The Politics of Restructuring

Last week the Canadian Lutheran published an essay by President Robert Bugbee entitled, “I support restructuring.” He says Synod has tried and failed to restructure many times. While that may be true, they must have been half-hearted attempts. There’s no mention of restructuring in the Canadian Lutheran Prior to 2015 (including paper copies), when three District conventions told synod to fix itself. I’ve followed conventions closely since the early 90’s. At best, there was only ever talk.

Synod has always been reticent to accept that the 2015 District motions to restructure were an order to “heal thyself.” Reticence aside, it’s the honest version of the issue. Delegates and members of all Districts were appalled by the collapse of CEF in ABC district, and wanted to avoid the problem from happening elsewhere. Heck, LCEF in Missouri went through a review process to make sure it wasn’t subject to the same governance and management issues in LCC. If that’s not a wake-up call…

Synod and ABC District have consistently tried to whitewash restructuring as having little or nothing to do CEF.  Anyone who claims restructuring didn’t spring out of the CEF issue is dishing you a big sad bowl of tired, dry bullshit. The suggestion that the harm caused to thousands of our own church members wasn’t the impetus for restructuring is more offensive than the word bullshit. It’s tone deaf, disappointing, and wrong.

To make the argument, Synod and CCMS need to present a mountain of information and documentation that shows serious restructuring work was underway and was going to be presented imminently. Of course, that’s not going to materialize because it didn’t happen. Apparently in LCC, just saying the word “restructuring” qualifies as planning and work to that end. Or something. It don’t know. It’s all a little untethered from what one would typically call “shared reality.”

It’s also a position that protects the people responsible for CEF/DIL’s collapse. I was at the ABC 2015 convention. I spoke with a lot of delegates. A lot of them came and spoke to me. CEF was the only reason for the motions…there’s utterly no doubt about it. It’s sickening that leaders in our Synod are gaslighting this issue. No one was deep in restructuring plans before CEF collapsed. A toddler in a waking fog has enough critical faculties to see through that claim.

President Bugbee says LCC needs to simplify its structure since we’ve used an inappropriate model since the inception of Synod in 1988. We agree on this. I’ve said it for a while, but it just seems strange that Bugbee writes an essay extolling the virtues of restructuring our synod after its own Board of Directors rejected the restructuring plan presented to it by the Committee for Constitutional Matters and Restructuring (CCMS). Like, “hey, I like this restructuring even though it just blew up in my face.” What?!

President Bugbee also says the process has been criticized for being rushed. I doubt he was addressing this blog, but I do remember writing how the process was broken, flawed, self-serving, amateurish, and generally pointless to the point that it would end in failure, which it did.

Instead of facing the failure of the proposed plan and process, the Synod Board of Directors has convened a brain trust of just four individuals who will re-write a new structure. Synod must believe that a few of us is smarter than all of us. Yeesh. Every time the ABC District Board of Directors saw imminent failure, it doubled down on its mistake. Synod is doing the same: process is broken, may as well push through AFTER it failed. What?!

President Bugbee identifies that LCC is about the same size as Iowa West District of Missouri Synod. Yep. True. If the problem is that obvious, then why didn’t President Bugbee do something about it earlier? He’s been president for years. He announced he won’t stand for office again, and then says restructuring is important? Puh-leeeeze. “Hey guys, there’s a problem…you should fix that after I’m gone.” A class act.

The essay tries to congeal consensus: restructuring is good. The thing is, it’s true: LCC desperately needs a structure it can live and work with. But here’s the bigger problem: Synod’s biggest problems aren’t structural. Worse yet: the board of directors killed the restructuring plan, only to kick start a new, smaller, closed process which will be foisted on delegates at convention. What?!

After CEF collapsed, the ABC District formed a Review Task Force to report on the causes of ABC’s collapse. It found emotional and spiritual abuse, as well as bullying, entitlement, and abuse and intimidation as forms of persuasion and governance. More study was recommended. So naturally, ABC District didn’t like the results and disbanded the task force, but the problems were clear: LCC is unhealthy. Interviews, transcripts, meeting minutes revealed habitual abuse of spiritual authority, weak governance, and personality politics. LCC’s culture hides weaknesses, disputes clarity, shuns openness, and hides (and sometimes rewards) sin. It’s not something you restructure your way out of.

LCC is sleepwalking into a disaster. Just two months before convention no one has a copy of the new structure or bylaws to read, let alone review and provide feedback on. It’s not available because it’s still being written. Two months before convention and restructuring has entered its most important phase: the “make it up as we go along and hopefully no one notices,” phase. The board of directors declared the actual restructuring plan a bust but hey, why should failure stop us from…oh…

The restructuring plan presented to convention will be the equivalent of an idea scrawled on a used napkin. When you look at the napkin later to carefully consider that important and hastily scrawled note, you inevitably think, “I should have ordered the fries with gravy.”

