Monday, January 15, 2007

Conflict Resolution in the LCMS

In any relationship, there are going to be conflicts. Any. When someone tells you that they've been married for (fill-in-the-blank) years, and they've never had an argument, you can know one of 2 things. Either someone is lying to you (very likely) or someone has been run over more times than they can count. Maybe both.

The question to a healthy ongoing relationship is how conflicts are handled, how they are dealt with, and how the issues in conflicts are resolved to work into the future.

The Missouri Synod, like a dysfunctional family, has poor conflict resolution skills. This is related to my earlier post about anger in the synod: the LCMS seems to have this cauldron of seething rage that just never gets resolved, that just sits there waiting for the next issue to come up and scald the individual or group who has the misfortune to jar the pot lid.

I've commented before on the lack of doctrinal trials in the LCMS. This lack is quite literally insane: no one can expect a church body over 150 years old with thousands of congregational and clergy members to not have some bad eggs in the mix. But there is something in the LCMS culture that wants to pretend that there are no bad eggs, no heretics, no issues needing resolution.

I know of only one (and I would appreciate correction here where I am wrong) case where there was even close to a trial. Paul Bretscher, the LCMS' well-known unitarian was finally -- after writing published books in which he denied the Trinity, denied the deity of Christ, and mocked what he termed errors in the scriptures -- ordered to face a doctrinal trial. He resigned from the LCMS before the trial began. A disciple of his -- who shared in Bretscher's errors, and wrote a foreword to a unitarian book Bretscher wrote -- likewise resigned in the wake of this.

In my earlier post on anger, I mentioned Kenneth Korby's suggestion that the late 1960s, early 1970s issues in the synod were behind much of the mistrust which seems to be everywhere in the synod. I wonder if that's what happened, or if the issues of some 40 years ago were not merely symptoms of the earlier problems.

The LCMS, like every American institution, has been affected by a laissez-faire attitude, an attitude which suggests that there are no doctrinal boundaries, no firm truths, no black and white issues. There's also an underlying fear in the synod, that leaving the LCMS is somehow leaving the place of God's salvation, that splitting or dividing the synod is tantamount to heresy itself. For a group which claims Martin Luther as a Father, this is an odd attitude.

What's the healthy response to conflict? Perhaps admitting to conflict is the first step. Going a step further, perhaps admitting that the resolution to many of our issues might involve an announced, amicable division of the synod (and the synod's assets) would be good. (The LCMS is not a marriage. Even her most steadfast apologists admit that the synod is an organization of human design, not The Church. Splitting such an organization is, to put it bluntly, like dividing a garden club).

It's not a sin to divide a synod. Such a division is going to involve sin, because it would be accomplished by sinful men. But a division itself is not wrong. And such a division would publicly admit the truth: there are already divisions in the synod. Pretending they are not there is just dumb.

No comments: