Congregations Matter extends its congratulations to President Harrison on his victory in last week’s Synod presidential election. We join the church in praying for God’s richest blessings upon him, including a full measure of the wisdom that comes from His Holy Spirit, as he carries out his important responsibilities over the next three years.
President Harrison won the election. Now he must work to collaborate with the WHOLE Synod to provide more transparent, fiscally responsible, and trustworthy leadership.
A Narrow Margin of Victory
The margin of victory — 1.76% — was the smallest in Harrison’s presidency. Nearly half of the church preferred someone OTHER than President Harrison.
The election results prove that the church is not nearly as united as President Harrison would have us believe. Congregations Matter hopes that message gets through that it is important for the President of the Synod to be president of the WHOLE church, not just the special interest groups that form the base of his slightly-more-than-half of electors who were able to vote.
How Will President Harrison Respond?
One mark of a good ecclesiastical leader is to recognize that everyone who disagrees with him is not necessarily sinning. Sometimes Bible-believing, Christ-exalting, yes CONFESSIONAL (in the best sense of that word, not the perversions) people disagree on significant churchly issues.
Will President Harrison begin to listen to those who disagree with him? Will he take their concerns seriously? Will he respond? Is he willing to see the other side and compromise? Or will he simply dismiss those who hold a different but equally-biblical and equally-confessional opinion than his?
What Issues Are At Stake?
If the first issue of Today’s Business for the upcoming Tampa convention is any indication, the President Harrison-appointed floor committees appear unready to unite the church. Here are just four of many examples:
One: Ecclesiastical Supervision Dissent Ignored
Much dissent was expressed in the Convention Workbook to the unconstitutional and divisive new ecclesiastical supervision process, which centralizes power in the President’s office. Anyone who was at the 2016 convention remembers the rancor and division.
Rather than deal with it, the floor committee commends the process and thanks everyone for the wonderful cooperation!
This after the then-Chair of the Council of Presidents Ken Hennings and several other district presidents have gone on record as strongly opposing the new system.
Many District Presidents reported the required “consultation” between the Synod President and the Council of Presidents didn’t happen (see the third “Resolved” clause of 2016’s Resolution 12-14 in the 2016 Convention Proceedings, Page 233).
Read about then-Texas District President Henning’s letter, Southeastern District President Denninger’s letter, and PSW District President Stoterau’s letter in Congregations Matter articles.
Two: Finances Buried on the Agenda’s Last Days
Many congregations and districts sent overtures calling for greater financial transparency and better reporting. This is especially important because recent reports of our “debt-free” Synod made by President Harrison don’t match other reports of a growing $13.2M of internal borrowing (up from $0 — NO INTERNAL BORROWING — Harrison reported in 2015) and many in the LCMS still have issues with the reporting of disaster relief funds.
And there’s no time to talk about the sale of Hong Kong mission property to pay off Synod’s U.S. debts and whether or not the LCMS should be selling oversea assets bought with mission donor dollars instead of turning them over to our partner churches. Some say this topic is an 8th Commandment matter, but is it really a 9th Commandment issue of “scheming to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right”?
Yet surprisingly, only 55 minutes of agenda time are devoted to this important issue on the last two days of the Tampa Convention: 25 minutes on Wednesday morning and 30 minutes on Thursday morning. That’s barely enough time to deal with the four resolutions Committee 8 is bringing for convention consideration, let alone receive reports of Synod’s stewardship of our congregation’s gifts.
With all the calls for financial transparency, it seems the topic of Synod finances is once again being buried.
Three: Requests to Overrule CCM Opinion 14-2724 Ignored
Instead of dealing with requests to overrule the misguided CCM opinion limiting congregations’ freedom in foreign mission work, the floor committee papers over it with Resolution 2-06 that essentially says, “Oh, we never meant to limit congregations anyway.”
Why not just admit the CCM Opinion 14-2724 was wrong and take it off the books?
Like Supreme Court rulings, the CCM opinion is in effect unless overruled. Many districts and congregations asked for revocation. The LCMS Bylaws require a response at the Tampa Convention, not papering over the issue to hide the problem.
Four: Centralization of Control Over Our Concordia Universities
After closing Concordia, Alabama, proposals are being made to study what appears to be the centralization of control of our university system (if past actions are any indicator). Secretary Sias and President Harrison have corresponded about this (read about it here in Part 1 and Part 2 of our Congregations Matter articles about the proposals).
Does that sound like a good idea to anyone? Not unless the plan is to establish the power to divest, to consolidate or to close our schools!
And that’s just a start. Read all of the proposed resolutions in Today’s Business 1. While there are LOTS of resolutions of thanksgiving for what God has done among us, there are also resolutions seeking serious centralization and control. Just as important to read are the overtures declined or dismissed to Omnibus A, B and C (as well as the reasons stated for doing so).
Without some intentional action on his part to “reach across the aisle,” President Harrison — and the national office generally — will become increasingly irrelevant. The apathy of voters in the election last week was palpable. The numbers can’t be ignored.
First, it is obvious that fewer electors are voting. In 2013 with 8,201 registered electors, 4,262 of the 6,432 voted for President Harrison. Those numbers dropped to 7,348 electors with 3,507 of the 6,157 votes cast for Harrison in 2016. In 2019, only 5,823 votes were cast by 6,449 electors (626 – almost 10% – didn’t or couldn’t vote). President Harrison won the election with 3,014 votes cast for him.
Surprisingly, even with the new registration process that promised GREATER participation (see Milwaukee Convention’s 11-03A, Proceedings page 196), 2019 saw more than 1,750 fewer registered electors than 2013, with more than 600 fewer votes cast.
The result? Fewer and fewer LCMS members elected a Synod President by a margin narrower than President Kieschnick’s 2007 election (52.3%) and President Harrison’s 2010 victory (54.3%).
If opponents of President Kieschnick suggested in ’07 and ’10 that we had a divided Synod and needed a new, uniting leader for the LCMS, what will they say now?
We Say It’s Time For A Change
The national office could make a positive difference for the mission and ministry of congregations. It has ample resources to do so. Let’s hope for a new sense of leadership. Congregations matter too much for things not to change.
Congregations Matter began with a simple message:
“Congregations Matter© is a movement within the LCMS that wants to restore the Synod to its historic role of providing congregations with advice, encouragement, and resources to carry out their evangelical role of teaching and baptizing in their communities, as they see best fit for their own circumstances.
Our Synod leadership has gotten away from its historic role, and is more focused on concentrating all authority, direction, and control in St. Louis. That is not healthy for our Church. The health of our Church is our local congregations.”
And we suggested a simple solution: either President Harrison needs to change the way he is leading or the LCMS needs to change leaders. The latter almost happened, but didn’t.
So now Congregations Matter renews it’s call for a change in the way our Synod is led.
More transparency. More collaboration. Better fiscal controls. Less hierarchy and centralization. Greater trust.
Congregations — and our mission for Christ’s Kingdom — matter!