Was the Synod’s “Notice of Opposition” Contrary to the Word of God? by Pr. Klemet Preus

(This is part six in a series. To view the other posts in this series click on “Klemet Preus” in the Brothers Café.)

Now let’s look at the synod’s action which was “taken before the ungodly for judgment” (I Corinthians 6) in its “Notice of Opposition” against Harry Madsen and indirectly against Todd Wilken and Jeff Schwarz on December 2, 2008.

On December 2 the synod, obviously, did not decide simply to let the disputed matter rest and do nothing. Had the synod done nothing back in December then the matter would really be over. There would be no dispute.

But the synod did something and there are consequences for its actions. There are three possible explanations of the synod’s legal action against Harry Madsen according to Dr. Luther. First, maybe the synod filed this legal action in the secular courts because the synod is seeking vengeance against these Christian men. If that is the case then the synod should change its mind and decide “rather to be wronged” as God says in First Corinthians 6. If this is the case then those responsible for this legal action should repent, ask for forgiveness and not do it again.

On the other hand, maybe the synod engaged in a legal action against other Christians as a zealot to make sure that Harry, Todd and Jeff are punished for their sins and learn their lesson as Luther allows. Perhaps the synod is aware of sinful actions on the part of Harry, Todd and Jeff of which the rest of us are ignorant. Did they try to steal something that belonged to the synod? If that is the case then perhaps they should be taught a lesson. Did they lie? Then perhaps they should be exposed. Did they misuse or intend to misuse the trademark “Issues etc.” which was under dispute? If that is the case then perhaps they need to be punished.

Third, maybe the synod and the good people at Issues etc. simply could not come to agreement on the matter and in good will toward each other decide to bring the matter before the secular authorities. Of course this explanation seems extremely unlikely since the response of Harry, Todd and Jeff to the actions of the synod against them was anything but agreeable. They cried foul to high heaven much like President Kieschnick cried foul when an action was brought against him back in 2005. Todd and Jeff would certainly have said something about the petition which was signed by 2000 people in February asking that that the synod drop the matter if they were agreeably working with the synod to resolve matter through the secular authorities.

So, we, who have watched as this dispute has been worked out before us in a very public manner, are confronted with two ways to interpret the actions of the synod of
December 2, 2008 against Harry Madsen. Either the synod sinned in its action or Harry, Todd and Jeff have sinned and should be publicly punished.

Of course you are probably saying, “Hey, it’s over, the synod dropped the matter. Move on.” Well, yes the dispute seems to have been settled and that’s great. But before it was apparently settled an opposition was filed which forces us to question the integrity of either the synod or of Harry, Todd and Jeff.

Unless the synod admits it acted in vengeance in its “notice of opposition” against Harry, Todd and Jeff, then the notice castes aspersions on the integrity of these Christians even though the matter has apparently been subsequently dropped.

Let me repeat. The Missouri Synod can’t have it both ways. When the synod engaged in an action before the secular authorities against Christian gentlemen they did a public thing. This public thing is known to the world. And this public thing must be explained.

The synod and its highest leadership need to say that its “notice of opposition” against other Christians of December 2, 2008 was wrong and these men have done nothing which justifies this action. Lacking such a clear an unequivocal statement the synod allows the integrity of these men to be questioned and exacerbates its sin against them.

The question we must confront is this. Who actually is responsible for the action of December 2, 2008?

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Was the Synod’s “Notice of Opposition” Contrary to the Word of God? by Pr. Klemet Preus — 9 Comments

  1. I, for one, am most certainly NOT saying, “Hey, it’s over, drop it and move on.”

    Schoolyard bullies were accepted as a fact of life until somebody said, “Wait, why are they acting this way?”, and investigation revealed a host of root causes, some of which are remediable.

    Schoolyard bullies also continue their bullying against those who won’t stand up to them. Part of standing up to a bully is, as in the previous paragraph, looking at what they did and why.

    Another part is examining the behavior of the bullies’ target, to see if the targets simply caved in to the abuse, or if they took a stand and then … stood by it. (Sorry, it’s early, I’m not in top writing form yet.)

    Nobody is beyond redemption. But the overall decisions and policies of the current LCMS,Inc., administration are so unwise, unChristian and boldy opportunistic (cry foul when you are sued, but sue away at your perceived opponent), that this adminsitration must be held up to the light.

  2. “There are three possible explanations of the synod’s legal action against Harry Madsen according to Dr. Luther.”

    I believe that delving into the motivations for the “Notice of Opposition” actions taken by the synodical president and other Board of Director members is hazardous and starts to tread on the eighth commandment.

    Discussing sinful motivations is permissible if statements by the BOD members specifically refer to their own motivations. Then inconsistencies in or evidence against such motivations can be presented. But no such quoted references to their stated motivations are provided in this article.

