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.