Part of the problem is that LCC is a divided church. It’s a blind rift that’s been consolidating for decades.

My first job after graduating from university was as recruitment officer for then Concordia College. I traveled to over 260 – at the time more than two thirds – of LCC’s congregations. What I saw as a mostly recognizable LCMS looking East and Central District, while ABC District spun off in all kinds of interesting directions. It was clear the differences between congregations weren’t just cosmetic.

I’m not saying Synod should be split or is going to, I’m saying it is. A thought experiment helps make the point:

Scenario #1. Imagine a Synod President, executive staff, Board of Directors all from East District. Now imagine what Synod would look like in 10 years.

Scenario #2. Imagine a Synod President, executive staff, Board of Directors, all from ABC District. Now imagine what synod would look like in 10 years.

In a unified Synod you’d just shrug and say, “Same difference.” In LCC we can’t do that; not if we’re being honest. I know one ABC District board member who would be apoplectic if scenario #1 came to pass. If you had even a fleeting “yeah, that would be nice,” to either scenario, then we’re divided, at least along geographic lines.

To recap: LCC’s outgoing President has announced his support for the restructuring project which has failed, the tatters of which he won’t be around to implement, steer, and whose outcome is free of debate and consideration just two months before a decision has to be made.

What should happen: President Bugbee would recognize that the planned restructuring effort failed. The current extension of the process is derivative, exclusive, and should be halted. He would contact the Board of Directors and ask them to change the purpose of convention to deal with Synod’s structure and governance. We keep forgetting that governance is the focus of a structure: who is responsible (we probably forget because in LCC’s case, since 2015 it’s about who will hide behind lawyers).

Everything is in place already: hotels, flights, and convention rooms are booked. LCC will be having a convention in 2017 in Kitchener, Ontario. It’s not as subversive as it sounds: serious people need to take control of the agenda and address the real issues (hint: stuff not in the convention handbook).

LCC conventions have always been something of an open joke. Early agenda items are information, essays, reports. We pass motherhood motions like, “everyone should encourage confirmands to bring a friend to the church picnic.” I would add, only if they have those Costco kosher all-beef wieners. They’re the best. Also, breaking news: most confirmands I know see issues too, and they’d like to have a seat at the table because it’s their church too. Where was I? Oh yes. Once we’ve affirmed the quilters and the bottle drives, slow pitch ministry (seriously), and whatever else we prioritize over serious issues, we end up with 45 minutes on the last day to simply pass important issues without discussion or debate. Irrational agendas and obstructive schedules have to stop if we have any hope of making any progress.

LCC’s President outlines the political reasons he supports restructuring, but not the spiritual reasons. The shape of a church is an expression of its faith. Right now, LCC’s structure is in disarray. We should probably work on that together.

 

Andreas Schwabe is editor and publisher of SolaGratia.ca, and an Edmonton-based multimedia & communication strategist and producer. His focus for SolaGratia is on administration, governance, and issues of faith. For clients, he writes or produces just about anything.

15 thoughts on “The Politics of Restructuring

  1. “I’m not saying Synod should be split or is going to, I’m saying it is.”

    This really is what complicates restructuring. We do not agree concerning the teaching of the Gospel or the administration of the sacraments (AC VII). Thus, neither side trusts the other. We try to be Canadian nice and not talk about it, though, and pretend that everything is fine, even communing together.

  2. ANO

    President Bugbee identifies that LCC is about the same size as Iowa West District of Missouri Synod.

    LCC may have the same membership numbers as Iowa West – but – Iowa West’s landmass could fit inside South Central Ontario. Iowa West’s travel distance are much smaller, there’s only one State’s laws, etc. to comply with, etc while LCC has to cover multiple provinces over a landmass roughly equal to that of the United States.

    Comparing Iowa West to LCC is flawed at best and completely inappropriate at worst.

    • Bird

      Would you suggest that LCC has the resources to operate a synod or districts but we don’t have the resources to operate both?

      • ANO

        Bird – I’d say the financial cost aspect of that question is still on the table. Synod proposed restructuring “because” – and we didn’t see anything that looked remotely like a SWAT (Strengths, Weaknesses, And Threats) analysis to justify the change until after the restructuring committee had been pestered by the membership for a good period of time. When this whole affair started the costs to run the various levels of Synod should’ve been down cold and posted to the appropriate websites. From what I recall (and I’ll gladly accept correction on this) it had never been done before!

