Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Episcopalian decline highlights church woes

The following was published in today's edition of The Morning Sun.

Would you miss your church if it closed?
This thought-provoking question was posed by one of the foremost Protestant religious leaders when he visited the pre-Civil War St. John’s Episcopal Church in Detroit last week. (For full disclose, I not only attend the church in question but also serve on its vestry, aka board of directors.)
The question came from Lord George Carey, who in his capacity as archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 until retirement in 2002 was spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, would have been seen by some as controversial not long ago.
But it wasn’t, not least because it came only days after the release of a major Pew report that revealed hashtag-epic declines among the once dominant mainline churches that in so many ways defined American life for most of this country’s history.
Among my own denomination, the Episcopal Church’s fall is hardly a secret, as Episcopalians everywhere have seen their church decline since the 1970s.
There are many reasons cited for the collapse of what was once the closest thing to a state-established church in America.
There’s no doubt that deep theological shifts — in particular left-of-center politics moving the national church beyond orthodox theology and churchmanship — are at least partly to blame. Then there is the whole gay issue, which has divided Anglicans domestically and resulted in major schisms and multi-million dollar lawsuits over church assets and buildings.
Case in point: When was the last time you actually read something positive about Episcopalians? Seriously. Pretty much every major news item these days is a report over a lawsuit, schism or controversial theological change.
While all of the above are without a doubt culprits in the great Episcopalian decline — much the same can be said for other mainline Protestant denominations in the Congregationalist, Methodist and Presbyterian traditions — it isn’t entirely accurate.
At my own church, we’re actually growing. And the new members are hardly the stereotypical little old church ladies. In fact, the newcomers are pretty much all under the age of 40, which defies popular wisdom across denominational lines.
Some are lifelong Episcopalians. Others come from different traditions. Some are unchurched. Together, all share a craving for traditional churchmanship of the sort that many big names in popular Christianity dismiss as stuffy and old fashioned.
While older generations think in-house coffee shops, praise bands, drop-down video screens in lieu of hymnals and all sorts of entertainment-centric forms of worship attract millennials, the reverse is actually true.
Traditional liturgy, hymns and even organ music all combine to create a heavenly atmosphere for worship that stands apart from what is found in many, if not most, Protestant churches today.
Even within Episcopalian and breakaway Anglican churches it’s increasingly difficult to find traditional liturgical worship. And if such a service is offered, it’s typically relegated to 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning, which is hardly the greatest time to fill the pews.
Nevertheless, large numbers of millennials are deserting contemporary churches for the sort of church experience their generation has largely never experienced. Similar trends are evident in commerce, where millennials are also rediscovering quality craftsmanship and valuing heritage brands.
This brings me back to Carey’s point.
How many churches would truly be missed if the doors closed on a Sunday afternoon were shut for good?
Your guess is as good as mine.
What I will say is we need to rethink church.
Like it or not, church desperately needs to find its place in the second half of the second decade of the 21st Century. It no longer owns Sunday.
Limiting worship to an hour on a Sunday morning hardly makes sense in this day and age.
Unfortunately, that’s too often the case with many churches, as visitors and congregants are greeted with locked doors on pretty much every other day of the week.
All this makes fulfilling the great commission pretty difficult.
— Dennis Lennox

Thursday, May 14, 2015

When gov’s away, acting boss can be a mystery

The following is from today's edition of The Detroit News.

Can you name who was running state government on Thursday and Friday of last week?

It wasn’t Governor Rick Snyder. If you guessed Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley you would be wrong.

Stumped? The answer is Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. She became acting governor with Snyder on Wall Street and Calley in South America on a trade mission. And it wasn’t the first time.

Just how many times someone has been acting governor is strangely unknown. Snyder’s spokeswoman said a “tally” isn’t kept. Reviewing press releases archived by the MIRS news service revealed no regular disclosures of just who is at the helm of the ship of state.

Meanwhile, a spokesman at the State Department said Johnson serves as acting governor “on occasion during the year.”

It’s unclear if third-in-line Bill Schuette has ever been acting governor, as the attorney general’s spokeswoman didn’t have an answer when asked.

For some this might not seem important, but it should matter. That’s because constitutionally Snyder gives up his authority and power every time he leaves Michigan territory.

Whether Snyder is en route to the so-called Lost Peninsula, the tiny enclave of Monroe County reachable only by driving through Ohio, or traveling to New York City, as he did last week, the public has a fundamental right to know just who exactly is in charge during his absence.

Acting governor duties mostly fall to Calley. As second in command, Calley can be trusted to follow the orders of the governor, who in all reality can stay on top of things through modern communication technology.

