There’s an old saying “Politics ain’t beanbag.” I suppose today’s hipsters would say “cornhole.” But either way, politics is a dirty game. Skulduggery is common. We saw it with the Kavanaugh hearings (on both sides). When this happens, the losing side says “They played dirty and won, they haven’t seen anything yet. We’ll go even lower.” This results in an endless cycle of racing to the bottom, with both sides fighting each other in the mud. Lost in all of this is that they were never supposed to be fighting against their opponents, they were supposed to be fighting for the people they rule over.
And now, we see a similar thing happening the LCMS. A new campaign website is up. It is anonymous. it makes vague charges about power hungry officials, but gives not one example of misconduct. The charges are so vaguely written that you could apply them to congress, the Supreme Court, your local town council, or my parenting style.
If you click on the donate button, it used to say the donation was going to a specific congregation. Now it has an anonymous contact form, and they’ll let you know if they want your money. I used to live in Chicago, where the story was told of a campaign volunteer who showed up and was asked, “Who sent you.” Eager to help, he answered, “No one”, only to be told, “Go away. We don’t want nobody who don’t know nobody.” Apparently this campaign is being run the same way. Our Lord’s word, “who ever does evil hates the light” comes to mind here. Each election cycle the descent continues toward the mud.
Years ago, there was a district, led by a less-than faithful district President. A challenger was found to stand against him in the election. The general consensus was that the challenger could win. He warned his friends not to go negative. If they wanted him to run against a sitting District President, they could talk about what his vision was for the district. But they were not to talk about errors his opponent had made. Vague charges, uncorroborated stories which would damage the reputation of this churchman – these were the hallmarks of the world, not the church. His friends, in their zeal, ignored his advice. On the floor of the convention, he apologized for the negative campaign, and withdrew his name. In so doing, he made clear that, in the church, we behave as if we are in the church.
Now, there is an anonymous website, with vague charges against a sitting President, and a campaign to challenge him. If that is the way some wish to campaign, so be it. But I hope it fails. I hope that the candidate they are promoting publicly states “This is not right. I will not run under these circumstances. I have differences with President Harrison. I would do things differently. But we both believe the church should be above anonymous and petty charges and insinuations.” He could lay out a vision of what he sees the church doing – publicly for all to see. President Harrison did that 9 years ago, to great effect. He didn’t bring vague charges. He didn’t go negative. He laid out a vision for what he would like to have happen. Some ideas worked: He said he thought that 85 percent of the synod could come to agree on worship. At the last convention close to that number voted that Lutheran Service Book was a wonderful resource for the church, and that the Divine Service was neat (NB: This may not have been the exact wording of the resolution). No one can say, “This guy said we would come together on worship, and now he’s got the synod publicly endorsing a hymnal! Where did that come from?” Based on the website for the challenger, it seems the 15% are less satisfied with this outcome, and perhaps want a more divergent unity in worship. But it’s hard to say. So far, the candidate has been silent.
Similarly, President Harrison said he was opposed to the structural changes, and wanted to see changes in oversight. The synod told him to implement those changes anyway, which he has done as best he can, and he has worked to make changes in oversight. No surprises there. He did what he was told, and did what he said he would do.
Other ideas have been shown in time to have been… overly idealistic. The Koinonia project seems to have stalled with little to show for it. As a participant, I can say that some seeds have been sown. But it will be decades before we see if that scattered planting bears any fruit among myriad weeds.
But in all these things, President Harrison has basically done what he said he would do. Some are unhappy with the pace. Others don’t like the direction at all. But the direction is not a surprise, and the pace is what happens when ideas come up against reality.
As for the challenger… I would love for him to lay out his vision for the church so all can see. Be specific. Don’t just say, “listen to all voices!” Don’t just say “Congregations are important?” What does that mean? How do you see that being carried out in an administration? When the synod has “Changed horses midstream” it’s because the challenger clearly laid out a vision for a different synod administration, not because of vague anonymous charges from shadowy websites. J.A.O Preus spoke and wrote about the importance of scripture. Dr. Barry toured the country speaking to churches; many of his writings were published for all to see. Dr. Harrison published “It’s Time” – practically a manifesto of churchmanly vision. He has hewn to that, by and large.
Most importantly, President Maier must decry these anonymous attempts to smear the administration with vague charges. It is not churchly. The only way to avoid the mud-pit is if those in a position to benefit from its use renounce it. If there are ungodly things happening at 1333 S. Kirkwood road, then state them publicly and explicitly. Many objected to President Kieschnick’s sale of KFUO. One of his Vice Presidents – usually very supportive of him – even wrote an open letter against it. And he signed his name. District Preisdent Maier could learn a lot from Former-Synod-Vice-President Maier, his uncle.
A specific act, deserves a specific charge. If there are specific sins of the Harrison Administration, what are they? Absent those charges, publicly made, I am content with President Harrison. As I see things, the bar for un-electing a man in the church is high. Even if I would prefer someone else and think they would do a better job, if the person in office is faithful, I will vote for them if they are willing to serve. So, I don’t see President Maier getting my vote at this time. President Harrison has not been unfaithful. I have disagreed with him at times. But elections in the church should never be an opinion contest. He is the President of our Synod. He is worthy of our respect, and unless he has been unfaithful, our votes. I would say the same if President Maier were in office. I’m glad he won re-election in Michigan with 78% of the vote. It means that 78% of the district agrees you should not depose a man without reason. (I don’t judge whether the other 22% had a reason. I’ve been gone too long to have informed opinions about my home district).
Applied to the synod, this means that, absent a specific and public charge, I will vote for President Harrison. In an open election, things might be different. If President Maier were to lay out a vision of the synod that is faithful to scripture and our confessions, I would certainly perk my ears up. But if all I have to go on is unsubstantiated rumors, vague assertions, and anonymous websites, with no renunciation by the man who is endorsed by that website, then I have an insight into his character. It’s one thing to put together a shadowy list. That’s been happening in our synod for years. I wish it didn’t happen. But at least those lists (on either side) put forward qualified men to serve. They don’t tear down the opposition.
If District President Maier wishes at some point to become Synod President Maier, I would encourage him to do the churchly thing, the honorable thing, the Christ-like thing. Don’t let shadows tear down a good man. Stop the skullduggery. The church is better than that. And I pray you are too.