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Topics - Charles Henrickson

The Boring-Isn't-Bad Convention

The gavel has sounded. The 2013 National LCMS Convention has come to a close. Some might call it "The Do-Nothing Convention." Or "The Kick-the-Can-Down-the-Road Convention." Or "The It-Isn't-Time-Yet Convention." Or "The Baptized-for-the-Next-Convention Convention." But I think a better name might be "The Boring-Isn't-Bad Convention."

Late in the week President Harrison said (I'm paraphrasing, since I don't have the exact quote in front of me): "Some have said this has been a boring convention. And that's not bad." My translation: There's no way this convention could possibly match the intense drama of the 2010 convention. And a lot of the resolutions here won't change the synod overnight and fix all the problems at once. But we are putting some things in place that will help us deal with the important issues, more directly and decisively, beginning at the next convention. We're moving the ball down the field in the right direction. And we're doing it in a patient, consensus-building way. In other words, boring isn't bad.

Today I'm writing only a brief, off-the-top-of-my-head reflection on the convention just concluded. (I may put together a more complete report later on.) And I'll focus on the business of the convention, the resolutions and elections, rather than on the worship, the theological essays, etc. For example, the magnificent music at the services, President Harrison's "You're all wet/It's in the water" sermon, his "gavel-gazing" speech--all excellent, and you can find links to them through the page, but I won't spend time on them here.


Of course many of the "mom and apple pie" resolutions passed by wide margins, virtually unopposed. These were opportunities to highlight the good work our synod has been doing in many areas: e.g., campus ministry, military chaplains, disaster response. So also with resolutions on the Koinonia Project, fellowship with several overseas church bodies, some boring bylaw language clarifications--little controversy there.

The resolutions that addressed more controverted issues fell mostly in these committees: 4, Theology and Church Relations; 5, Seminary and University Education; and 7, Structure and Ecclesiastical Matters.

Committees 4 and 5: In regard to licensed lay deacons and the SMP program, structures were put in place--a task force here, an oversight committee there--that will bring recommendations for action to the 2016 convention. Likewise with our seminaries and universities. There will be a task force to address the question of Lutheran identity at our Concordias, lest they drift away from our theological moorings. And there will be a committee that must give prior approval to any new faculty at our seminaries. These measures are not glamorous, but they could prove effective.

Committee 7: This committee did have some good resolutions, and they passed, particularly a couple that emphasize the importance of visitation. But this committee also proposed the only really bad resolutions in the book. These were the past Blue Ribbon proposals dug up from the graveyard of bad ideas. I am happy to report they all failed miserably. One resolution would have allowed visitation circuits to be formed by "affinity" rather than geography, thus further balkanizing us when we need to be brought together. We defeated that one on Monday by a whopping 71% to 29%. Another resolution, the worst one in the book, would have taken delegate elections away from the circuits and moved them up to the district level. We thermonucleared that one 93-7. Its companion enabling resolution thus did not come to the floor. And while the proposal to go to a four-year convention cycle was brought up early in the week, the committee did not bother bringing it back later, because that one would have been shot down too.


There were a total of 71 elections, if you include the pre-convention election for Synod President. And there were two competing lists recommending candidates. The United List (UL) traditionally recommends more conservative/confessional candidates. The other list usually recommends more liberal/church-growthish candidates. That list this time was called the "Missional/Our Future/Preferred Servants List" (MOFPSL)--the title morphed over the last several weeks. If you're using a scorecard, the UL won 40 head-to-head elections, the MOFPSL won 19. Candidates common to both lists won eight elections, and candidates from neither list won four. Speaking as one who generally favors the United List choices, I can say we ran the table on the Praesidium, winning the presidency and all six vice-presidencies. This in turn may tip the balance--to the good--on the Council of Presidents. And we swept the four elections for new members to the Fort Wayne Board of Regents. But we split the four elections for the LCMS Board of Directors (although the overall balance looks good). And we split the four elections for the St. Louis BOR.