        Personally I find that amazing – how do you know what state your “business” is in if you don’t know what the net income and expenditures are? How does “the Church” ensure that money is spent prudently on worthwhile projects? How can anyone guage if a proposed change is an improvement if there’s no “before” baseline to compare against?

        Not only that, how is the membership going to be assured that every dollar sent it in is spent appropriately if the people in charge aren’t diligent about tracking where the money is spent? In this post-CEF age I think the membership is going to be a lot less tolerant of “the Church” engaging in sloppy business practices that would’ve resulted in terminations where it to happen anywhere else.

        Take Bugbee and the CEF mess as an example. Legal and financial issues aside, the Task Force Report related a number of serious ecclesiastical issues, not to mention the direct fallout from the CEF itself. The SP is charged with ecclesiastical supervision of the pastorate, and I recall when this whole thing first broke that one of the first things Bugbee moved to do was ensure that ecclesiastical supervision was still in place.

        Now in a mess the size and scope of CEF you’d expect it’d be pretty easy to find at least a few culprits particularly when one or more of them publicly acknowledge their role and take responsibility for it.

        Now I ask you – have any heads rolled? Have any pastors that the SP is supposed to ‘supervise’ been chastised, rebuked, and / or defrocked? Would it interest you to know that ex-DP Schiemann under whose presidency most of this took place and who has publicly taken responsibility for CEF – is still on the clergy roster in good standing?

        Can you imagine what kind of message that sends to the membership?

        This leads to a different resource question – namely people resources. You need good people with a variety of areas of expertise to keep the gears running smoothly and make changes as needed. LCC has a number of members that are highly skilled in their various professions who might be induced to apply those skills to the issues the church is currently facing if they were asked nicely and their input was valued. The thing is, that would mean that the pastors would have to give up exclusive control, work with these resources as a team, and sometimes accept answers they’d rather not hear.

        For instance, the ABC task force was supposed to provide official input into the restructuring process. After they issued their eye-opening first report, they were ‘dis-invited’ from participating in the restructuring effort. Other people did a statistical population analysis of the ABC district which came to some “We need to look out for these changes” results. You’d think they’d be thanked for their work and help, and you’d be wrong. They were mocked and ridiculed for their efforts – by the clergy no less!

        Care to speculate why? And what kind of chilling effect this has on lay involvement in church business matters?

        The more I see in this sad mess, the more I’m becoming convinced that there needs to be a way to segregate the sacred and secular aspects of the business that is Synod and District. Pastors are trained to be pastors, and unless they have demonstrated competence in other areas they really should stick to pastoring and have the laity serve by taking care of the non-pastor stuff.

        • ANO

          I’d also add – we need to remember that with God there is no resource shortage. We need to receive all time and treasure He has given us with thanks, be the best steward with what He has entrusted with us, and in all things give glory to the Lord.

          • Michael Schutz

            ANO, I apologize for my lack of clarity in the last comment.

            “The Task Force you were on reported facts and figures on how all this developed and now you’re arguing we don’t know enough about what happened to make any kind of determination?”
            No, that’s not what I said. Yes, I reported facts and figures, and I think there are some conclusions that demand to be drawn from them (though obviously the conclusions have been left for unofficial parties to draw – that’s part of the problem, in my view). But I was specifically talking about the judgment of Pres. Bugbee to act specifically according to the handbook in this specific situation. What I meant was (again I’m sorry for not communicating clearly), we as people who are not Pres. Bugbee don’t know all that he took into account in choosing to do or not do what he deemed best.

            “And maybe the SP took actions that haven’t been made public?”
            It’s clear that no such extreme actions (ones that would be made public in following the handbook’s outlines) have taken place, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t conversations, admonishments, counsel, etc., and maybe some actions that we don’t know about (clearly of the non-official kind, but actions nonetheless). That’s my point – we don’t have the full scope of knowledge about all that went into any decisions he made in terms of what to do. If you want to question why Pres. Bugbee did or didn’t take the actions available to him in the handbook, contact him.

            “Are you honestly saying a scandal of this magnitude can be resolved behind closed doors and the general public that’ve suffered as much as they have kept in the dark about it?”
            No, it was never my intention to say that, and if I gave that impression, again I apologize. I’m not suggesting anything has been resolved. We’re still in the midst of a huge mess.

        • Michael Schutz

          ANO,

          “The SP is charged with ecclesiastical supervision of the pastorate.”

          This is true, but only in a specific way. The SP has direct supervision only of the DPs and Synod staff. The DPs have supervision of the general pastorate. In other words, if I as a parish pastor need to be rebuked/chastised/suspended/etc., the SP can’t do that directly. That action is entrusted to the DP.

