There are a few things that have been on my mind. I got back from Houston about three weeks ago. I was privileged to attend the LCMS convention. Was a good convention. Other than the heat, the long sessions and the umpteen points of order, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Got to room with an old friend. Got to reconnect with several others. Made a few new friends. And got to witness the election of President elect Matt Harrison. (a very dramatic moment, btw) For those things, I couldn't be happier.
But there were a few things I think worth commenting on.
For starters, I was not terribly enthusiastic about the devotional theme chosen for the convention; “One People Forgiven”. “Forgiven for what?” is my question. Obviously I have no problem with forgiveness. I need it every day, first from God, then from my neighbors. But I kept feeling like we were asked to confess sins I am not convinced we all had committed.
The “sin” was typically had to do with disunity and infighting. We were told we needed to be reconciled. Yes, but for what? There seemed to be this idea that the thing that divided us was disagreement over adiaphora – things like politics or structural and governance. This was the BRTFSSG convention. It was hinted at that those who were opposed to structure and governance had a spiritual problem. By inference, then, the sins necessary to confess were those disagreeing with the structure.
Our disunity and disagreement is not over structure. There are honest to goodness doctrinal differences. There is false doctrine within the synod. False doctrine needs to be confessed. False doctrine needs to be repented of and true doctrine believed by faith. The structure, etc. needs to be debated and scrutinized with our best human reason. Bottom line; I felt we were asked to confess sins that were not sins, and the false doctrines that are sinful were overlooked so we could “move forward”.
That was the first thing.
The other thing that troubled me was the response of many of my confessional brothers as the convention was winding down.
As the convention wore on, it became clear that the confessionals were winning the elections by significant numbers. The old guard was out and new blood was in. The candidates supported by Jesus First seemed to be loosing. The confessional candidates kept winning. The numbers and margins are quite striking. Occasionally I heard my confessional brothers taking credit for this. Honestly, I found this somewhat arrogant and foolish.
I am a big fan of Matt Harrison and I am glad that he has a team to work with who will be supportive of his vision and direction for the synod. But no one person can claim credit for this. In my mind there are a handful of contributing factors that made it happen, none of which involve the planning and preparation of those taking credit.
The first was the cancellation of Issues Etc. In previous conventions, LCMS confessionals have had their hats handed to them several times over. This was in part because they were divided and disorganized. Each party supported its own “confessional” candidate and then divided their votes between them while everyone else voted for Kieschnick. But then, a few years ago, a popular and effective voice of confessional Lutheranism in Missouri was canceled by the LCMS higher ups. Official explanation cited “business and programmatic reasons”. But nobody bought it. Issues Etc is a solidly confessional and doctrinal program that takes positions contrary to the direction the Synod leaders wanted to go. So the show was canceled. This was a severe miscalculation. It was assumed the program would die a quiet death and fade into the background. It did not. It came back a few months later independently funded and free from the restraints of the LCMS bureaucracy. Now the host and producers could say and do what they wanted. They could even speak against the direction of the synod. If the show was a problem while it was affiliated with the Synod, it became a bigger problem after it was independent. In addition, it made a lot of people angry. The fans of the show were sad to see it go away. Even the nominal fans recognized its cancellation was an injustice. Cancelling the show gave Synod bureaucracy a black eye and it gave the confessionals had a rallying cry. The cancellation of Issues Etc was the first step in the LCMS power shift.
The second factor as I see it is the fact that the Synod is financially troubled. It is no secret that Synod has been losing money. Contributions to the synod continue to go down. Spending and programs and either maintained or added. The Ablaze initiative has also seen its financial problems with huge fund raising costs and limited success. It was easy to see that the Synod needed a new financial plan. Bureaucracy acknowledged this. The BRTFSSG was convened around the purpose and intent that the Synod be streamlined so that overspending and waste could be eliminated. In addition, the Synod decided to sell KFUO FM. KFUO has been a symbol to many of the forward thinking evangelistic outreach of the LCMS and there was a good deal of synodical pride attached to it. Selling it was unpopular. I am not sure that the convention was willing to fix blame on anyone, after all the past decade has been financially challenging for everyone. But I believe the convention felt the Synod needed a new financial direction.
This brings me to the last point. All of these factors add up to serious dissatisfaction, but that alone wouldn't go anywhere were it not for the fact that the Confessionals were able to put forward a gifted man to take the position. They found that in Matt Harrison. Matt had all the key ingredients necessary to win the election. First, he is solidly and confessionally Lutheran. He has written ample papers and books and essays and each one comes from a confessional Lutheran perspective. He is missional and merciful and evangelistic and pastoral. Confessional LCMSers were able to rally behind him in a way that they have not in previous conventions. In addition, He is a solid manager. In a decade of financial deterioration, his World Relief and Human Care successfully administrated hundreds of millions of dollars and even floated loans to the synod at large to keep it from going under. Finally, he is likable. He is good in front of a crowd. He is humble, warm & friendly, he takes time for people. He has a bushy, trademark mustache that hides a broad smile while he strums away on his his banjo. The guy probably likes babies and kittens too. He was a guy who couldn't miss.
Lots of people in their post convention analysis wanted to take all kinds of credit and pat themselves on the back for their hard work and diligence. Hard work and preparation are good and necessary, but they don't get you anywhere without the God who provides daily bread for the hungry soul. Psalms says that the horse is made ready for the day of battle but the victory belongs to the Lord.
I believe there were a number of things that set the stage for the direction the convention went. We didn't have any control over any of these things. Rather the Lord provided a “perfect storm” of financial turmoil, unpopular management decisions and a solid alternative candidate for the job. In my estimation, this is what won the day.