Wisconsin Lutheran High School proposes female voters and board members.

I stumbled across a treasure trove of documents apparently related to Wisconsin Lutheran High School (WLHS) accreditation and found hard confirmation of rumblings that WLHS was attempting to liberalize their bylaws to allow for women as delegates and board members.

For my non-WELS viewers: in the WELS we have historically held to a Biblical, but in the world's eyes, strict view on headship. This precludes women from voting (which we interpret as exercising authority over men) and typically from serving in leadership roles within the Church like council and elders. And typically, this precludes a woman being a school principal. I have to use the caveat 'typical' because there are congregations that have things good 'on paper' but the practice deviates into what, strictly, would violate our view of headship. And the governance-by-consensus model is in my opinion a thinly veiled attempt to circumvent proper headship.

The story is told in a compilation of meeting minutes from September 2022 through May 2023:

September 14, 2022: Mr. Festerling presented a report on work completed by the Governance Review Task Force, which was tasked with implementing the Board’s May 2022 recommendation that women be eligible to serve as delegates and members of the Board. The task force has proposed changes to the WLHS Constitution and Bylaws for study by the delegates and the Board. Following review and discussion, the Board agreed that the proposed changes were consistent with its prior direction, and approved them for recommendation to and consideration by the delegates.

November 16, 2022: Mr. Festerling presented a report on work completed since the Board’s last meeting in connection with implementing the Board’s May 2022 recommendation that women be eligible to serve as delegates and members of the Board. The October meeting of the Delegates raised questions about proposed changes to the constitution and bylaws that will result in additional discussions with conference pastors and the Delegates. A revised timeline to accommodate those discussions and potential changes to the proposed language will target a vote on revised draft language in January, formal approval by the Board in March, and final approval by the Delegates in June of 2023.

January 18, 2023: Dr. Fisher presented an update on efforts by the Governance Review Task Force to incorporate feedback from conference congregations regarding the role of delegates and directors. As a result of that feedback, the task force is recommending a framework that would entail broader revisions to the constitution and bylaws, rethinking the role of delegates (as ‘liaisons’), of congregational approval of key governance matters, and of board membership subject to a governance committee. The framework remains subject to additional review and discussion before formal language will be presented for approval. The Board expressed consensus that the framework presented is appropriate for presentation to the delegates for discussion purposes at their next meeting, and encouraged Administration to develop a message to the delegates better explaining the contemplated changes.

March 14, 2023: Chairman Festerling reviewed feedback from conference congregations regarding the framework for the proposed scope of governance. As a result of that feedback, the Board recommended that the GoRTaF committee should proceed with the next steps as defined in the Board meeting materials.

May 17, 2023: Mr. Lautz presented a revised draft of the WLHS Constitution and Bylaws for review and discussion by the Board. The Governance Review Task Force proposes presenting this draft to the Delegates for a first reading at their next meeting. The Board reviewed the provisions of both documents in detail and, following discussion, the Board voted to endorse the proposed revisions as modified and recommend their approval by the Delegates, with one abstention. 

A flow chart of the proposed new governance model:

So now we can talk about the roles of delegates and board members. What was formerly called 'delegates' are now 'authorized voters' nominated by the WLHS conference members (churches). While nominated by their churches, they are able to vote autonomously without oversight from their congregation. They vote to admit additional congregations to the conference, elect and remove board members, amend the constitution and authorize major transactions and purchases. 

Board members have the following duties and responsibilities according to the new bylaws:

a. To assure that each High School remains focused on the mission of the Conference (as defined in Section 3.2 of the Constitution) and all mission related goals; 
b. To think creatively – have a vision – for the future of the Conference and, when necessary, bring any resulting recommendations to the Conference Congregations; 
c. To execute the voting directions of the Conference Congregations
d. To provide oversight for the activities of the Conference High Schools and to provide support and guidance for the Conference administration; 
e. To acquire, sell, transfer and convey, mortgage and pledge all real property of the Conference; provided that the dollar amount involved in any such single real estate transaction or series of related real estate transactions is not more than $5.0 million; 
f. To establish and maintain a gift and grant acceptance policy pursuant to which the Conference administration may accept and receive, or reject, grants and bequests made to the Conference; 
g. To assure for the proper bond or other insurance for those persons who are charged with the handling of the funds of the Conference; 
h. To arrange for meeting the financial needs of the Conference and to administer its funds;
i. To adopt an annual operating budget and set goals for capital campaigns to fund capital improvement or expansion plans of the Conference; 
j. To appoint such committees as it may deem necessary for the best interests of the Conference; 
k. To issue calls to teaching and administrative personnel who subscribe and adhere to the aim of the Conference as recited in Article III of the Constitution; and
l. To prepare the agenda for each meeting of the Conference Congregations and of the Congregational Representatives.   

