower grade had he not been given the huge distraction of spelling out and implementing the Blue Ribbon proposals from the last convention that almost totally reworked the structure of synod. He and his staff have done an incredibly fine job with that task.
His grade might have been higher had he handled the Newtown issue better. We shall share more about that below.
Overall, for a first term, President Harrison has performed his duties very well. Many traditional LCMS members were looking for him to shake things up more than he did but my guess is that he has chosen to take the first three years to build trust in all corners of the synod before making too many bold moves and I nave taken that into consideration in assigning my grade.
I have provided the text of the two major sections of the Constitution and Bylaws that involve the duties of the president. I have given a grade for most of the sections of the Constitution and only for those things in the Bylaws that go into more detail than the Constitution. (The Constitution and Bylaws are in italics and my comments are in plain font.)
Feel free to offer your own grade in the comment section below.
Overall Grade: A-
Constitution Article XI.B – Rights and Duties of Officers
1. The President has the supervision regarding the doctrine and the administration of
a. All officers of the Synod; b. All such as are employed by the Synod; c. The individual districts of the Synod; d. All district presidents.
Grade: A I give Harrison an A grade here for two reasons. He has done an excellent job of filling positions in the International Center, hiring faithful and talented employees. The one interaction that we know of for sure with District Presidents is the Newtown incident. We will have critical comments on that below but in terms of providing oversight for DP Yeadon on that matter, Harrison was definitely Johnny on the spot.
2. It is the President’s duty to see to it that all the aforementioned act in accordance with the Synod’s Constitution, to admonish all who in any way depart from it, and, if such admonition is not heeded, to report such cases to the Synod.
Grade: A Harrison worked faithfully to have the aforementioned parties comply with the constitution.
3. The President has and always shall have the power to advise, admonish, and reprove. He shall conscientiously use all means at his command to promote and maintain unity of doctrine and practice in all the districts of the Synod.
Grade: C- Here President Harrison let us down. I am thinking of the Newtown incident. He get’s “A’s” on the previous two subsets but when it actually comes to admonishing and reproving, the grade is nearly failing because we still have ministering among us a pastor who clearly violated Scripture and our by-laws (the Newtown syncretism and unionism) who has gone without the president’s reproving. We are left with disunity of doctrine. As I say, the grade would be worse were it not for the second “once in a lifetime incident” that occurred a few weeks later. I am referring to the Boston Marathon tragedy. I have no proof to offer you but I am convinced that President Harrison’s clear statement that Newtown was syncretistic and unionistic (even though he left the errorist without reproof) was the main motivation for President Yeadon and the people of First Lutheran in Boston to hold their own service rather than following the unionistic and syncretistic model in Newtown. Had there been unreproved syncretism and unionism in Boston I would be calling for the defeat of Harrison. Given the exact opposite was the case, with genuine care and compassion expressed by the LCMS in Boston without syncretism and unionism, President Harrison gets part of the credit, a major part. (Thanks to President Yeadon as well.)
4. The President shall see to it that the resolutions of the Synod are carried out.
Grade: A+ (see #7 below)
5. When the Synod meets in convention, the President shall give a report of his administration. He shall conduct the sessions of the convention so that all things are done in a Christian manner and in accord with the Constitution and Bylaws of the Synod.
6. It is the duty of the President, or an officer of the Synod appointed by the President, to be present at the meetings of the districts, to advise them, and to report at the next session of the Synod.
Grade: B In my own district (Northern Illinois) Harrison and First Vice President Mueller hit a home run with their presentation. I have heard first hand reports from other districts however, that Harrison was weak on supporting the historic liturgy and instead gave too much room for alternative formats.
7. The President shall perform all additional duties assigned to him by the Bylaws or by special resolution of the Synod in convention.
Grade: A+ Harrison and his team (mostly the three assistants Vieker, Colver and Below) could not have done better defining and implementing the structural changes mandated by the last convention. We cannot overestimate the amount of time and attention this demanded. The fine work they did on this outweighs most of whatever anyone wants to criticize them for.
8. When matters arise between meetings of the Synod in convention which are of such a nature that action thereon cannot be delayed until the next convention, the President is authorized to submit them to a written vote of the member congregations of the Synod only after full and complete information regarding the matter has been sent to member congregations by presidential letter and has been published in an official periodical of the Synod. If such matters
are related to the business affairs of the Synod, such a vote shall be conducted only after the President has consulted with the synodical Board of Directors. In all cases, at least one-fourth of the member congregations must register their vote.
By-laws Article 3 – National Organization and Responsibilities
Responsibilities and Duties—Ecclesiastical
126.96.36.199 As the chief ecclesiastical officer of the Synod, the President shall supervise the doctrine taught and practiced in the Synod, including all synodwide corporate entities.
188.8.131.52.1 The President of the Synod has ecclesiastical supervision of all officers of the Synod and its agencies, the individual districts of the Synod, and all district presidents.
(a) He shall see to it that the resolutions of the Synod are carried out. After the national convention has determined triennial emphases for the Synod, he shall, in consultation with the Council of Presidents, identify specific goals for the national office that will support and encourage ministry at the congregational level.
(b) In the districts of the Synod, he shall carry out his ecclesiastical duties through the district’s president.
(c) He shall at regular intervals officially visit or cause to be visited all the educational institutions of the Synod to exercise supervision over the doctrine taught and practiced in those institutions.
(d) He shall meet regularly with the Council of Presidents and, as deemed necessary, with individual district presidents or small groups of district presidents to see to it that they are in accordance with Article II of the Constitution, adopted doctrinal statements of the Synod, and doctrinal resolutions of the Synod. He shall receive regular reports on this subject from the district presidents. In cases of doctrinal dissent, Bylaw section 1.8 shall be followed.
