By David L. Mahsman
The Synod’s Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) Dec. 13 reaffirmed three earlier opinions that the Synod may not expel a member who, in the performance of official duties, follows the advice and counsel of his or her ecclesiastical supervisor.
The three opinions are among eight that the Synod’s Board of Directors in November declared to be “of no effect.” A number of district conventions last year also raised questions about the opinions.
The CCM said it took another look in response to requests from two pastors and a congregational voters assembly, as well as to other input it received on the matter.
The CCM had said that “a member of the Synod had the right to rely on the advice and counsel of his/her ecclesiastical supervisor in taking official actions without fear of being expelled from the Synod.”
In its November action, the Board of Directors said that were a member exempted from termination of Synod membership on such grounds but had committed “gross, grievous crimes or other wrong-doing,” the result could be “significant legal liability.”
The CCM responded to such concerns by saying that its opinion “specifically references official duty and action, not personal offensive conduct.” It said that “personal offensive conduct or conduct that is illegal or criminal can certainly not be included in the context of the quoted prior opinion.”
The pastors who asked the CCM to reconsider its opinions suggested that the opinions place the counsel of an ecclesiastical supervisor ahead of Scripture. “Should not the Scriptures supercede any interpretation of the Bylaws?” one asked.
The commission said that the Synod “expresses its collective understanding (and interpretation) of the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions through its doctrinal resolutions and statements in convention and also expresses its collective will through its Constitution, Bylaws and other resolutions.” It said that if the Constitution, Bylaws or resolutions contradict or exceed the boundaries of Scripture, “it is incumbent upon the Synod in convention to amend or repeal such.”
The CCM noted that the Bylaws charge it with “the duty to `interpret the Synod’s Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions.’ It does not interpret the Scriptures.
“The Synod has reserved unto itself the right to determine whether a decision of the commission is valid or in error or if it contradicts the Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws,” the CCM continued. “Bylaw 3.905d provides that `an opinion rendered by the commission shall be binding on the question decided unless and until it is overruled by a synodical convention.'”
In other business at its Dec. 13 meeting, the CCM said that there currently is no bylaw that “explicitly approves, forbids or addresses the timing” of Board of Directors’ appointments to various boards and commissions. A pastor had asked whether a Board of Directors elected for one triennium may make appointments to boards and commissions that will not take office until after new directors are elected by a Synod convention.
In recent years, the Board has made appointments at its May meeting just before a Synod convention, but the appointees would not take office until September — after the convention.
“It is reasonable to advocate that no appointments should be made for a new triennium by an outgoing Board of Directors prior to those positions becoming vacant at the end of the triennium,” the CCM said. It added, though, that it would be difficult for a new Board of Directors to make “informed appointments” upon taking office Sept. 1 and expecting its appointees to take office that same day. The Bylaws state that all those elected or appointed shall be inducted on or after Sept. 1 following the convention.
The CCM recommended “that this matter be referred to the Commission on Structure for the development of a convention action that will resolve this question.”