The rumors have been swirling for a month or more, but there is reason to believe that it’s more than a rumor. Supporters of President Kieschnick have articulated the plan in various ways but the bottom line is that they’re suggesting that, if elected, this would be President Kieschnick’s last term. Further, they’re suggesting that the Rev. Matthew Harrison could use an additional three years in a Synodical position before being made president. It’s easy to see how this would be the strategy — nothing else has really gained traction, campaign-wise.
But will it work with delegates? I decided to ask them what they think. I conducted brief phone interviews of pastoral and lay delegates spread throughout the country. I asked them for their response to the rumor (all but a couple had heard about it), whether it changed their vote and who they were voting for and why. Here are some of their thoughts:
Lay delegate from Minnesota:
This wouldn’t change my vote. I don’t like the idea. It sounds like President Kieschnick is trying to be a kingmaker. The rumor has been around quite a while that, if elected, this was probably going to be his last term anyhow. Now it looks like a desperation move and I imagine a lot of delegates will see it that way, too. It indicates that he doesn’t think he has the support to be re-elected and will pull out all the stops.
I’m voting for Rev. Harrison because has what it takes to do a great job. He’s been on the front lines in the LCMS with our relief efforts both here and abroad. He is very theological and will make a wonderful president for the LCMS. I just don’t think Kieschnick has done a great job. I definitely think it’s time to get some fresh blood into leadership and get the LCMS back on the track.
Pastoral delegate from Illinois:
I think it’s silly. If he’s qualified enough to be First Vice President, he’s qualified enough to be President. It’s also something that goes against one of the proposals preferred by the Blue Ribbon Task Force. They want to make sure the President and First VP are of like mind. Based upon each candidate’s answers and campaign materials, you see that there is quite a significant difference of opinion about how the church should be run on a corporate level between the two.
Didn’t Kieschnick have “on the job training” 9 years ago? Had he ever directed a national office? With his experience as Ex. Director of LCMS WRHC, I would argue that Matt Harrison has more experience in leading a nationwide office than Jerry Kieschnick had at the beginning of his term, and is certainly at least as qualified now.
What sold me on Matt Harrison is that he begins with the Scripture. If he’s asked a question, he begins with the Word of God and draws his conclusions from that as opposed to President Kieschnick who, when he responds to anything, whether it be a question or policy statement, his first reference seems to be to the policies and bylaws of Synod.
Also, Harrison’s work with LCMS World Relief and Human Care has changed my outlook on what some of the duties of the church are. He has helped bring the church’s works of charity and works of mercy to the forefront. I read his book “Christ have Mercy” and that was the thing that shifted my opinion or really began my opinion on the matter. That’s where I got my first taste of Matt Harrison and his theology and the Synod would be blessed to have his leadership.
Pastoral delegate from Missouri:
There was a time when I would have found the idea of “one last term” for President Kieschnick appealing. I think he has served the Synod faithfully and done things to the best of his abilities in the last 10 years. But I don’t sense that his leadership is what we need going forward. I think we have a wonderful opportunity, a historic opportunity this year. Matt Harrison isn’t just a stellar theologian, he’s a theologian who can connect with laypeople and with the broader public. He is humble, which makes him open to listening to other people and working toward unity. I’ve worked with him on smaller projects in my neck of the woods and he has figured out how to bring people together and resolve conflict. More than anything, I think that’s because he knows the Gospel and forgiveness of sins.
Lay delegate from California:
That rumor confirms my suspicions about the way current leadership thinks. They talk about experience or management instead of the theology that we’ve drifted away from — that’s what’s causing the problem in Synod today. Besides, Rev. Harrison has plenty of experience! President Kieschnick was just a District President when he was elected. What kind of international experience does he have? Harrison has been a top-ranking Synodical executive for years and has much more international experience, administrative experience and theological wisdom.
I’m for Harrison because I don’t think that structural changes will solve the problems in Synod. From just being at District conventions, I’ve learned that the things that split people are not whether we have a 3 or 4 year convention or who is in charge of what boards. It’s the practices and doctrinal disunity that divides us. We need to stop playing around with structure and start doing something about it. I read Harrison’s “It’s Time” document and it lays out how to address the problems that divide us and work toward that direction.
Pastoral delegate from Ohio:
Yes, I’ve heard that rumor, too. I actually doubt it will happen. Everyone who is familiar with the Synod knows that Matt Harrison is one of the more capable candidates we’ve seen. Whether or not the rumor is true, it doesn’t change my belief that now is the time for change. President Kieschnick has had a healthy tenure during which to enact his vision and I have not been pleased with the results. I truly believe that Lutheranism could be having much more impact in the country and the world and I think we’ve been hamstrung at the synodical level. Restructuring won’t change that — we need someone with a bold vision for the future. The world desperately needs Lutheranism right now and I’m kind of tired of just being in a holding pattern.
Lay delegate who asked me to withhold her state:
I think it might be a smart campaign move but it doesn’t change my vote at all. I have served on a synodical board that gave me some insight into how the International Center operates as well as how the two top candidates operate. Harrison works with everyone and unites the room around common goals. He leads humbly and gently, admits fault easily and earns respect. President Kieschnick silences his opposition through by-laws, councils, firings and cancellations. I don’t want another three years of conflict. I want to start working toward true unity.
Pastoral delegate from Illinois
I think it’s a ludicrous idea. What is he going to accomplish in the next three years that he hasn’t accomplished in nine years prior to this? We’ve heard the Blue Ribbon Task Force is in trouble. There’s the rumor that he’s willing to throw the task force recommendations away and throw the first Vice President under the bus in order to get reelected. If the rumor is true, it would not speak well of his ego. It certainly won’t change my vote and I don’t think it would change the vote of anyone who considers it from a realistic point of view.
Matt Harrison is one of the most pastoral men I’ve met in a synodical position in many years. Has been running World Relief and Human Care since 2001 or so and this is the only division within the Synod bureaucracy that is operating in the black. Here’s a man who constantly has good reputation about responding to the church’s needs. He has positive fundraising, an excellent reputation among the people with whom he works, is a true theologian and pastor, can speak intelligently on Holy Scripture, is wonderful preacher, has a pastoral heart, is involved in true mission work — getting the Gospel out to people who are not going to get it any other way. Why would we not want someone like that with that track record at the helm of our synod?
There are actually many more responses so if yours wasn’t included here, I’ll be posting more in coming days.