Once upon a time, only the synod could close one of our Concordia Colleges. Back in my seminary days, there was a proposal to change that. I forget the specific proposal, but it was similar to what is now in place. At that point, the synod voted no. The convention wanted the final say.
Today, that’s no longer the case. The convention can still close one of our schools. But if there is an emergency that can not wait for the next convention, a 2/3 vote of the CUS Board and the LCMS Board of Directors, and a 2/3 vote of either the Council of Presidents or the Board of Regents, can close a Concordia. That’s a pretty high bar. I’m not sure you could get 2/3 of all those groups to agree that the sky is blue. They are elected by different constituencies, have differing theological outlooks, and different visions for what our synod can and should be. I’m not saying those are good things. But they are the reality. For a super-majority of each of those groups to agree on anything, it would have to be a very significant problem, with only one possible solution. And that last bit is important as well. Because they have multiple options. They can consolidate, relocate, separate, or divest the school.
The cost for any such change would likely be in the multi-millions of dollars. Unemployment, severance, relocation expenses, administrative costs, etc. would quickly escalate.
President Harrison has proposed looking for a more streamlined approach. Not that the decision should be made easier or concentrated in the hands of fewer. But, that the synod actually investigate the process of acting on such a decision, and making sure we can keep up with the pace of legislative and judicial changes.
President Harrison’s modest proposal of simply studying options to be presented to the next convention is looking like the most conservative option possible at this point. Many have been calling him a fear monger, who is trying to consolidate power by scaring us. One elder pastor in the synod suggested that we could always call a special convention if a Concordia needed to be closed. That’s no longer necessary. It hasn’t been for 6 years. And it represents the 20th century’s surety regarding the place of the church in our world.
The 21st century is looking to be much more challenging. How much more? When President Harrison was elected to office, 4 states allowed Gay marriage. Currently, in my state, (which is so red that we have not elected a democratic senator since before I was born. Richard Nixon was President at the time), there is a judicial ethics complaint against one of our LCMS members because of her refusal to perform gay marriages. If it succeeds, there will be few or no options in Wyoming for faithful Christians to serve in public life.
This past week, we found out that one of Concordias may also be in the crosshairs. The California Senate has approved a law that would severely limit freedom of religion in that state, and Concordia Irvine would be significantly effected.
Those who claim that President Harrison is simply playing on our fears need to take their heads out of the sand. He knows the landscape in our nation. He sees the broader picture. And suggesting that solutions from 1969 would be perfectly acceptable for a church that is in the year 2016 and facing increasing persecution, is to ignore the obvious.
Of course, the irony is that the same people telling us that there is nothing wrong with doing things like we did in the 1960’s is the same group telling us that the worship of the church – proven over millennia – must be jettisoned in favor of 1960’s style music and 1990’s style powerpoint presentations. I have a lot more respect for the theology of Martin Luther, than I do the music of the Mamas and the Papas.
President Harrison respects the theology and practice of the church, but recognizes the challenges of bringing that Gospel to the world today. Those who specialize in “contempervent church” seem to think the opposite approach will work. It’s a bit ironic, and a bit sad. But mostly, it’s naïvely dangerous.
The Reverend Lincoln Winter blogs at Musings of a Country Parson, and has authored Teach These Things: Catechesis for the Lutheran Parish.
Ed note: the resolutions to come before the convention dealing with concordias can be found here.