184.108.40.206.2 The President shall be the chief ecumenical officer of the Synod.
(a) He shall represent the Synod, in consultation with the appropriate board or commission, in official contacts with all partner churches by aiding, counseling, and advising them and by strengthening the relations with and among them.
Grade: A President Harrison and his international assistant Al Colver have done a great job reaching into all corners of the globe to extend confessional Lutheranism. Along with Harrison and Colver we need to credit the Fort Wayne Seminary (John Pless in particular) for seeing and then capitalizing on nascent confessional movements around the world and providing teaching and materials to support them. We should also mention here our favorite mentor of international Lutheranism – James May and his Lutherans in Africa organization.
We do have one caution. We need to look carefully at the burgeoning Lutheranism. It is not always what it seems to be. The Mikane Yesus group in Ethiopia for example, is turning away from liberal Lutheranism, which of course is good. But their clear Pentecostalism is quite troubling. They are a long way from being confessional Lutherans.
(b) He or his representative shall represent the Synod in official contacts with other church bodies.
Responsibilities and Duties—Administrative
220.127.116.11 The President shall oversee the activities of all officers, executives, and agencies of the Synod to see to it that they are acting in accordance with the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod.
(a) He shall at regular intervals officially visit or cause to be visited all the educational institutions of the Synod and thereby exercise oversight over their administration as it relates to adherence to the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod.
(b) He shall meet regularly with the Council of Presidents and, as deemed necessary, with individual district presidents or small groups of district presidents, to see to it that their administration is in accordance with the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod. He shall receive regular reports on this subject from the district presidents.
(c) He shall call up for review any action by an individual officer, executive, or agency that, in his view, may be in violation of the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod.
(1) If he deems appropriate, he shall request that such action be altered or reversed.
(2) If the matter cannot be resolved, he shall refer it to the Synod’s Board of Directors, the Commission on Constitutional Matters, and/or the Synod in convention as he deems appropriate to the issues and party/parties involved. (3) This provision in no way alters the President’s constitutional duty to report to the Synod those who do not act in accordance with the Constitution and do not heed his admonition, as prescribed in Article XI B 2 of the Constitution.
(d) He shall serve as leader of the Administrative Team (see Bylaw section 3.5) and shall report to the Board of Directors on the activities of the team.
Responsibilities and Duties—Ecclesiastical and Administrative
18.104.22.168 The President shall have responsibilities and duties that are both ecclesiastical and administrative.
(a) He shall report in person or through a vice-president or other officer of the Synod to all district conventions and to that end formulate the report that is to be made.
(b) He shall make provisions for new district presidents and members of boards and commissions of the Synod to be acquainted with their duties and responsibilities.
(c) He shall carry out his constitutional responsibility (Art. XI B 1–4) for the supervision of the doctrine and administration of all officers, executives, and agencies of the national office.
(d) He shall personally or by way of a representative have the option to attend all meetings of all commissions (except the Commission on Constitutional Matters), the boards of all synodwide corporate entities, and the Board of Trustees—Concordia Plans (Board of Directors—Concordia Plan Services), including executive sessions (the President or his representative already serves as a voting member of the mission boards and serves as a voting member of the Board of Directors of the Synod and the Board of Directors of Concordia Publishing House). (1) The President’s representative shall normally be a member of the Administrative Team. (2) The President shall, in reasonable time, receive notice of such meetings, the proposed agenda, and minutes thereof.
(e) He shall engage in consultation with each mission board, commission, and the governing board of each synodwide corporate entity to reach mutual concurrence on a slate of candidates for the position of chief executive or executive director.
Grade: A Harrison has worked diligently on this matter.
(f) As ecclesiastical supervisor, he shall provide leadership to all officers, agencies, and national office staff of the Synod. Through the Chief Mission Officer, he shall (1) coordinate the content of communications, public relations, and news and information provided by the Synod. (2) coordinate and supervise all fund-raising and planned giving activity by the national Synod and its agencies. (3) serve the Synod by providing leadership, coordination, and oversight for pre-seminary education programs, seminary education, and post-seminary continuing education, and by providing advocacy for pastoral education and health within the Synod.
Grade: B- We clearly need a much stronger hand in this area.
(g) He shall consult with the vice-presidents, as elected advisers, whenever important and difficult Synod, inter-Lutheran, and partner church questions arise.
(h) He shall establish the duties and responsibilities of the First Vice-President in consultation with the First Vice-President.
Grade: C President Mueller is an excellent right hand man for Harrison but the Koinonia project is far behind “schedule” and also needs a stronger hand.
(i) He shall make an official report at each meeting of the Synod in convention.
(j) He shall approve the draft of the Convention Proceedings before it is published by the Secretary of the Synod.
(k) He shall have the right to authorize the vice-presidents to perform the duties of his office and hold them responsible for their performance. Accountability, however, shall always remain with the President.
(l) He shall exercise executive power when the affairs of the Synod demand it and when he has been expressly invested with such power by the Synod in convention.
(m) He shall be authorized, in the event that the affairs of the Synod require the exercise of executive power for a purpose for which there is no specific directive of the Synod, to exercise such power after consultation with the vice-presidents, the Board of Directors of the Synod, or the Council of Presidents, whichever in his judgment is most appropriate. Any member of the Synod shall have the right to appeal such action to the Commission on Constitutional Matters and/or the Synod in convention, whichever is appropriate. The Lutheran Church Extension Fund—Missouri Synod is exempt from this bylaw.
(n) He shall, in the interval between meetings of the Synod in convention, appoint special boards or committees whenever the purpose for which the Synod has been organized requires or when conditions arising in the course of time demand such action.