Still, there was a considerable amount of time during Snyder’s first term when Calley, unbeknown to pretty much everyone in Lansing, was in graduate classes at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Oddly, Calley, Johnson and Schuette don’t receive a State Police security detail, which is inconceivable in this day and age. You never know when the unthinkable may occur.

Presumably a formal protocol was put into place ensuring continuity in government in the unforeseen event Snyder became incapacitated when Calley was out of state.

If such a protocol exists nobody is willing to say so. In fact, everyone seems to treat it as a highly-classified state secret.

Past governors have had their chief of staff notify the chief of staff of the lieutenant governor or secretary of state well in advance of any date when an acting governor would assume office, multiple sources said.

Before 1964, the governor and lieutenant governor ran on separate ballot lines. As a result, the governor of one political party could and would cede power to the incumbent of an opposing party every time he left the state.

While today’s constitutional arrangement makes cohabitation impossible, vestiges of this bygone era remain. Most notably is the constitutional requirement for an acting governor whenever the governor is “absent from the state.”

This makes no sense. Just as a traveling president of the United States remains president, so should a traveling governor of Michigan remain governor.

— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Michigan’s acting governor mystery

The following is from today's edition of The Morning Sun.


Can you name who was governor on Thursday and Friday of last week?
It wasn’t Governor Rick Snyder.
If you guessed Brian Calley, the lieutenant governor, you would be wrong. Stumped? You aren’t alone.
The answer is Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. She became acting governor with Snyder on Wall Street and Calley in South America on a trade mission. And it wasn’t the first time.
Just how many times Johnson, Attorney General Bill Schuette (third in the line of succession) or anyone else has been acting governor is strangely unknown.
Snyder’s spokeswoman said a “tally” isn’t kept. Reviewing press releases archived by the MIRS news service revealed no regular disclosures of just who is at the helm of the ship of state.
Meanwhile, a spokesman at the State Department said Johnson serves as acting governor “on occasion during the year.” Sometimes it’s for an hour or two, other times it’s “for a few days,” he said.
It’s unclear if Schuette has ever been called upon to serve as acting governor, as the attorney general’s spokeswoman didn’t have an answer when asked.
For some this might not seem important, but it should matter. That’s because constitutionally Snyder gives up his authority and power every time he leaves Michigan territory.
Whether Snyder is en route to the so-called Lost Peninsula, the tiny enclave of Monroe County reachable only by driving through Ohio, or traveling to New York City, as he did last week, the public has a fundamental right to know just who exactly is in charge during his absence.
The acting governor duties mostly fall to Calley. As Snyder’s political helpmate, Calley can be trusted to follow the orders of the governor, who in all reality can stay on top of things through modern communication technology.
Still, there was a considerable amount of time during Snyder’s first term when Calley, unbeknown to pretty much everyone in Lansing, was in Massachusetts for graduate classes at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
Oddly, Calley, Johnson and Schuette don’t receive a State Police security detail, which is inconceivable in this day and age. After all, you never know when the unthinkable may occur.
Presumably a formal protocol was put into place ensuring Johnson or Schuette remained accessible to ensure continuity in government in the unforeseen event Snyder became incapacitated when Calley was out of state.
If such a protocol exists nobody is willing to say so. In fact, everyone seems to treat acting governor scenarios as highly-classified state secrets.
Multiple sources told this columnist that past governors have had their chief of staff notify the chief of staff of the lieutenant governor or secretary of state well in advance of any date when an acting governor would assume office.
Case in point: Under Republican Governor John Engler, Richard Austin, the Democratic secretary of state for Engler’s first two terms, could be trusted not to engage in partisan mischief when Engler and his GOP lieutenant governor were out of state. “We even let Secretary Austin, who was a consummate institutionalist and public servant, sign a bill,” a former aide to Engler said.
The relationship between governors and those in the line of succession wasn’t, however, always this cordial and professional.
Before 1964, the governor and lieutenant governor ran on separate ballot lines. As a result, the governor of one political party could and would cede power to the incumbent of an opposing party every time he left the state.
While today’s constitutional arrangement makes cohabitation impossible, vestiges of this bygone era remain. Most notably is the constitutional requirement for an acting governor whenever the governor is “absent from the state.”
This just doesn’t make sense.
Just as a traveling president of the United States remains president, so should a traveling governor of Michigan remain governor.
— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Rand Paul undermines Michigan primary

The following is from today's edition of The Detroit News and Morning Sun.

So much for playing by the rules.

The presidential campaign of Sen. Rand Paul is doing whatever it takes to circumvent the well-established norms and rules of the Republican nomination process to help the junior senator from Kentucky.

