LCMS convention post mortem

The convention of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is over.  There were no big controversies.  Virtually all of the resolutions passed, overwhelmingly, and those that didn’t were defeated overwhelmingly.  No challenges to Lutheran orthodoxy even came up.  The delegates were pretty much all on the same conservative page.  After the jump, Lutheran journalist Mollie Hemingway writes about the difficulty religion reporters have in covering a church convention that is peaceful and non-contentious.

But surely what didn’t happen is huge news for Lutherans.  To be sure, issues remain, but could it be that the LCMS is getting unified again?

Were any of you there?  Please report.

From Mollie Hemingway, News crisis: when people agree (Lutheran edition):

Unlike previous conventions featuring narrow vote margins, nearly every resolution here was passing with huge margins — whether the topic was checks and balances of seminary faculty hiring, proper administration of the sacraments, review of non-seminary pastoral training programs, lay deacons, campus ministries, or other items. There’s interesting subtext there — we’re definitely in a new era in the LCMS, but it’s pretty tough to explain briefly. Which is probably why the St. Louis Post-Dispatch keeps publishing stories about how the Synod handled a First Commandment issue last year relating to syncretism, or worship with non-Christians at an interfaith worship service in Newtown, CT. (“Mono-maniacally obsessed” was how I heard one delegate refer to the reporter’s focus on the topic. “Tell him to get off the Newtown template,” was what another said. Consider it done.)

But you try to come up with something interesting to say about a huge convention taking place in your backyard when everyone is operating in peace and love (sadly, that might actually be big news when it comes to our church body and others …). . . .

I think the declaration of formal fellowship with the Lutheran churches in Liberia, Siberia and Togo were a big story from this convention. And these “encouraging” resolutions — which will force my church body to have some tough discussions about doctrine — are easy to pass with huge margins. Whether those discussions will result in some tough decisions down the line is another thing.

Lower in the story we get some notes on non-seminary training of pastors and whether seminaries should restore the checks and balances on hiring that they had until 3 years ago (the Lutherans voted to restore that check). It was one of the more contentious debates and closer votes. Still, it passed 61 percent to 39 percent. That would have been a landslide vote in the old days. . . .

But I think this post-convention story is also a great case study in how difficult it is to cover non-political religious bodies, particularly those not embroiled in sexy debates about ordination or interpretation of Biblical passages on sexual morality. As one of my editors once told me, “continue” is not a very exciting verb for a lede.

News is about drama. I’ve been to our recent conventions. They were nothing but drama. We had a president who would barely get re-elected and debates so tense that you could feel it in your body. There were lots of serious debates full of theological subtext — did we want to be a church body that retained its Lutheran identity? Did we want to adopt a more American approach? Were our doctrines on communion, the Office of Holy Ministry, etc. in need of revision? What were the theological implications of reorganizing our national headquarters? We still have those debates. The current administration and district presidents seem to want to work on handling those debates in a less contentious manner — through discourse and open engagement. From the votes of our Synod, it’s clear that this is being largely well received by the clergy, church workers and laypeople — but it makes for very difficult news writing.

See also the account by Charles Henrickson.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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