The Concordia Texas Board of Regents (CTX BOR), in seeking to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities toward both CTX and Synod (Bylaws 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199), asked Synod’s Board of Directors (BOD) for a future-oriented conversation regarding governance. Their request was met with silence for the most part – and delay by our Synod leadership.
In their Feb 16, 2022, public announcement of the request, the CTX BOR cited three issues as the primary reasons for their request:
“The Concordia University Texas Board of Regents has notified the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod Board of Directors that it wishes to enter into a conversation by which the CTX Board will be the sole-governing body of the institution and remain in alignment with the LCMS, working together to serve the mission of the church and the university. We expect to hear from them within a short time, after which a process will be determined, arriving at a final agreement between the LCMS and CTX no later than August 31, 2022.
The CTX Board is seeking this type of governance and alignment for several reasons:
- Both higher education and the church are facing changes in the culture and complexity in how they do their work. Having greater freedom to lead locally and responsively serves both institutions well.
- The autonomy of the Board is critical as it determines the future for CTX. The proposed bylaws coming to the 2023 LCMS convention limit that autonomy.
- In reviewing various models of governance among church-related schools, the Board sees this as an opportunity to govern more locally and lean into its alignment with the LCMS.
We ask for your prayers that this conversation can lead to an outcome that is beneficial for the church at large.
“Official Visit” Didn’t Move Things Along
The CTX BOR received a response, but not really about their request for a conversation with the BOD.
The first response regarded the Bylaws. In early April, the Synod BOD indicated no conversation would be possible unless it was based on Bylaw 188.8.131.52.I. That’s the Bylaw that governs granting Concordia University System (CUS) the authority to consolidate, relocate, separate from Synod, or be divested by Synod.
Concordia Texas agreed. The CUS was to handle the discussions. However, from last February through November, CUS developed no plan, process, or meeting schedule.
As in the case of justice, this delay means denial.
There was another response. President Harrison and a team conducted an official visit to the campus (Bylaw 184.108.40.206.1.c and 220.127.116.11.a) on April 20-22.
Although these bylaws describe a President’s visitation as an extension of his ecclesiastical or administrative powers and duties either to supervise the doctrine taught and practiced or a university’s adherence to the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of Synod, the scope of this visitation was different.
According to the CTX website page regarding Lutheran Identity, the agreed purposes of this visit were both clear and different from bylaw restrictions. The visitation team was coming:
- To understand the Board of Regents’ action in seeking a new model of governance
- To strengthen Concordia University Texas’ alignment with the Synod’s doctrine and practice
- To gain a greater understanding of how Concordia is serving the interest of the Synod and its congregations
After such a visit, a report of findings is produced by the Synod President. It is normally first shared with the visited Concordia president for his reaction and perhaps rebuttal. Then it is shared with Synod.
Such a report would be necessary if a discussion were to be forthcoming. It could form the basis of the conversation. Sadly, as of November 2022, the promised report from the Synod President has not been received by CTX leadership.
No Conversation Leads to CTX Statement
Having no plan, process or report, on June 6, President & CEO Dr. Donald Christian issued a hopeful explanation of CTX’s standing as a university to secure its future and its direction with regard to local control of the university. It says in part:
“…It is in that strength that our Board has been considering the question of governance over the past year. As the landscape of higher education changes, as the culture becomes more diverse and challenging, and as the church seeks new mission opportunities, the Board has recognized that the need for a system of governance that is local, responsive, and adaptive is more essential than ever for our university. While our core Lutheran values will never change, the strategies to achieve our mission may need to change as we go forward. To accomplish this, our Board of Regents is exploring becoming the sole-governing body of the institution, looking at a different relationship with the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) than is prescribed in the church’s bylaws….[while still remaining] committed to aligning itself with the LCMS through governing documents in a way that ensures we continue to train church workers, serve the congregations and people of the District and Synod, and operate as an institution that is informed by the theology and doctrine of the LCMS.” [Emphasis and Ellipsis Added]
You can read the complete memo here. The response? Still, no contact from national LCMS leaders to move the discussion forward.
The Delay Leads To CTX BOR Action
While Synod’s BOD may have discussed the issue among themselves during one or more of six or seven executive sessions in each of their May or August meetings, no response to the CTX BOR has been forthcoming.
With silence from CUS, the BOD, and the President of Synod, the CTX BOR acted. Fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility to CTX, the BOR decided to protect and strengthen the University by voting to change its governance structure. They did this without changing their commitment to the LCMS. President Don Christian announced the decision in a memorandum on November 8, which says in part:
“For over a year, the Concordia University Board of Regents has diligently worked and prayed about a decision to guard and guide the future of the University. Centered by our founding purpose and our vision to be the premier institution of higher education where the adventure of faith, learning, and life-changing experiences leads to meaningful work, the Board voted to adopt a structure whereby Concordia University Texas will be governed solely by its Board of Regents, rather than the historic governance directed by the bylaws of Synod.