At stake is Michigan’s impeccable record of fair and honest elections. Thousands of active-duty military personnel, senior citizens and college students who rely upon absentee voting would be disenfranchised from having a say if either of the Paul campaign’s alternatives — a smoke-filled backroom caucus, or a state Republican convention of about 1,900 delegates — is chosen to replace the primary.

Every other declared or all-but-declared GOP presidential candidate is fine with the primary election as set by state law for March 8 of next year.

Only Paul seeks to undermine the process, which allowed more than 900,000 Michiganians to have their say during the 2012 Republican primary.

“Any changes to the adopted rules or rescinding them completely would jeopardize our ability to get new rules accepted by the (Republican National Committee) by their October 1st deadline,” Oakland County Republican Party chairwoman Theresa Mungioli, who helped write the state’s presidential primary rules, wrote in an open letter to Republicans across the state.

Mungioli’s warning came as the Republican State Committee meets this weekend.

Most party functionaries and consultants say Paul doesn’t have the votes to do this, which means the primary would continue as planned but the votes as cast might not matter.

“This can happen because the actual delegates to the Republican National Convention are selected well after the primary under a three-stage process involving county-level conventions, congressional district caucuses and ultimately a state convention,” said Dillon Breen, the Wayne County Republican Committee chairman. “What this means is that someone other than the winner of the primary could emerge around this time next year controlling the delegates despite having lost the actual vote.”

That actually happened, on a smaller scale, in 2012 when many of the delegates sent to national convention were opposed to GOP nominee Mitt Romney, despite Romney having won.

Normally, this is the stuff of inside baseball. It seldom matters because the presidential nomination campaign is usually decided by the time the gavel calls county conventions, congressional district caucuses and the state convention to order.

This time around, however, there’s a good chance the nomination race could be unsettled well into the late spring of 2016, if not at the national convention itself. The culprit? Rule 40, an obscure provision of the national Republican rules that requires a presidential aspirant to command a majority of delegates in eight states to be eligible for nomination.

Unlike his father, Paul has done a tremendous job working within the framework of the GOP.

It would be a shame if his good work were undercut by an overzealous campaign willing to do whatever it takes to win, including changing the rules, disenfranchising voters and ignoring the outcome of the primary.

To ensure the people’s choice is respected and Michigan remains relevant — few will want to campaign here if all their time and money can be undone by a post-primary convention — the state GOP, as well as the Legislature, must amend the rules and state law governing the primary to ensure only the delegates of the winner are sent to national convention.

— Dennis Lennox

Thursday, April 30, 2015

In case you missed it: Snyder for president

Over the weekend, I had a column in The Detroit News on the legacy of former U.S. Senator Robert Griffin. I was also interviewed for a story on MLive.com about the possible presidential candidacy of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.

On Monday, I was on "Michigan's Big Show," the statewide morning radio show, where I again discussed Snyder's presidential ambitions with host Michael Patrick Shiels. You can listen to what I had to say below.




This was followed up by a quote for a story published today by National Review. Here's a snippet of the story:
Is Michigan governor Rick Snyder really going to add his name to the crowded field of Republican presidential contenders? While the obstacles to a relatively late-starting bid are considerable, the governor and his staff are sticking to a “haven’t ruled it out” line for now. 
... 
“Governor Rick Snyder looks into a mirror and sees a president looking back at him,” says Dennis Lennox, a veteran of Michigan Republican politics, including Mitt Romney’s primary campaigns in 2008 and 2012. “The whole Snyder-for-prez thing has gone from a far-fetched rumor a few months ago to something that seems very serious, especially given his explosion onto the national stage in the past week or so.” 
Lennox theorizes that Snyder looks at the 2016 primary schedule and sees an opening that most other observers might dismiss. 
“This has everything to do with the much-overlooked RNC rule 40, which will prolong the nomination contest more than anyone thinks and makes it very unlikely that there will be a nominee by April of next year,” Lennox says. “Combined with the power of blue-state Republican primaries, as well as even the U.S. territories, it’s possible for a dark-horse candidate, such as Governor Snyder, to accumulate enough delegates to become a kingmaker.” 
Under rule 40, “each candidate for nomination for President of the United States and Vice President of the United States shall demonstrate the support of a majority of the delegates from each of eight (8) or more states, severally, prior to the presentation of the name of that candidate for nomination.” In a sufficiently large field, it’s conceivable that no candidate will meet that threshold — or it’s possible that more than one wins a majority of the delegates in eight states. That could lead to a brokered convention, tons of drama in Cleveland, and even some sort of unity ticket. Of course, it’s also possible the GOP could see another runaway frontrunner this cycle.
— Dennis Lennox