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One of the largest pieces of business for delegates in Houston will be a proposed sweeping restructuring of the entire denomination that would consolidate some of the church's boards and commissions. "This is not," Kieschnick said, "a consolidation of power."

But Rossow and others see the proposed restructuring as exactly that. The proposals, he said, "centralize power in the synod office. That's not necessarily bigger government, but it's certainly stronger government."

Like all important elections, the presidential contest in Houston this July will determine the immediate direction that Missouri Synod Lutherans will take.

"There's a strong grass-roots movement that the synod can do much better in its life all the way around," Harrison said. "There's a strong sense of desire for a change of course.

Not surprisingly, Kieschnick sees things differently.

The fact that so few churches cast ballots, he said, means that people are largely satisfied with the job he's done, and out of that sense of satisfaction, they simply figure not voting will ensure the status quo.

"I've been a part of this church long enough to know that if someone in office is doing a very poor job, we'd have more than 30 percent of them weighing in," he said. "Call it apathy or satisfaction, but they see no need to make a change."

Tim Townsend writes for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in St. Louis, Missouri.

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