By Roland Lovstad
Expressing hopes for “a growing spirit of reconciliation, peace, and harmony in our beloved Synod,” four LCMS pastors, five district presidents, and President Gerald B. Kieschnick have issued a joint statement regarding questions about exceptions that allowed certain circuits to elect delegates to the 2007 LCMS convention.
The discussions and resulting statement, dated Sept. 4, follow concern over circuit delegate exceptions for the 2007 convention and what may have been seen as an attempt to gain political advantage.
Under Synod bylaws, an electoral circuit consists of one or two adjacent visitation circuits with their convention delegates — a pastor and a layman — representing from seven to 20 member congregations with an aggregate communicant membership ranging from 1,500 to 10,000. Exceptions to those requirements may be made only by the Synod president upon the request of a district board of directors.
“It is the prayer of all the undersigned that this Joint Statement to the Council of Presidents [COP] from the Committee of Five, the Committee of Four, and the President of the Synod will result in creation of a system of representation to the national conventions of our Synod that will be more fair, objective, and equitable than the current system and that eliminates the process for granting circuit delegate exceptions,” said the statement, distributed Sept. 15 to the COP meeting in St. Louis.
The COP assigned the “Committee of Five” to address a report prepared by Dr. Frederic W. Baue, pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church, Fairview Heights, Ill. Baue’s report, issued prior to the 2007 convention, alleged that districts had done little to address what he and others believed were excessive circuit exceptions. His report also questioned whether Kieschnick and certain districts collaborated to obtain extra voting delegates.
Also subscribing to Baue’s report were three Minnesota pastors: Rev. Steven C. Briel of Maple Grove, Rev. Thomas J. Queck of Annandale, and Rev. Dean M. Bell of Hendrum. The men, referred to as the “Committee of Four,” were plaintiffs in an earlier lawsuit dealing with circuit exceptions and helped negotiate an agreement in that lawsuit.
Instructed to better understand the concerns and to address offense taken by the COP, the “Committee of Five” included five district presidents. Rev. Herbert Mueller Jr., Southern Illinois; Dr. Lane Seitz, Minnesota South; and Rev. Donald Fondow, Minnesota North, are ecclesiastical supervisors of the concerned pastors. Dr. David Benke, Atlantic, represented districts that had requested circuit exceptions. The committee was chaired by Rev. Dale Sattgast, South Dakota, who represented districts that did not request circuit exceptions.
Following Baue’s report and before the 2007 convention, Kieschnick appointed a special committee to review the circuit exceptions. In a May 14, 2007, report, the committee said it found no evidence of collaboration between the president and the districts regarding seating of delegates. The special committee also reported that “a comprehensive study of concerns associated with the Synod’s delegate representation process is needed.”
That review committee consisted of the chairman and vice chairman of the Council of Presidents, the chairman and vice chairman of the LCMS Board of Directors, the Synod secretary, the Synod vice president-finance/treasurer, and the chairman of the LCMS Commission on Constitutional Matters.
In the joint statement, Baue admits his conclusions were “based upon inaccurate and insufficient information and regrets the offense he has caused.” Bell, Briel, and Queck acknowledge that two statements in Baue’s report were “inaccurate,” “prejudicial,” and “caused offense.” In meetings with the Committee of Five and with Kieschnick, the men have apologized and asked for forgiveness. “They have also apologized for calling into question in their letter President Kieschnick’s integrity and the conduct of his office regarding this matter,” the statement said.
The Committee of Five and Kieschnick have accepted their apologies and expressed to them the Lord’s forgiveness.
In addition, the statement says, “President Kieschnick affirms the concern of the Committee of Four that in this process the integrity of the Synod and its convention be maintained. He regrets and sincerely desires to avoid any appearance to the contrary.”
The two “committees” and the president state their recognition that the increase in circuit exceptions could be reason to question the propriety and wisdom of the general practice of granting circuit exceptions. “The President of the Synod acknowledges that had this problem been effectively addressed sooner, much offense could have been avoided,” the statement said.
It also said the selection of convention delegates needs to be addressed through bylaw changes, and notes the work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance. Until the process is amended by a convention, the statement offers a detailed procedure for documenting requests and considering circuit delegate exceptions.
The Committee of Five and the Committee of Four held four meetings. The first two were May 18 and July 2, 2007. Kieschnick attended the two meetings on April 29 and Sept. 4 of this year. “All meetings were cordial and evangelical, and included frank discussions and exchanges of views,” the statement said. “All who were present participated in good faith.”
The joint statement will be mailed to all voting delegates to the 2007 Synod convention. The full text of the document, along with the report of the Convention Delegate Review Committee, is on the Reporter Online Web site (click here).
Roland Lovstad is a freelance writer and a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Perryville, Mo.
Posted Sept. 25, 2008