Monday, July 6, 2009

The Fog of War

This post is based on my experiences during the Northwest District Convention. My guess is that your experiences at your District Convention were similar. We are all sinners, a fact perhaps demonstrated nowhere better than at a District Convention. The “above reproach” attribute that Paul describes to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:2 is often forgotten in the heat of battle. All of our actions are tainted with sin. Thanks be to God that through the all-availing sacrifice of our Lord we are rescued from this body of death. This post points out some of the inequities of our current convention system in the hope that a better system will be employed in the future, one whose structure will further encourage us to be “above reproach.”

Just getting there is a challenge. The helpful girl at the front desk gave me directions. After only a couple of blocks of slogging through the mud made worse by the passage of creaking tank treads on their way to the unknown, I realize I am a victim of disinformation and am marching in the wrong direction. Having asked a couple of other people for help, I still have a sense of apprehension, with no clear idea of where I’m headed. The MP in his jeep finally gives me definitive directions.

Arriving in the vicinity of the field of battle, scratched into the side of a crumbling brick wall is the familiar graffito “Kilroy was here.” I find a couple of signs that say something like “Only a little way to go” and “You’re almost there.” I wonder if these signs apply to me. I guess they must. It’s only later that I realize that there is more than one battlefield; luckily the signs were for my platoon. Had I instead taken a “right” at the intersection, I’d have ended up engaging the Scientologists, who are also deployed in the area – a worthy assignment to be sure, but not a part of my orders for this day.

Once I arrive, I overlook a vast array of numbered foxholes. Naturally, people see these numbers and assume this is their circuit number, so they often end up in enemy territory. Another example of the fog of war. Being the first in my squad to arrive, I immediately dig in and reconnoiter the area. The latrine is a mile away, with nary a Coke machine in site. Looks like I’m stuck with my canteen and C rations.

The Convention Newsletter contains a prayer, a portion of which reads

Open our hearts to you and to your will for our District and Synod. Give us grace-filled attitudes toward one another. Open our ears to hear what your Holy Spirit is saying to your church in the Pacific Northwest. Give us the humility to listen with open hearts to one another, so we can hear your Spirit’s voice speaking through each delegate.
The more seasoned delegates read this prayer, hoping that the other guys will take it to heart. The delegates come from multiple platoons, each with their own set of ribbons and badges. I see one badge that reads “VOTE THEOLOGIAN.” The uniforms varied markedly, some in tee shirts, some in ties, with collar, without, one even in a kilt. Their dress is matched by their battle preparedness. Some come fully prepared, others with no preparation whatsoever. Some view the whole exercise as just another foray away from base for their own entertainment, others view it as deadly serious. A few never show up at all, AWOL, possibly due to illness or years of battle fatigue.

The second and third days find the sides more firmly entrenched, each looking for signs of enemy aggression. A flanking maneuver regarding Issues, Etc. and Higher Things is repelled by the enemy. An enemy pincer movement on the Office of the Holy Ministry is successful. The advance of unionism seems to have been thwarted, at least for a time, although it’s hard to tell how long the line can hold without reinforcements.

The Captains of the floor committees carefully weed out those resolutions they don’t like and place them in an omnibus resolution that is to be debated at the very end when the contestants are battle-weary, and they conveniently skip certain resolutions until later. This choreography plays out exactly as planned, orchestrated by generals in a smoke-filled concrete bunker miles away from the front lines, time running out well short of where these resolutions would have been debated. Oh well. Maybe at the next convention. Most people would call this unfair - District Presidents call it “orders of the day.” By now, all participants are used to the unethical and sinful practices of floor committees and field commanders, and succumb to the same practices. Because we’re all free to participate in this sort of gamesmanship and avail ourselves of these means, we’ve become numb to the realities of war. The obvious conclusion, that these tactics have no place in Christ’s Church, is ignored, justified by a feeble reference to Robert’s Rules.

Delegates line up at the microphones, some there to make a point in the two minutes allotted, others there to take up enough time so that this or that resolution doesn’t come to a vote. An amendment or two is suggested, not because the person suggesting the amendment agrees with it, but rather to highlight what they view as the hypocrisy of the other “side.”

Those overlooking the battle from afar with field binoculars do their best not to look annoyed when a resolution or amendment is suggested which they especially detest. They are only modestly successful.

That’s how this particular war game is played, on battlefields across this country. A surreal game that bears little resemblance to anything churchly. On the surface, maybe, beneath the surface, not really.

This is no way to run a war, and an even worse way of running a Synod.

Votes are cast in these conventions by delegates more interested in getting to lunch than the magnitude and long-term sequela of the decisions they are making. Someone stands up to insist we end the discussion and vote – a suggestion which passes with alarming regularity. This is a far cry from the days of our first Synod President, C.F.W. Walther. In his day, careful theological discourse on a single topic played out over the course of many months and multiple conventions. Now it’s more about a sound bite than rational discourse, and often more about this “side” versus that “side” than the theological content of the resolution being proposed.

We need to get back to the idea of a dialogue, in which we sit down together as a group and examine the issues in a non-hurried, collegial fashion, in light of the Word of God. Get rid of the fluff, as well as the adversarial tug of war, and get serious about what it is we’re doing. Involve the people who will actually be doing the voting, not a bunch of people who hold a theological convocation someplace that has no real bearing on the results of the convention.

It’s scary to think that next year we’ll be voting on issues that will affect the structure and practice of our Synod on a national scale, using these same rules of engagement, on a similar battlefield, laced with land mines and all the other contrivances of war.

Let’s do away with the fog of war, and all the maneuvers that go along with it.

photo credit: matt.hinsa


Dennis Peskey said...

In the presentation of the BRTFSSG to the Michigan District, Rev. Braunersteuther (senior assist. to SPK) responded to a question regarding the availability of the final report in the following. The “final” version of the BRTFSSG is projected for completion some time in April, 2010. As such, there will be insufficient time to promolagate the report to the entire Synod. They anticipate having copies ready for the National Synodical delegates when they arrive at the convention in Houston. I would not categorize this as an action worthy of “the fog of war.” I consider this to be outright manipulation to avoid congregational scrutiny. This is part of the evidence on which I claim the BRTFSSG is bias against congregations.

Dennis Peskey said...

On the lighter side of the Michigan war zone, we had to purchase our coffee, donuts and/or other necessities from the CUAA concession stand. Kinda reminded me of forcing a prisoner to purchase the bullets for his firing squad. Well, CUAA is hurting financially, so anything Michigan can do to bailout yet another of our precious State resources.

On a slighty more male-oriented note, one restroom, three urinals, 420 voting delegates (we'll leave out the advisory delegates, spectators and those caught in the shuffle) 95 percent male in composition and two fifteen minute breaks per day. Do the math (warning - do not buy too much coffee).

Scott Diekmann said...

Guess you better move to the NOW District Dennis. We had at least two half-hour breaks each day!