Monday, May 19, 2008

Metro NY Synod 2008: Chapter 3

After the fourth ballot, there were three candidates:
  • Rimbo 192
  • Wollenburg 191
  • Mills 91
All had been gaining votes as the balloting continued, but Rimbo had been gaining votes fastest.  Remember the observation that bishop's assistants have a natural advantage, but that it is a transient one?  Here's proof.

One of the mixed pleasures of reaching the Final Three is that you get to answer some questions from the peanut gallery.  In years past, people actually stood up at the microphone and asked questions; not only that, but the candidates made themselves available after hours, in breakout rooms, for informal conversation and a chance for voters to take their measure.  Those days are apparently gone.  This year, questions had been submitted to the Synod VP, who chose his favorites and announced them in advance -- so that candidates had plenty of time to think about their answers. 

We consider this a significant step backward for an already flawed process.  First, because keeps us from seeing how a candidate does when fielding a left-field crazy ball, the specialty pitch of the church league.  You need to be able to deal with the ranters and obsessives to do this job.  And second, because it prevents either spontaneity or follow-up.  And when there is no follow-up, candidates who don't want to answer a question can simply sidestep it, to leave us wondering what the really believe.

All that said, the questions were pretty good.  They dealt with  a pervasive sense of disconnection; stewardship and administration; parish decline; and experiences that had formed a person's theology. Most of the answers were pretty good, too.  These are all smart, thoughtful men, deeply committed to the Church and its work.  And then came the one about sex.  Candidates were asked where they stood on rostering leaders in committed same-sex relationships.

Rimbo promised to work within the ELCA's rules, but to continue the Synod's practice of restraint in discipline while continuing his own work for full inclusion.  This was the most bluntly pro-gay position.

Mills also promised to abide by the ELCA's rules, and went on to say that he would work for healing within the synod, and trust that we were all united by grace at the Lord's table.  

Wollenburg called this "the issue of a generation," and promised to support gay and lesbian clergy, without spelling out what that meant.  He started to talk about Scripture, and the profound hermeneutical differences that people bring to it, but never went far in that direction. 

Neither Mills not Wollenburg took much of a position, and thereby -- we suspect -- hangs a tale.  Our guess, and it is nothing more, is that highly motivated conservative listeners, knowing both men, read between the lines, and heard from Mills an evasion of his pro-gay stance, and from Wollenburg at least a sliver of hope that he was evading the articulation of an anti-gay stance.  Not, once again, because that's the truth, but merely because, as Simon and Garfunkel put it, "a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.  Li-lee-li."

Now, there are a lot of other factors at work.  Mills, one of the smartest men we know, is also tough and honest, as a result of which he has been asked by several successive bishops to deliver hard messages to people who didn't want to hear them.  He has done so faithfully, and in all likelihood earned some enemies on the way.  Wollenburg, like Rimbo, was once part of the Missouri Synod, and partisans of that sad mockery continue to believe that its pastors are better trained than those of the LCA or ALC (or God).

In any case, and for whatever reasons, Mills was out after the fourth ballot.  And then were left the Two Bobs.  Both Seminex grads, both sixtyish.  Their styles are different, but both appealing:  Wollenburg is cool, Rimbo runs hot.  Their pastoral experience is different, but not vastly so.  Rimbo has already served as a bishop (in Detroit), which is hard to top.  But Wollenburg, like Mills, has been an integral part of the bishop's staff, and not in another synod, but here in ours.

It was a tough choice.

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