As you know, Concordia University Texas is in a strong position, with healthy enrollment, exciting academic programs, strong finances, robust community partnerships, and meaningful relationships.
As the news of this change begins to circulate, it is important that you understand that we are not leaving the LCMS. We are committing to our alignment with the LCMS. This vote simply reframes the nature of that relationship so that governance will be directed solely by the Board of Regents rather than shared with Synod. . [Emphasis Added]
You can read the complete memorandum here.
At Last…A Response
The action of the CTX BOR on November 8 elicited a response within three days from President Harrison and the Synod BOD on November 11, which says in part:
“The Synod President and the Chairman of the Synod Board of Directors condemn this unilateral attempt of CTX to separate from and dictate new terms of relationship to the Synod, CTX having rejected the specific means laid out by the congregations to maintain the faithfulness and mission accountability of Synod’s schools and disdained laying its concerns before the church, for the church to act together. The President and Board of Directors will continue to address this grievous situation and, even at this late date, have called the CTX Board of Regents back, in the spirit of 1 Cor. 6, to set this matter before those who do have standing in the church, to reach a conclusion consistent with “the Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions, the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod.” [Emphasis Added]
You can read the complete statement from our Synod President and Synod’s BOD here.
Texas Regents Are Not The Enemy
The Regents condemned by our Synod leadership are not the enemy. They are “us,” and we elected them to serve us and CTX.
All our Concordia Boards of Regents are selected locally and nationally to serve as those having fiduciary duties for the University to which they were elected or appointed (Bylaw 18.104.22.168 et al.). They are not rogue groups elected from within the University bent on revolt.
Bylaw 22.214.171.124 defines Board of Regent membership:
- Four members elected by Synod in convention – a pastor, commissioned worker, and two laypeople;
- Four members elected by the local district convention – a pastor, commissioned worker, and two laypeople;
- The local District President,
- Another member appointed by the Praesidium (Synod President, First Vice President, and regional Vice Presidents after consultation with the local Concordia President and the Synod BOD); and
- Between four and eight members selected by the Board of Regents themselves.
Their job is to do the best they can to advance the mission of their school and the LCMS. They have that local responsibility. Because they are local, Boards of Regents also have the best understanding of the future needs of each institution and can nimbly respond to local opportunities and challenges. It’s just like congregations. They know their local needs and local ministries better than leaders in the International Center.
Members of the CTX Board of Regents are us – and elected by us. In advance of the proposed 7-03 Task Force plan coming to the next convention (which has been delayed and may or may not be affirmed), they simply moved forward as fiduciaries to protect and develop their local Concordia University. We gave them local governing responsibility and authority. They used their local authority to act for their Concordia.
While remaining faithful to Scripture and the Confessions, these brothers and sisters in Christ are working with a Synod system that seems to be bent on centralized control.
Why Not Build Trust Instead of Suspicion?
Read it. The joint statement from President Harrison and the Chairman of the LCMS BOD issued on November 11 breeds suspicion and harms the character and reputation of the CTX Board of Regents.
This was not a “precipitous action,” despite being described as such in the statement. The CTX BOR has been asking the kind of dialogue the apostles and elders led in Acts 15:7. Their request was received with what seems to be stonewalling and delay.
Finally, our Synod leadership is catching up to Texas. Their statement appealed to the very same Scripture Acts 15:7 verse, finally appealing for brotherly dialogue.
Where has Synod leadership been? Perhaps their delay is just the normal, slow pace of national offices — but with a year of CTX requests for dialogue, a Presidential visit, and ongoing public statements and communication from CTX to the International Center, the Regents’ action can hardly be described as “precipitous.”
What If Their Action Works For All Concordias?
Maybe the CTX BOR has an answer that can work for all of us. We all should hear it and consider whether or not it is the best way forward.
After all, we elected the CTX BOR for the local governance of the University. They oversee a school that faithfully serves students and our Synod, helping to prepare faithful pastors, teachers, and other church workers to serve our congregations.
And more. All our BORs oversee the local preparation of our sons and daughters for their lay vocations, as well as our witness to the students who are yet to come to saving faith in Jesus.
With this mission and responsibility at stake, shouldn’t we all consider what they’ve developed? Perhaps the CTX BOR plan is better than the 7-03 Committee’s proposal.
Has Centralized, National Supervision Helped?
In the last decade, we’ve lost Selma, Portland, and Bronxville for a variety of reasons. Maybe our Concordias don’t need the overhead of more supervision from the International Center in order to succeed. That’s some of what we all found out from our COVID experience: All Ministry Is Local Ministry.
