Open and Public Conversation Outside of Executive Sessions Help the LCMS

Open and Public Conversation Will Help the LCMS

Our Congregations — Our Synod applauds the decision by the Council of Presidents (COP) in their November meeting to discuss the Concordia University Texas (CTX) vote for improved governance in an open session. Generally in the COP, issues such as CTX are hidden in “executive sessions” during the meeting.  That means no notes, no statements, no conversations, and no results can be shared with the other members of the LCMS.

Executive sessions don’t build understanding, the support of Synod members, and trust.  Transparency does.

According to reports from Texas District President Newman and others, the work and spirit of the last COP meeting positively impacted the CTX situation.  Hours were spent on issues surrounding CTX, the CUS, and our Synod Convention’s upcoming 7-03 decision.  You can read more about the CTX issue here — and more about the COP meeting from President Newman’s report here.

Synod’s BOD Could Learn from Our COP

The Council of Presidents made a positive move by dealing with the CTX governance issue in an open session.

The Preamble to Synod’s constitution cites the example of Acts 15 as one of the two reasons for establishing Synod.  In this chapter, St. Luke tells how the Church worked through difficult issues together.  That’s exactly what the COP did — publicly — and together.

Obviously, our LCMS forefathers thought clear, public, fraternal conversation on controverted matters was important.  By their actions, one has to wonder if Synod’s BOD shares those same values.

A Decade of Excessive Executive Sessions

Especially over the past decade, LCMS leaders have excessively resorted to using executive sessions in Synod meetings.  This seems particularly true when leaders feel the issues are controversial or would show them in a poor light.

Executive sessions keep our leaders from appropriate transparency — and accountability. That wouldn’t fly in your congregations, would it?

Executive sessions may keep vital information, conversations, and group actions unnecessarily private.

Certainly, there are appropriate uses for “closed” executive sessionsHowever, the record of minutes from the last decade shows our LCMS tendency to be afraid to talk openly about issues – controversial or not.  Unfortunately, secrecy may now be in our corporate DNA.

Why Keep a Report from CTX Leaders…and the Rest of Us?

As an example of this executive session secrecy, just look over the recent minutes of Board of Director meetings.  They tell some of the CTX story.  For instance, in the May 20-21, 2022 meeting item 247, the Synod BOD received a report in an executive session regarding President Harrison’s two official visits to CTX and CUWAA.

There is no record in the minutes of what was said, just an executive session titled “Concordia University System Campus Visitations.”  From all reports, CTX has yet to receive any report of the visitation.  Normally, they would be the first to see it.

Why did the LCMS BOD receive a report from the Synod President on his official visit to CTX (and CUWAA) when those who were visited have not?  What could motivate such secrecy?

Imagine what damage to process and Synod relationships could have been avoided by giving CTX leaders the report!  In addition, all members of Synod would benefit from such transparency.

There should be no reason for obfuscation.  If the Synod President followed our Bylaws, there should be nothing revealed in the report that would need to be hidden from members of the Synod. The BOD should need no executive session.  In fact, our Bylaw specifically lists “Synod in convention” as one group the Synod President refers unresolved matters to should any arise from his “administrative” responsibilities (such as his reports of university visitations).  We should receive this report.

Secrecy and Losing Three Concordias

If there is a problem with one of “our” Concordias, shouldn’t we — the Synod — know about it and understand what’s being done about it?  Why hide actions from us in executive sessions?

This executive session “silence” is part of how we lost Selma, Portland, and Bronxville.  All of us in Synod received glowingly positive reports about each of these schools in Convention Workbooks.  Read the University reports from the 2016 Workbook (pages 79-85) and the 2019 Workbook (Pages 109-119).

From these Workbook reports, all any of us heard in Synod was Selma raised $19M and purchased new land for expansion, Portland had 6,000 students and was glowing, Bronxville was rising in U.S. News Best College rankings to 22nd, and the Chronicle for Higher Education Almanac listed it as a “Fastest-Growing College.”

The future looked bright for all three Concordias.  That was before the lights went out.

Behind the scenes, something different was happening at these Concordias.  Suddenly, the LCMS announced their closing — with sadness — but without a real explanation.

Why were the problems that caused three Concordias to close hidden from Synod members when we met in convention?  Were the problems hidden in executive sessions of BOD meetings — or was everyone unaware of them?

If we can’t get the truth from Convention Workbooks and BOD Minutes, how can any member of Synod find out what’s really going on before a Concordia has to close? 

And what other bad news is hiding in executive sessions?

We Don’t Need Protection from the Truth

Some leaders have suggested that such transparency would “hurt the Synod.”

That only makes sense if one believes Synod needs protection from the truth — and members of Synod (both congregations and individuals) need to be kept in the dark.

Certainly, executive sessions may be appropriate for personnel and legal protections.  However, their overuse adds a cloud of secrecy over us all when we should be transparent.

Some Synod BOD Clarity… 

Synod BOD minutes aren’t all bad.  Read the Proposed Minutes from the November 18-19, 2022, Board of Directors meeting.

To his credit, Secretary Sias does an admirable job summarizing the broad work of the BOD in the open, “public” sessions of the meeting.  The minutes relate lots of good news about Synod finances and actions regarding new hires.

…And More BOD Control…

Later, Secretary Sias reported some BOD actions regarding a new BOD policy manual.  It moves the BOD away from the Carver model to more direct board control at all levels (see Sections 287 and 288) — and even increased control of LCMS agencies.

The example used by our Synod BOD to support the change?  They cited the positive, forward-thinking actions of the LCEF as exhibiting “mission creep” (Section 289) into areas “not assigned” to LCEF.

While the BOD allowed for “good-heartedness,” the minutes reflect its desire to control the good ideas and actions of LCEF which benefit all of us in Synod:

“While undoubtedly done with good-heartedness, with a “desire to make a positive difference for the Synod,” and alongside significant partnerships and gifts in support of Synod efforts such as Soldiers of the Cross Amplified and Set Apart to Serve, LCEF’s recent acquisition of Grace Place and a new leadership gathering approach, among other things, have been perceived as “mission creep” into areas not assigned among financial and closely-related services.” (Section 289, Page 226) [Emphasis Added]

In the future, the Synod BOD will “review and approve” all larger expansions of operations of all our LCMS agencies.  Will that happen in “open sessions” or be hidden in “executive sessions”?  Sadly, one can only summarize from these minutes that Synod’s BOD has concerns about the LCEF Board growing LCEF’s good work to expand Christ’s Kingdom among us.

We believe Synod’s BOD should laud LCEF’s initiative and actions for all of us.  But instead, the BOD voted to increase its control by drilling down into agency actions.  Again, this should concern all of us in the LCMS, especially if the BOD’s future controlling decisions and actions will be hidden in executive sessions.

…And Continued BOD Silence

Of greatest concern to Synod members should be the six – count them – six executive sessions described only by their general titles. 

Would your congregation accept that from your leaders?

Again, while certain legal issues may require confidentiality, what could be the need for executive session secrecy in the 2019 Res. 7-03 Committee Review?  The same would hold true for the Higher Education Committee.  

It’s almost January. There’s still no report to Concordia Texas regarding the Synod President’s official visitation.  And there’s no information regarding the “secret” recommendation of the Concordia University System reported by Texas DP Newman, which caused the CTX BOR to vote to change their governance model on November 8.

We Must Be Better Than This

Our Synod leaders can do better than this for the cause of Christ.

We must.  We are people of the light (Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 5:14-16), called on by Jesus to something more – something better.

Our Congregations and Our Synod don’t need to be saved from the truth. On the contrary, we need to hear it.

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