          “Have any pastors that the SP is supposed to ‘supervise’ been chastised, rebuked, and / or defrocked? Would it interest you to know that ex-DP Schiemann under whose presidency most of this took place and who has publicly taken responsibility for CEF – is still on the clergy roster in good standing?”

          Related to the point above, it’s the DP role that has direct responsibility for parish pastors and the standing of men on the roster, not the SP. The only way a SP could have official action in a case like that is in relation to the DP, not a parish pastor. To use your example specifically, Pres. Schiemann resigned 4 months after the news broke. Any action that would be taken with respect to ex-Pres. Schiemann’s status after those early days of the crisis would be under the purview of our current DP, Pres. Schaeffer.

          • ANO

            Pr Schutz –

            In the Handbook most references that pertain to disciplinary actions assign the initiating and pursuit of ecclesiastical discipline originates with the DP, so as far as that goes you’re correct. The thing is, the Synodical Handbook is not as clear as it needs to be on this matter. After a close reading of the document I think the Handbook clearly establishes that the SP also has the duty and authority to pursue such cases, and I’ve cited / quoted the pertinent sections later on in this response.

            In addition, even if the SP was barred by the handbook from acting in the case of a single pastor or congregation, Article XI.2 clearly states that he has the responsibility to supervise the area DP, and when they stray the SP is to admonish them, and if that fails to resolve the issue, report the issue to Synod in Convention. And even if Article XI.2 wasn’t in the Handbook, Scripture itself teaches us that we’re to lovingly confront our siblings when we see them erring and bring them back to a right relationship with the Church if at all possible, and if that fails Scripture then instructs us to ““Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor 5:13)

            I submit that, no matter which way you look at it, there was something the SP was obligated to do as part of his duties and a way he could pursue this matter if he had chosen to. I leave it as exercise for the reader to compare what both Scripture and the Handbook say with Bugbee’s record and his reports to Synod in Convention.

            Handbook Citations:
            Article 7.03 All members, as a condition of membership in LCC, must accept that the president may exercise the ecclesiastical supervisory functions of the president as set out in the Constitution and the Synodical Bylaws from time to time.

            Article 10.07 The president shall:
            a. exercise the ecclesiastical supervisory functions of the president as set out in the Constitution and Synodical Bylaws;
            b. supervise the activities of all executive staff and employees of LCC;
            f. attend meetings of the districts as an advisor to the districts on ecclesiastical matters;

            Article XI President
            1. The president shall have ecclesiastical supervision regarding doctrine expressed by:
            a. all officers of Lutheran Church-Canada;
            b. all such as are employed by Lutheran Church-Canada;
            c. the individual districts; and
            d. all district presidents.
            2. It is the president’s ecclesiastical responsibility to see to it that all the aforementioned act in accordance with the confession set out in this Constitution, to admonish all who in any way depart from it, and, if such admonition is not heeded, to report such cases to the Convention.
            3. The president has and always shall have the responsibility to advise, admonish, and reprove. He shall conscientiously use all means at his command to promote and maintain unity of doctrine and practice in all the districts.

            Bylaw 3.07 Relationship between the Synod and Districts
            a. In ecclesiastical matters, the Synod is not merely an advisory body in relation to a district. A district is the Synod itself performing the ecclesiastical functions of the Synod. Resolutions of the Synod are binding on the districts.

            Bylaw 8.55.k – If the DP fails to act w/in 60 days of being notified in writing of a complaint which could, if proven, lead to expulsion of a member from LCC, the complainant may petition the SP, who by virtue of the power given him in the Constitution (Art XI), shall make inquiries and may make on his own initiative institute proceedings, take administrative action, and, if necessary, lay a case before the Commission on Adjudication. If after a reasonable period of time the president does not intend to institute proceedings, he shall so inform the complainant and the involved member in writing.

            —–
            I’ll also toss out Bylaw 5.51.e which states “If the member on suspended status is a district president….

            How could a DP be on suspended status if nobody has the authority to place him in that status? Clearly someone has that authority, and I submit that Art XI and Bylaw 8.55.k states that that someone is the SP.

          • Michael Schutz

            ANO, I hope this appears below your reply – I can’t reply directly to your comment.

            I stand corrected on the complete inability for the SP to do anything at all officially in relation to a parish pastor. Though, the process is clearly intended to go through the DP first, and only after what would be in practice a lengthy situation could the SP relay the issue to the Adjudication Commission. He can’t actually take action himself.