Both the activities of the authorized voters (voting unchecked) and the board members would seemingly violate the headship principle as currently practiced by the WELS.

There seems to be an implicit recognition of this even if they won't admit it: the board of directors, whenever there is a woman on the board, forms a governance committee to deal with "headship issues." Boys only, of course:

a. Establishment and Qualifications. At any time during which a woman is serving on the Board, the Board shall appoint from among its members a Governance Committee. The Governance Committee shall consist of five male members of the Board, including at least one pastor, at least one called worker who is not a pastor, and at least one layman. 
b. Purpose. The principal duty of the Governance Committee shall be to address any matter arising before the Board which implicates headship issues. The pastors serving on the Board at any time shall be responsible to monitor all matters coming before the Board and to identify any which, by a consensus of those pastors, are deemed to implicate headship issues. All such matters shall be referred to the Governance Committee for resolution, and the Governance Committee shall exercise all of the Board’s decision making authority with respect to such matters. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, the Governance Committee’s decision on any matter referred to it shall be deemed final approval by the requisite majority of the Board.  

You might have noticed, as I did: The purpose of the governance committee is to deal with headship issues. Headship issues are identified by a consensus of pastors serving on the Board. But if those same pastors thought it was a good idea to have women on the board in the first place (no, they don't elect them, but they accept assignments alongside them) what are the chances they take a soft view of headship? And if they do, they won't by consensus deem any issues to violate headship. A cute trick: "we have a board to deal with those problems, but we never have those problems!"

We have a gap from May to September. From President Ken Fisher's September 2023 report to the Board of Directors:

So apparently, we aren't all walking in lockstep. Bullet point 4 seems a little petty insofar as it highlights "one pastor read a letter opposing the changes" and "not one person spoke in favor of the letter". If these facts are meaningful, a reader of intelligence will pull them out - you don't need to direct their eyes. 

And I think he missed the adjective 'faithful' modifying pastor. 

Bullet point 3 affirms an important change in the move from 'delegates' to 'authorized voters'. These autonomous authorized voters have delegated to them (while not being called 'delegates') the vote power of the congregation. However, their vote is unchecked by the congregation - at a meeting they can vote however they desire. So, they propose to move from a delegated authority vested in all-male delegates (4 or 2, depending on the size of the congregation) to a single 'authorized voter' who can vote autonomously and could be of either gender.

Again, the whole 'governance committee' model is silliness and not really exercising headship, but in the case of authorized voters there is nothing to 'check' their decision-making. You are putting a co-ed system in place which in itself seems to be a headship violation. This would be like a voter's meeting where you have both men and women voting together - currently verboten in the WELS.

These authorized voters have full control, unchecked, to elect board members, so now go back to your 'governance committee' and recognize who really is the 'governance committee' of the board - your male and female authorized voters. They are the top of the food chain.

This whole thing is kind of silly, if it weren't an outright doctrinal violation! Men are shirking their duties by bringing women to the table and laying the burden of authority on them, a burden God lays on His men. From our doctrinal statements on Man and Woman roles,

12. In applying the principle of role relationship, the church will emphasize the duties and responsibilities of men. God holds Christian men accountable for the use of the authority He has given them and will grant His blessings when men exercise this authority out of love for Christ(1 Pe 3:7; Col 3:19). 


18. In church assemblies the headship principle means that only men will cast votes when such votes exercise authority over men. Only men will do work that involves authority over men (1 Co 11:3-10; 14:33-35; 1 Ti 2:11,12).

There are more documents to dig through and I'll follow up as I find more. I recognize I am working with partial information and no true 'insider knowledge' so if I am off the mark hopefully someone can correct me. For any delegates reading this blog - please feel free to email me (layman@nihilrule.com) with any additional details or documentation. Your anonymity is assured. 

Feel free to do your own investigation: In addition to the documents already linked, I have the current constitution and bylaws along with the proposed amended bylaws

More to come!