Barry Anderson responds to by-law concerns

Barry Anderson (Judge, State of Minnesota)

December 13, 2001

Recently, concerns were raised on the Augsburg 7 listserv about WordAlone’s articles of incorporation and bylaws. WordAlone board member and Minnesota judge Barry Anderson responded. He wrote:

The first point that must be made is that WordAlone (WA) is, and always has been, a membership driven organization. For reasons discussed below, the initial documents theoretically give the board great power, but the reality is that the board responds to actions taken by our national convention. For example, remember that the board was instructed to create a "lifeboat" which ultimately saw light as Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) and the board took the entire concept to the national WA convention for review, comment, recommendations and then did as the convention instructed including meeting this past October. A literal reading of our founding documents would lead to the conclusion that the board didn't legally need to do any of that.
photo of Judge Anderson

Judge Barry Anderson

So, a reasonable person might ask why our documents read the way they do? That leads me to my second point, which is a review of our history. Recall that when WA began to assemble, someone had to make some very practical decisions about organization and those decisions were made in the complete absence of information about who was going to show up and what our mission was going to be. It's awfully hard to create a membership organization with no real conception of who the members are; hence the bare bones, basic documents that give the board all of this awe-inspiring power.

So why haven't our documents been changed? (Technically speaking, what we are discussing here is converting WordAlone into a membership organization. Non-technically speaking, what we are talking about is amending our documents to conform to our actual practice). Actually, at my request, counsel for WordAlone has prepared the necessary documents to convert WA to a membership organization. Action on this item was not taken at our last national convention because we were busy, occupied or consumed (depending on your view of activities in Phoenix) with LCMC business.

If I recall correctly, Jaynan Egland has made the restructuring of WA a priority. These documents, along with appropriate changes in the bylaws and other procedures, are a part of that restructuring process. (A pretty good argument can be made that this restructuring process should have been approached last year, leading up to Phoenix. I am inclined to agree; but many of those most concerned about how the WA documents should look were also concerned about how LCMC should be organized. Limited hours in the day, along with the fact that it is a smaller subset of us folk that finds constitutional discussions riveting, dictated that not everything was going to get done). I don't think, as a practical matter, it makes much difference whether the board acts first and then has its actions converting WA to a membership organization ratified by the convention or vice versa. In either case, if I judge my Lutherans correctly, those assembled at North Heights will want input into how the organization should be structured going forward and so even if the board acts, further discussion is inevitable. And that is how it should be.

Finally, I turn to my fourth point, which is to suggest a couple of things. First, it has been interesting to monitor discussions on this listserv, and to experience them in Phoenix, as we live out our own individual backgrounds within the ELCA. What comes through in those discussions is a real fear of structural power, a fear sometimes bordering on paranoia (of course, sometimes folks are following even the paranoid around . . . ). We need to make sure those fears aren't converted into structure for an organization that is so focused on preventing accumulation of "power" that we can't get anything done as an organization (for a historical reference, please see the Articles of Confederation).

Additionally, we need to remember that WA is significantly different from LCMC and the discussions that drove the creation of LCMC's founding documents. Among other things, keep in mind that WA is fundamentally an association of individual members, rather than congregations. Those members change from time to time, they have varying degrees of involvement in these efforts and so forth. Some of our "members" in fact have joined just to keep an eye on us and have varying degrees of hostility to what we are about. The LCMC documents contemplate an organization with power at the congregational level. Since LCMC is an association of congregations, that makes sense. But it is a whole different kettle of fish when you talk about "grass roots" power with individuals. Do we mean just listserv members? Do we mean those with the means and inclination to attend national conventions? Those whose names appear on mailing lists? Etc., etc.

What we shouldn't be is in an all fired hurry to adopt something simply because we (a.) don't like the way the ELCA does it or (b.) aren't all that enamored of present procedures. Whatever we do should be done with care, consideration and thought and with a minimum of colorful invective.

So that's my response, for whatever it’s worth.

Barry Anderson