Five Votes

I spent the day in Cheyenne, testifying before the House Judicial Committee. I learned a lot about how the political system actually works. For those who have seen House of Cards, that’s probably not too far off. It’s ugly. It’s unseemly. And it certainly doesn’t belong in the church.


This week, we celebrate(?) the fortieth anniversary of the walkout. I recall reading that in 1969 at the Denver convention, the incumbent president – sympathetic to the “new hermeneutic” – was defeated by J.A.O Preus by five votes out of nearly a thousand. One half of one percent is all that separates the LCMS of today from the ELCA (or at least the NALC).

And how did that .005 difference come about? We can deny it all we like, but the truth is that a certain newspaper gets the credit. As I like to say, the one no one reads, but everyone knows what it says. His twofold goal in publishing: Bring down the Seminex sympathizers, and get certified by the synod Department of Mother-May-I for a ministry he was already conducting.

I know of one journalism professor at a synod college who used it as an example of bad layout. Funded on a shoe-string, it was neither glossy nor what you would describe as artistically sophisticated. But no one can argue that this man was a kingmaker and king-breaker in the Mississippi River branch-office of Zion. His small, mom-and-pop publication got results.

JAO Preus? Alvin Barry? Men who would have been the answer to trivia questions about “Who came in second at the 19XX convention?”

Ralph Bohlman? John Teitjen? John Behnken? They all found out what it means to be on the receiving end of his displeasure.

The left considered it a badge of honor to be lambasted in it. Come to think of it, so did the right. If you wanted a place to publish an anonymous editorial to advance your agenda, this was it.

Those planning a rebellion against the left could not do so without his support, or at least without his guarantee that he would not sabotage your candidate. The problem? He would not play that political game. He would not concede his choice to yours unless he actually thought your man was better. He had no political allegiances, and didn’t care about the political process at all. He offered no guarantees, beyond doing what he felt was right.

And every “conservative” candidate for president that has been elected in the last forty-five years has made the pilgrimage to New Haven, to talk to the editor, to be polite, to assure the editor of his commitment to sound old-fashioned Lutheran theology. And then every one of them has ignored him from the moment of his election to high office.

Because politics is a dirty business. It’s unbecoming in the church.

And yet, you can find it going back to the time of Nicaea, and before. Indeed, even our vaunted “candidate call process” by which new pastors are placed in their parishes by in a solemn service, in which they receive a call that is Divine, has been described by one former synod official as “The Holy Spirit engages in the biggest horse-trading-scheme known to man.”

We live in a sinful world. And God works even through those sinful motives, ambitions and back-room deals to bring about the glory of his kingdom. You can despise that truth, but it doesn’t change it. Just ask Caiaphas. His weakness is stronger than our strength. In political terms you might be tempted to say “His corruption is purer than our righteousness.” And while you may say that, I couldn’t possibly comment on it.

UPDATED: I have deleted certain over-the-top comments about the publication in question. They distracted from the main point of the article.

PS. For those who are wondering why I didn’t mention said publication by name, that’s the point of my article. As I note above, no one ever admits to reading it, but everyone always knows exactly what’s in it. Because, of course, everyone does read it. Whether you consider it a friendly magazine or a scourge, you do read it when no one’s looking. But politics being politics, you don’t want to admit to doing so in the polite company of your circuit visitor or District President.

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