Saturday, January 2, 2021

Convention talk. . .

I have been going to church conventions for a long time -- perhaps too long.  I have witnessed too many embarrassing votes and listened to eminently forgettable floor speeches and have even participated in a few courageous stands and heard a speaker actually sway the flood with eloquent words.  But mostly I have participated on one level or another in carefully scripted gatherings in which less was left to chance and more was directed either by the chair or floor committee or agenda or a combination of those.  Frankly, the leaders come and go but the work of scripting our gatherings remains.  Although these bodies were conceived of being deliberative assemblies, it seems that over the years much of the deliberation was cut short by an impatient assembly and a reliable voice to call the question or table the matter.  It would seem we have time for just about everything at a church convention except deliberation.  We can hear greetings from all sorts of folks and pass bread and butter resolutions that are close to unanimous and of course we have time for meals and vendors and the like.  Do we have time to focus our attention on the real business of our gatherings -- the urgent questions before us as a church?

There is business that must take place -- like elections.  Yet the elections have been aided by technology so that the time consuming business of printing up, marking, and tallying paper ballots has reduced the impact of voting for people on the overall agenda of any church convention.  And there are rules -- we have our own Behnken rule in which we must alternate speakers pro and con even if the majority is clearly on one side or the other.  But we also have business the fills the days and the hours with stuff that may not be all that urgent and the assembly shows it inattentiveness by grazing the vendor's candy supply and shopping for trinkets to take home.  We are reminded when things go long that the cost of conventions is great -- thousands upon thousands of dollars an hour!  But that is because we have farmed out everything from the venue to the sound systems (usually not so good) to companies that specialize in these things -- for a fee!  Gone are the days when we assembled at a church owned campus or location.  Even the much smaller district conventions meet at convention facilities and pay for the privilege.  Because it is easier at least in the sense that things can be orchestrated.

The question before my own church body today is whether the church conventions have been so damaged by the COVID concerns and restrictions that all of 2021 is tainted and we must add a year to the convention cycle to make up for all the uncertainty.  While it might be true that it would be difficult to do what we have done in modern times, I am not so sure it would be all that difficult to meet in a scaled down version of a convention -- without the extras and focused solely on the business at hand.  But I don't make that decision -- the congregations of our church will.  Curiously, those who feel it is too dangerous to meet as district are asking congregations to assemble for a specially called in person congregational meeting to vote on the delay -- shifting the risk from a couple of representatives from each congregation to the members of individual congregations!  But our church leaders want to know what the folks think -- although every indication is that things will at least be better the last 6-8 months of.

By the way, if you think it unsafe for districts to gather in 2021, remember that the might brigade of the Lutheran Women's Missionary League IS planning to hold their national convention in 2021!

So it will be up to you, the folks in the parishes of the LCMS, to decide if it all needs to be post-poned (not whether it can be but literally whether it must be delayed another year).  The bar is extremely low -- a simple majority of 25% of our congregations will make the decision.  I hope an overwhelming majority will register a vote in this.  I have my opinion as I expect you do as well.  But no matter how that vote goes, we will still have to decide whether the high cost of meeting together is worth a scripted event or whether the business of the churches compels us to actually deliberate.  As far as I can see it may not be possible for an eloquent and passionate voice to sway the Synod but it is certainly possible for such a well spoken individual to sway a convention.  It has just been a long time since we gave such a voice the chance.

1 comment:

James Kellerman said...

That's not the Behnken Rule! The Behnken Rule governs substitute motions--where a motion is made either to bring in an entirely new resolution for debate or to amend the original motion so that its original intention is no longer recognizable.

The Behnken Rule offers a wise way to handle this. Rather than just treat it as an ordinary amendment that could be voted up or down at the end of discussion, the chair first asks the assembly whether they want to jettison the current discussion and consider the substitute instead. If the assembly allows it to be debated, it shows that a majority of the delegates are at least open to considering a different solution than that proposed by the original resolution. If the assembly votes not to debate the substitute amendment, it signals that it doesn't think that the solution lies in the new direction proposed. Debate returns to the original resolution.

If the assembly decides to debate the substitute and ultimately adopts it, the original motion dies. If the assembly decides to debate the substitute, but in the end rejects it, the debate returns to the original motion.

I think it is a sensible solution. Too bad we can't convince RONR to incorporate it.