Monday, June 25, 2012

The strange business of church conventions...

Typically, when our church gathers in convention (on whatever scale) we receive overtures from congregations, conferences of Pastors, circuits, etc..  These are sent to direct the church to one thing or another from the basic component structures of our church body (congregations and clergy).  But these do not go to the convention delegates in raw form.  They are sifted through a group called a floor committee.  This committee hashes over these (often conflicting) overtures and, in effect, chooses sides between competing motions, re-writes motions to fit the particular jargonese of church resolutions, and eliminates those which will never be considered by the convention in any form.  At this point it is safe to say that the original overtures will never be seen again.

Now to be fair, there are public hearings on the original resolutions.  Strangely, the floor committees hear from the delegates prior to the introduction of the actual resolutions but after they have already written up the resolutions which they will be introducing to the floor of the convention.  Now they may tweak the resolutions because of testimony at the open hearings but they hardly ever change them (substantively, anyway).  So it is a way for those who hold strong opinions to vent their passion on an issue while offering little real opportunity to shape those resolutions which the floor committees write and present to the delegates.

The floor committees run the show on the convention floor.  Every resolution addressed to the convention generally comes from the floor committee.  Occasionally the resolution is modified (amended) and occasionally a substitute resolution is offered but the vast majority of resolutions come out of the floor committee and are voted up or down as they were presented.

In the end, most conventions pass resolutions strikingly similar to the ones drafted by the floor committees.  These do more merely funnel the many overtures from the constitutive elements of the Synod, they actually work to direct those overtures -- and the direction tends to favor the current administration of the District or the Synod.  Those on floor committees are appointed by the District or Synod President and these individuals are always going to appoint like minded folk to run their shows.  This is not evil and I don't mean to say it is manipulative but it is a fact of life.

At the convention, delegates speak to the motion.  It is a highly structured and awkward conversation.  The so-called Behnken rule applies.  For ever pro speaker, there must be a con speaker, etc...  The limit is two minutes per speaker (at least where I am).  And just as the discussion gets going and people begin speaking passionately on behalf of their positions, someone comes strolling to the mic with a smug grin and says the four words that bring everything to a grinding halt.  "I call the question."  These words represent a judgement that the conversation has gone bad and is not accomplishing anything and will come to an abrupt end if the delegates agree (which mostly they do).

Then we vote.  At least where I am we are low tech.  No electronic signals here.  Old fashioned paper ballots printed, marked, counted, reprinted, marked, and counted until a majority and shows of hands to most all motions.  Not scientific but somewhat fool proof though slow.

Only a few motions actually make it through a District Convention and most of the time is spent on PR, recognition of people, videos, greetings, points of privilege, and other non-business speeches in which we wax long on how familial we are and how we must trust each other and play nicely together as we always have (do I detect a parental tone here?).  We eat often, drink massive amounts of coffee, tea, and water, make many trips to the rest rooms, make smiled greetings to any and all, hold manifold private and studied conversations with those of like mind and those not, maybe drink a beer or two... and then we go home.

It is not always efficient.  It is not always effective.  It is not always fair.  It is not always representative of who we are as the Church or its manifold congregations... but it is the Missouri way and we have raised our children well in this and they seem unlikely to depart from it soon...  But I wish we could do better...


Janis Williams said...

Great quote from Bill Cwirla: "Conventions prove that none of us is as dumb alone as all of us are together.:

Anonymous said...

Sadly, the majority of districts are led by pro-church growth movement advocates. Someone forgot to tell these district presidents that the emergent church is dangerous theology:

Anonymous said...

One more link:

What is wrong with these district presidents? Are they that out of touch with the ultimate goals of the Church Growth Movement?

Paul said...

Given the truth of your last paragraph, why do we keep on doing things per the status quo? The question of stewardship of our limited resources begs to be asked and answered as well.

Anonymous said...

After attending my first convention as a
Lay Delegate I wonder why we don't
have bishops. The Convention
highlighted our disagreements (to the Nth degree)!
We ought to go back to the way the Church has always
been from the beginning (bishops!).

-Peter Sovitzky

Anonymous said...

Has the makeup of the various districts changed since the election of Matt Harrison? How many districts now have confessional presidents.

The LCMS is run by lawyers and not theologians. Sad, but true. It is difficult to have faith in such a sick organization.