Disputes continue to erupt following the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s July vote to elect a new conservative president and restore the former president of a denominational seminary (CT, Aug. 17, 1992, p. 42). In the July decision, delegates narrowly elected Alvin Barry over the controversial Ralph Bohlmann as synod president. Former incumbent Bohlmann, considered moderate by some conservatives, has since responded by accusing Barry of being caught in the grip of a “political network” that will force him to comply with a conservative line.
In a letter sent in August to all pastors of the 2.6 million-member church, Bohlmann attributed Barry’s win to “sinful” politicking on the part of a right-wing faction that he says is “decentralized, yet highly organized.” Bohlmann told Religious News Service that Barry’s election was largely orchestrated by a coalition of conservatives linked to Balance, Inc., a St. Louis—based organization that produces a conservative Lutheran publication.
Barry denied the allegations that he is beholden to any group, saying his election did not result from any “carefully organized political organization” but was simply due to “a growing feeling that a change was necessary.” During his presidency, Bohlmann increasingly drew criticism for encouraging relationships with more liberal denominations and for supporting efforts to increase the role of women in the church, although he upheld the ban on women’s ordination.
The July vote also reinstalled conservative theologian Robert Preus as president of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and selected Michael Stelmachowicz, retired executive secretary of the synod’s board of higher education, as the seminary’s new administrative officer. An agreement, approved in July, said all academic and administrative functions were to be delegated by the president to the new administrative officer.
Since then, Stelmachowicz has claimed that he has power to function as chief executive officer of the seminary. Preus challenged that assertion. The school’s regents issued a memo supporting Stelmachowicz, saying he had been designated CEO by the board. Preus says that it was his responsibility to delegate the duties of a CEO.
Preus was “honorably retired” as president against his will in 1989. The actions stemmed from accusations of a “pattern of untruthfulness,” among other things, made by six vice-presidents. Preus fought for three years to be reinstated in both secular and church courts, and was eventually cleared of all allegations by a commission on appeals. At the July convention, delegates adopted a resolution returning Preus to the position until May 1993 or until a successor is installed.
Preus told CT that the issue at hand is doctrinal in nature and extends beyond the Lutheran church. “The real danger for our church body … is the office of the pastor is eroding,” he said. Preus claims that the traditional doctrine of a pastor’s “calling” has been replaced with the corporate business idea of a “hire-and-fire pastor.” He thinks the current disagreement over the CEO title is spillover from his past battles and is really an attempt to strip him of his spiritual functions at the seminary.
By Linda Midgett.
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