Overall, the tone of this convention was amicable, the theme for the inspiration was baptismal, the synod's good work was highlighted, and the framework was put in place for correcting some nagging problems more decisively next time. All in all, boring isn't bad. We're moving in the right direction.
Video: Harrison Speaks Before House Committee

Transcript of LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison's Feb. 16 Testimony before House Committee on Government and Oversight

Article including transcript: Missouri Synod President tells House Committee: LCMS 'religiously opposed to supporting abortion-causing drugs'

Missouri Synod President tells House Committee: LCMS 'religiously opposed to supporting abortion-causing drugs'

ST. LOUIS—February 16, 2012—The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the St. Louis-based Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, was one of several witnesses to give testimony today during the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's hearing, "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" Following are Harrison's comments to the committee:

"Mr. Chairman, it's a pleasure to be here. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a body of some 6,200 congregations and 2.3 million members across the U.S. We don't distribute voters' lists. We don't have a Washington office. We are studiously non-partisan, so much so that we're often criticized for being quietistic.

"I'd rather not be here, frankly. Our task is to proclaim, in the words of the blessed apostle St. John, the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses us from all our sin. And we care for the needy. We haven't the slightest intent to Christianize the government. Martin Luther famously quipped one time, 'I'd rather have a smart Turk than a stupid Christian governing me.'

"We confess that there are two realms, the church and the state. They shouldn't be mixed – the church is governed by the Word of God, the state by natural law and reason, the Constitution. We have 1,000 grade schools and high schools, 1,300 early childhood centers, 10 colleges and universities. We are a machine which produces good citizens for this country, and at tremendous personal cost.

"We have the nation's only historic black Lutheran college in Concordia, Selma. Many of our people [who are alive today] walked with Dr. King 50 years ago on the march from Selma to Montgomery. We put up the first million dollars and have continued to provide finance for the Nehemiah Project in New York as it has continued over the years, to provide home ownership for thousands of families, many of them headed by single women. Our agency in New Orleans, Camp Restore, rebuilt over 4,000 homes after Katrina, through the blood, sweat and tears of our volunteers. Our Lutheran Malaria Initiative, barely begun, has touched the lives of 1.6 million people in East Africa, especially those affected by disease, women and children. And this is just the tip, the very tip, of the charitable iceberg.

"I'm here to express our deepest distress over the HHS provisions. We are religiously opposed to supporting abortion-causing drugs. That is, in part, why we maintain our own health plan. While we are grandfathered under the very narrow provisions of the HHS policy, we are deeply concerned that our consciences may soon be martyred by a few strokes on the keyboard as this administration moves us all into a single-payer ... system. Our direct experience in the Hosanna-Tabor case with one of our congregations gives us no comfort that this administration will be concerned to guard our free-exercise rights.

"We self-insure 50,000 people. We do it well. Our workers make an average of $43,000 a year, 17,000 teachers make much less, on average. Our health plan was preparing to take significant cost-saving measures, to be passed on to our workers, just as this health-care legislation was passed. We elected not to make those changes, incur great cost, lest we fall out of the narrow provisions required under the grandfather clause. While we are opposed in principle, not to all forms of birth control, but only abortion-causing drugs, we stand with our friends in the Catholic Church and all others, Christians and non-Christians, under the free exercise and conscience provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

"Religious people determine what violates their consciences, not the federal government. The conscience is a sacred thing. Our church exists because overzealous governments in northern Europe made decisions which trampled the religious convictions of our forebearers. I have ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War. I have ancestors who were on the Lewis and Clark expedition. I have ancestors who served in the War of 1812, who fought for the North in the Civil War – my 88-year-old father-in-law has recounted to me, in tears many times, the horrors of the Battle of the Bulge. In fact, Bud Day, the most highly decorated veteran alive, is a member of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

"We fought for a free conscience in this country, and we won't give it up without a fight. To paraphrase Martin Luther, the heart and conscience has room only for God, not for God and the federal government. The bed is too narrow, the blanket is too short. We must obey God rather than men, and we will. Please get the federal government, Mr. Chairman, out of our consciences. Thank you."

Harrison's full transcript and video from today's hearing, as well as a video message and previous statements to the church, can be found at
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