Election Postmortem: The LCMS is Your Grandfather’s Church
As predicted in these pages, the election for President of the LCMS was a close one. President Harrison squeaked out a victory with 51.76% of the votes cast.
Review of the Strategy of the Coalition of the Dissatisfied
The Twofold Campaign
The strength of coalitions is that they bring together a larger group of people; their inherent weakness is factionalism. The folks behind Congregations Matter recognized that the system for electing a president of the MO Synod, in which a run off occurs if no majority is attained on the first ballot, favored the strength of a coalition. There was no downside to running two strong candidates that would appeal to more groups within the coalition. If the two anti-Harrison candidates could together get more votes than Harrison, then one of them would be elected with hearty thanks to the other faction within the coalition.
Focus on Nominations
Supporters of President Harrison were shocked when they saw the high number of nominations for Maier and Klinkenberg. The Coalition of the Dissatisfied did a great job lining those up. They got 947 congregations interested enough to actually follow through on the procedure to nominate. The history of recent Synod elections indicated that this would be a great way to put your guy over the top. This was the Harrison Plan for unseating Kieschnick, and it worked. It very nearly worked again 2019 for Maier, as his nomination numbers were higher than Harrison’s 2016 total. But Harrison managed to top not only his own 2016 numbers but also outpace Maier.
How did those Harrison nominations manage to go up when they had only been going down the past 2 cycles? We could point out that Gottesdienst was pretty much the only online presence encouraging liturgical, confessional parishes to get their paperwork done...but we realize that Issues, Etc. has far, far more influence and reach. In our opinion it was their encouragement of action on the part of their listeners that got the job done.
The March Election for President
Just as in secular elections, the electors need to be registered and identified. This took place last winter with a March deadline. Now that the numbers are out, we know that only about 60% of potential voters (one pastor, and one laymen from each congregation) took the time to get registered. So in some sense, the election took place back in March.
Once again, Issues, Etc. and your humble Journal of the Lutheran Liturgy, encouraged confessional congregations to get registered. The Coalition of the Dissatisfied also really pushed to get their voters registered. Comparing the number of nominations to registered voters for Maier and Harrison is information.
Harrison: 1181 congregations nominated, times 2 for potential voters from those congregations = 2362. Final votes for Harrison: 3014. An increase of 652 voters, or 326 parishes (and 28% more votes than nominations).
For Maier: 947 congregations nominated, times 2 for potential voters from those congregations = 1894. Final votes for Maier and Klinkenberg combined: 2809. An increase of 915 voters, or 457 parishes (and 96% more votes than nominations).
Those numbers are striking. They indicate that Congregations Matter did a very good job getting their congregations registered.
But let’s compare this to 2016 numbers. The final count for Meyer plus Maier in 2016 was 2650 votes. As already mentioned the final count for Maier plus Klinkenberg was 2809. Now let’s imagine that were some confessional folk disillusioned by Harrison and Co, and so they and their lay delegate voted Maier. There could be as many as 50 pastors like this. With their lay delegate, that’s 100 votes total. Subtract that 100 disillusioned confessionals and you’re right around 2016 numbers. For all that they did, all the good cop stuff from the Imagine Crowd and all the bad cop stuff from the CM Crowd, all the mailings, etc. That’s all they got.
Conclusion: They really are a minority in Your Grandfather’s Church. In a year when many noted the apathy on the Harrison side, the Coalition of the Dissatisfied almost got it done by pushing turnout. But it didn’t work. Even with the apathy, Your Grandfather’s Church, Middle Missouri, normal congregations without axes to grind, make up a strong majority of the Synod.
Positive & Negative (But Mainly Negative)
As we noted earlier, the plan of the old Jesus First hands was to divide up the work of positive and negative campaigning. Imagine LCMS would be all positive, with videos from David Maier and pictures of his grandkids, while Congregations slung the mud. And sling they did.
They even pandered to Christian News, which had to leave a foul taste in their mouths.
Did their over the top smear campaign, and Maier’s reading their talking points regarding Hong Kong in his first campaign video end up hurting their vote total? Maybe. But on the other hand, Harrison’s share of the vote in 2019 was down significantly from 2016. There is probably a reason politicians keep buying negative ads. Double good on Harrison for not descended to negative campaigning and still coming out on top.
Compare that churchmanship to this screenshot from Klinkenberg’s Facebook feed a few minutes after the election results were public. And while Klinkenberg has offered congratulations and blessings to Harrison and Maier (respectively), at the time of this posting, there is no statement (or video!) from Maier congratulating Harrison, offering to pray for him, etc. UPDATE: President Maier congratulates President Harrison here.
Leadership not Theology
The Coalition of the Dissatisfied also refused to make this election about truly churchly things like theology. They put executive leadership, salary scale, property decisions, etc., in the forefront. Again, this points to the minority status of the Coalition’s diverse theological factions. They knew they could not win by putting those theological factions in the forefront, the way Jesus First did (closed communion, lay ministry, service of women in the church and more and more pastoral roles, etc.).
If You Can’t Win, Change the Rules
Look for the Coalition of the Dissatisfied to now complain about the election process and try to change it. But that would be a mistake. The MO Synod is a gathering (σύνοδος) of congregations and the pastors that serve them. The current election process allows for the widest possible involvement of this synod to elect the leader of the Synod. That’s why the Coalition of the Dissatisfied still came up short after all their efforts. The current system really does let the majority, and not a merely energized minority, call the shots.
So What’s Next?
Pray for our Synod and President Harrison! The next triennium will contain many challenges.
CUS System (system itself, shenanigans at various Concordias, pressure from state and Federal governments, etc.)
New president at CSL
Full implementation of the 2016 lay ministry plan
And for our part, here at Gottesdienst, we certainly hope that President Harrison will continue to catechize the congregations of our Synod on just what makes for a Lutheran ordo of worship.