Given our recent experience of losing three Concordias, how has the current CUS model been working out for us lately?
Instead, if our Concordias are truly agencies (see Bylaw 1.2.1.a), separately incorporated locally, and because they are led by commissioned and ordained members of Synod committed to Article II (Confession) and III (Objectives) of our constitution, why not trust them and help them serve the purposes of our Synod? Why not confirm their local responsibility and authority to accomplish our mission together? Why not talk…and listen?
Isn’t that how our other agencies like LCEF and CPH work? Isn’t that how our local congregations work?
“Standing” Has Also Become An Issue
Synod leadership suggested in their statement condemning the actions of the CTX BOR that they lacked the “standing” to reorient their governance model toward a new “lean and local” structure and relationship with the LCMS. You can read more about their “standing” in the Our Congregations — Our Synod article “We Are a Synod Together and We All Have Standing.”
Our Concordias and Synod Need Independence
The complexities of our current legal and cultural world couldn’t have been anticipated as the Concordia University System grew. In the last century, we experienced the growth of some schools and the closing of others.
Closing schools isn’t new. Remember we once had a college in Oakland, CA, the Senior College in Fort Wayne, IN, St. John’s in Winfield, KS – and even Immanuel Lutheran College in Greensboro, NC, when we were a part of the Ev. Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America?
We’ve been in challenging days before, but today’s issues are more complex.
Now, in addition to the heartache and pain of recently losing three schools (Selma, Portland, and Bronxville), we have the challenges of “ascending liability,” where the Synod as a whole may be held responsible by courts for damages from lawsuits filed against our agencies, our Universities.
For some of our separately-incorporated agencies, that’s not a problem. Their exposure is minimal. But because of Synod’s control over choosing Presidents and theological faculty members, turning on and off funding, and control over the local Boards of Regents, courts may rule differently with regard to our Concordias.
The current HotChalk lawsuit against Concordia Portland tests the ascending liability issue. It seeks damages from the LCMS amounting to $302M because they contend the school closed at the direction and by the control of the LCMS. You can read more about this in the upcoming Our Congregations, Our Synod article “Concordia Universities and Ascending Liability.”
Our Schools and Synod Need More Protection
Our schools and our Synod need protection from lawsuits that question the control of our local universities by our national church body. Failing to do so could wreak havoc on our property and assets. It could cause harm to our mission to tell the world of Jesus and His love. True separation of governance will help.
This struggle between LCMS leadership and CTX BOR certainly exposes us to the courts and damages. The letter of condemnation from Synod leadership doesn’t help. It suggests that the CTX BOR cannot act independently from the LCMS’ control. Control is the issue.
Here’s the problem: if the CTX BOR cannot address its fiduciary responsibility to the University and re-align itself in its governance relationship with the LCMS, it proves Concordia Boards of Regents do not have local control and Synod in St. Louis has ultimate authority and control over the institution. That’s a problem. Why? Because if you exercise national control over Concordia Texas, you also have that same control over the affairs of Concordia Portland.
And that’s what HotChalk wants to hear.
Maybe the governance proposal from the CTX BOR settles this issue.
Instead of condemning brothers and sisters in Christ, wouldn’t it be beneficial for all of us to hear the concerns the Synod President and the BOD have with the CTX BOR proposal? Let all of us determine what is best for our future together. Isn’t that how our congregationally-based Synod should work?
Let’s Take A Step Back and Talk
In our Synod Convention resolutions, we’ve asked that our Concordias affirm their Lutheran identity. Concordia, Texas, has done so. You can read about it on their webpage Lutheran Identity. That’s not in question.
Next August in Milwaukee, Synod will determine if it accepts the recommendation of the 7-03 Task Force. It’s a very complex recommendation filled with detailed Bylaw changes. It will need the best efforts of delegates to understand. Many of our Concordia University leaders have expressed concerns about it. Our Congregations – Our Synod will do its best to identify the positives and negatives of the proposal to help inform our congregational delegates.
Concordia University Texas developed a different path for us to consider. They acted now because they have a fiduciary responsibility to CTX to act in the best interest of CTX and Synod with regard to their future work for Christ’s Kingdom. We gave them that responsibility and authority.
Our Synod President and the Chair of the Synod BOD have another view. They, too, believe they are acting as fiduciaries in the best interest of the Concordia University System and the Synod.
Next summer, Synod members will decide by convention vote which of the two we want to support — or if we support them both.
For our future ministry together, our congregations and Synod need the kind of leadership and creative problem-solving the Concordia Texas Board of Regents has shown. We all deserve better than the silence, delay, and Synod leadership’s refusal to meet and discuss the CTX BOR proposal. Our congregations deserve more than this. So does our work for the sake of the Gospel.
After all, it’s Our congregations…Our Synod – and our Concordias.