            “How could a DP be on suspended status if nobody has the authority to place him in that status?”
            I never said no one had the authority. The SP clearly has direct supervision of the DPs, including the authority to suspend. As you’ve quoted, Article XI is pretty clear on that (though, it is limited to supervision of doctrine. One of the primary questions at hand in ABC is the specific relation of doctrine & practice to legal issues).

            This is one area where our current structure shows its weakness. It allows for no small amount of un-clarity. The tension between the voluntary bond and advisory nature of Synod to the congregations on the one hand, and the humanly-arranged lines of authority we’ve created on the other, is a big one. (Please don’t hear me saying that the structure alone is the problem here.)

            *Could* our SP have taken ecclesiastical action? According to the handbook, yes, though in a limited and specific way. *Should* he have? Clearly there is judgment required in that role. One can debate the exercise of that, but one is presuming much to make a determination on that judgment without having all the information that our SP had/has or what actions were taken that haven’t been made public.

          • ANO

            Pr Schutz –

            One of the primary questions at hand in ABC is the specific relation of doctrine & practice to legal issues)

            I can think of a lot of “doctrine and practice” that people should reasonably expect from its church regardless of what the law of the land is, and foremost among them would be telling the truth, not bearing false witness, and treating the treasure that’s been been entrusted to them with diligence and care instead of assets to be squandered on a misguided concept of “missions.”

            . *Should* he have? Clearly there is judgment required in that role. One can debate the exercise of that, but one is presuming much to make a determination on that judgment without having all the information that our SP had/has or what actions were taken that haven’t been made public.

            Pr Schutz – I’m going to pretend I didn’t just read what you wrote. The Task Force you were on reported facts and figures on how all this developed and now you’re arguing we don’t know enough about what happened to make any kind of determination? And maybe the SP took actions that haven’t been made public?

            Are you honestly saying a scandal of this magnitude can be resolved behind closed doors and the general public that’ve suffered as much as they have kept in the dark about it?

            My response is that a scandal like this demands a public response with the responsible people receiving the consequences of their actions, not a hush-hush backroom deal. Just like when St Peter withdrew from eating with gentiles and later received Paul’s public chastisement for his hypocrisy, the perpetrators in this story also need to be receive the due consequences of their actions.

          • Michael Schutz

            (sorry, hit reply to the wrong comment, so the first one appeared in the wrong place – Andreas, please feel free to delete the other instance of this comment, above)

            ANO, I apologize for my lack of clarity in the last comment.

            “The Task Force you were on reported facts and figures on how all this developed and now you’re arguing we don’t know enough about what happened to make any kind of determination?”
            No, that’s not what I said. Yes, I reported facts and figures, and I think there are some conclusions that demand to be drawn from them (though obviously the conclusions have been left for unofficial parties to draw – that’s part of the problem, in my view). But I was specifically talking about the judgment of Pres. Bugbee to act specifically according to the handbook in this specific situation. What I meant was (again I’m sorry for not communicating clearly), we as people who are not Pres. Bugbee don’t know all that he took into account in choosing to do or not do what he deemed best.

            “And maybe the SP took actions that haven’t been made public?”
            It’s clear that no such extreme actions (ones that would be made public in following the handbook’s outlines) have taken place, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t conversations, admonishments, counsel, etc., and maybe some actions that we don’t know about (clearly of the non-official kind, but actions nonetheless). That’s my point – we don’t have the full scope of knowledge about all that went into any decisions he made in terms of what to do. If you want to question why Pres. Bugbee did or didn’t take the actions available to him in the handbook, contact him.

            “Are you honestly saying a scandal of this magnitude can be resolved behind closed doors and the general public that’ve suffered as much as they have kept in the dark about it?”
            No, it was never my intention to say that, and if I gave that impression, again I apologize. I’m not suggesting anything has been resolved. We’re still in the midst of a huge mess.

    • Not to mention Iowa west has 8 elementary schools and 45 daycare centres. Also, we keep receiving official numbers that LCC is 300 congregations. Iowa West’s 170-ish reflects my estimate that LCC is much closer to 200 than we’re comfortable admitting.

      • ANO

        In addition, US churches tend to be bigger than Canadian ones are smaller. The biggest Canadian church is around middle or large-small sized for the LCMS.

  3. ANO

    Synod has always been reticent to accept that the 2015 District motions to restructure were an order to “heal thyself.”

    I’d suggest that’s because when the SP / BOD “suggested” the restructuring proposal to the three Districts “healing thyself” wasn’t part of their agenda.

    What’s really telling is that, once the District Conventions passed the resolution asking to restructure, all mention of Synod’s involvement has been omitted from Synod’s public commentary. You’d almost think they’d had nothing to do with starting this process.

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