Matthew Harrison received 54 percent of the vote for the three-year term, defeating incumbent, Gerald Kieschnick, who received 45 percent.
Harrison’s victory represents a larger ideological change for the 2.5 million-member conservative denomination, which is split between moderate and conservative camps. Harrison was the candidate of theological and doctrinal conservatives who call themselves “confessional Lutherans” and stress a strict adherence to the central doctrines of Lutheranism.
During his nine years as president, Kieschnick, 67, was criticized by traditionalists who bemoaned what they called his postmodern approach to the church. Kieschnick, they said, had favored a nondenominational, evangelical megachurch model, and in the process diluted Martin Luther’s theology.
Delegates had already voted on proposals, which were championed by Kieschnick, to radically restructure the denomination. Supporters said restructuring would decrease costs, while critics felt the move gives too much power and authority to the president’s office.
Delegates voted by a narrow margin to dismantle the church’s seven program boards and fold the boards’ functions into two “superboards.”
“It’s ironic that the guy who had no desire to see an increase in the power of the presidency of the synod is now in that position,” Harrison said in an interview after the election. “The way forward is going to be deliberate and slow and involve the counsel of lots of folks.”
— Tim Townsend