Talk or Fight -- Which Will Win At Convention?

Talk or Fight — Which Will Win at Convention?

As delegates review resolutions standing before our Milwaukee convention, leaders and delegates will have to decide if they want to talk, listen, and reconcile — or fight, denounce, and condemn.  Some have already drawn the battle lines, suggesting conflict is necessary.

Others, like Pacific Southwest District President Mike Gibson, are trying to bring more light than heat to the issues delegates will face.  Gibson decided that for resolutions like 7-03 and 7-04, providing delegates with information from both sides of an issue is vital.

Using a Synod video and video interviews made by Pastor Tim Ahlman, President Gibson made sure his delegates heard from President Harrison and Mr. Christian Preus, representing the Synod leadership’s “side,” as well as from Concordia University Texas (CTX) President Don Christian and CTX Provost Kristi Kirk, representing the other.  Read the re-formatted letter from President Gibson below.  You can click on the links to read the documents and view the videos.

A Letter To Pacific-Southwest District Delegates

Dear Delegates,

Thanks to all of you for your faithful service as PSD delegates and representatives at the upcoming LCMS convention.

My purpose in writing today is to offer some information that I hope will assist you to better understand two of the significant issues at the upcoming convention: the situation surrounding Concordia University Texas (1st Issue of Today’s Business Resolution, 7-03) and the massive, proposed bylaw changes concerning the Concordia University System and Synod’s relationship with the Concordia Universities (1st Issue of Today’s Business, Resolutions 7-04 and 7-05). While much has been written in recent publications about these topics, most delegates are unfamiliar with other perspectives.


To assist you in becoming better informed on these complicated topics, I am providing links to recent resources from Synod and video interviews conducted by PSD’s own, Rev. Dr. Tim Ahlman, Pastor of Christ Greenfield Lutheran Church and School in Gilbert, AZ on his Unite Leadership Collective podcast. I hope that you will take the time to prayerfully watch these videos and hear firsthand from the key participants on both sides of the discussion.


President Harrison discusses upcoming CUS conversations at 2023 Convention


Ahlman’s interview with Mr. Christian Preus, Chairman of the 2019 7-03 Task Force.


Ahlman’s Interview with Dr. Don Christian, CTX President, and Dr. Kristi Kirk, CTX Provost

I look forward to our time together as we represent the Pacific Southwest District at the LCMS Convention in Milwaukee.

In Christ,

President Mike Gibson

Hearing Both Sides Is Not The Usual Thing

President Gibson has done a wise thing.  Armed with this information, delegates will be able to make decisions based on both sides of the issue — because they heard from both sides.

Sadly, hearing from both sides of an issue is not the norm in the LCMS.  Normally, Synod leadership does its best to present its opinion on an issue and diminishes contrary opinions.  Both sides of any issue are rarely shared in public in advance of a convention.  An institutional church’s focus on preserving Synod bureaucracy, structure, and bylaws doesn’t allow for other voices to be heard.

At least that’s the way President Harrison described it in his 2008 campaign pamphlet, It’s Time.

“Despite the noblest of intentions, these divisions shift the institution’s attention away from the congregation as the primary locus of mission and mercy, to itself—to the preservation of the bureaucracy, to structure and bylaws. Sola structura!

And we behold the results of our failure. And it is our failure, including mine. Until we all recognize our part in this morass, God will continue to allow us to suffer exactly what we choose and richly deserve.” (Harrison, It’s Time, Page 4)

The Convention Process Doesn’t Help

Just the process of conducting a convention contributes to our Synod’s one-sided communication. Sometimes people will cite the “dollar per minute” cost of conventions for hurrying to decisions without proper debate.  Others will press the “need for speed” decision-making button based on “the amount of work we have to accomplish in a short time.”  Some will believe no debate is needed due to the simplicity of proposed Bylaw changes (“Everybody agrees with these simple changes, right?  Why discuss it?”).  Finally, knowing there is a 52%-48% majority in voting delegates for “their” side (as is the case for most conventions — just like our last Synod President election), decisions have been steamrolled through the convention (“We all know what the outcome will be, so why not just get to the vote?”).

That’s the normal for conventions in the LCMS…unless…

…Unless delegates decide to listen to one another.

…Unless delegates allow appropriate questions to be asked.

…Unless delegates determine they won’t allow a motion to “call the question” to end debate before we’ve heard the opinions and alternate options from voices who stand in opposition.

…Unless delegates choose to wait to vote in order to hear from people who will be affected by the decisions we make.

An example?  At one of the past Milwaukee conventions, there was a rush to make bylaw changes affecting ecclesiastical supervision.  Seven brave district presidents holding a different opinion stood together at a microphone for 30 minutes waiting to be recognized.  Delegate after delegate asked to hear from them with no effect.  When finally recognized, their wise words made all the difference in the decisions the delegates made.  As a result of hearing from both sides, convention delegates chose not to consider the ecclesiastical supervision issue until there was a discussion between the Council of Presidents and the Synod President.

Waiting to act is sometimes the best decision a convention can make.  Listening to one another is ALWAYS a mark of a Christ-centered convention.

We Can Choose to Change

What would our witness to the Lord Jesus Christ and the rest of the LCMS be if this were the first convention in the LCMS in years:

    • when reconciliation and unity were the focus of all we do
    • where we listened and were genuinely heard,
    • where we confessed our faults and absolved one another, and
    • where we determined to follow President Harrison’s “85% advice” from his 2008 publication, It’s Time:

Consider President Harrison’s 85% Rule

When he was running for Synod President, President Harrison made some wise observations that delegates to the 2023 Milwaukee convention should consider:

“The aggravation that has been and will continue to be caused by continued change only exacerbates the divisions, decreases the trust, joy, and participation of congregations in our synodical life, and, most sadly, closes ears.

Bylaw and constitutional matters should come to the floor of the convention only if they have been previously recognized across the broad spectrum as non-political, and not given to exacerbate an already tense situation.

And once on the floor they should be adopted only by a minimum 85% approval.

If “the gates of hell shall not prevail against [the church]” then holding off on a few constitution and bylaw changes of the Missouri Synod probably won’t hold her up much, either.”  (Harrison, It’s Time, Page 15, Emphasis Added).

As convention chairman, President Harrison should listen to his own sage advice.  Our Congregations — Our Synod believes that a convention marked by more conversation and listening to one another rather than using political processes to silence people and steamroll issues will bless our congregations and our Synod — and our witness to the world of what confessing Christ crucified means at a convention.

Remember the Example of Acts 15

In Acts 15, the Church didn’t make a decision on the controversial matter of circumcision until “…after there had been much debate…” (v. 7) and they listened to the “outsiders” Paul and Barnabas speak.  Remember how Luke described it?  s

What would have happened to the witness of the Church to the Gentiles if they hadn’t talked — and listened?  Would the “circumcision party” have won the day and passed their resolution?

“We Preach Christ Crucified” is a great slogan for a church.  Are we willing to live it in a convention, or will our political process overtake our aspirations to live out the Gospel in all we do?


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