    Instead the discussion of various suggested motivations is peppered with weasel words (possible, maybe, perhaps). Furthermore, of the “three possible” motivations discussed, the article makes the judgment that the most sinister motivation occurred: “Unless the synod admits it acted in vengeance in its ‘notice of opposition’ against Harry, Todd and Jeff…”

    It would be better if the article maintained focus on the BOD actions themselves. For these actions are public and posted on SteadfastLutherans.org and elsewhere. The words in these public documents speak for themselves and are contradicted by earlier public BOD statements and actions (and inactions) and other evidence. The BOD actions and documents should be rightly condemned, and apologies demanded of the BOD. Let the consciences of the BOD members weigh on whatever motivations they had.

  3. To Carl Vehse,
    I am puzzled by your response to Pr. Preus’ six article in this series. By my count, the word “action” (or its plural) occurs fourteen times in this article. I am unable to find (or deduce) one reference to “motivation” throughout the entire article.
    First, Luther’s explanation of the eighth commandant makes plain, “Where the sin is public, the rebuke also must be public, that everyone may learn to guard against it.” I can not conceive of an “action” more public than a legal filing with the federal government. The entire world is able to view such actions. This “action” was initiated and prosecuted by our Synodical leadership, which has been subsequently withdrawn. However, this “action” has consequences which linger and must be addressed.
    The consequences have been set forth by Pr. Preus in part five of this series drawing from Luther’s Treatise on Two Kinds of Righteousness. Pr. Preus simply applied Luther’s teaching to the legal situation confronting us as a Synod which is the substance of the “weasel words” of choice. Since I am unwilling (and unable) to question the validity of Luther’s Treatise, I simply accept the options presented by Pr. Preus as the three possible alternatives to this legal quagmire.
    The third paragraph is a straightforward application of Luther’s “first class of” application. This class would demand repentance and forgiveness as the action, by and in itself, is a direct sin against a fellow christian.
    The fourth paragraph presents the legal action of the Christians involved acting as “zealots” to force the offenders, (i.e. Mr. Madsen. Pr. Wilken and Mr. Schwarz) to repentance. This is an application of Luther’s “third class” in his treatise. This, of course, directly and publicly accuses the “offenders” of sinning publicly and is most serious in its application.
    The fifth paragraph is a direct application of

  4. Carl (Continued)
    NOTE: I deplore IE7 (microslop) – cut me off right near the end, again!

    The fifth paragraph would be applicable if the parties involved were unable to reconcile differences between themselves through mutual, christian discussion. The falseness of this is well documented and known to BJS. Synod made no attempts at reconcilation through application of Matthew 18. Synodical preconditions to discussions all but insured no discussion was (or is) possible in a Christian manner.
    Since this final application can be ruled out de facto, all we are left to judge is the actions according to the first two scenarios, both of which leave someone in a rather sinful disposition. Thus, Pr. Preus’ conclusion, “Either the synod sinned in its action or Harry, Todd and Jeff have sinned and should be publicly punished.”
    We are called to judge the actions of the parties involved and according to Luther, to rebuke and seek repentance for those who have sinned. We are not, in any way, seeking to judge the “motivations” for these actions – this judgment is reserved for God alone. But someone has sinned publically and is in need of repentance and forgiveness. I believe you and I agree the sin rests within Synodical headquarters – we will not know why (nor does it matter to us) unless they chose to confess their motivation opennly to the Lutheran Church -Missouri Synod.

  5. It seems to me that Harry Madsen applied for the trademark so that LPR could continue the Issues etc. show with a legally registered title just like any other. This trademark required the permission of the government since they license such things.

    The synod no longer held the trademark since they allowed it to lapse. If the synod had maintained the trademark it could have been given or sold to LPR, likely with some strings attached as in their proposed settlement.

    In its opposition filing the synod does make the case that by granting the trademark to someone else the ability to use the archives of the shows broadcast under their production of the show would be brought into question. Also any plans they had for existing merchandise and anything they may have wanted to do with the name would be in jeopardy.

    One would hope that when such a matter involves Christians that they could talk about such concerns prior to filing legal opposition. Todd and Jeff seemed very willing to talk to them as brothers without lawyers.

    Filing opposition would give them a legal basis to ensure they retain the rights they seek. Such legal assurance could also have been reached through an agreement with Harry Madsen should his application be granted. If an agreement could not be reached then an opposition filing may be in order.

    An advantage to talking with the applicant prior to filing an opposition would be that if synod was successful in talks with Harry, then Issues etc. could continue spreading the gospel. If synod was successful in blocking the trademark application then the show would be hindered and listeners would need to find the new name that would be used if they did not hear about the change.

    The legitimacy of the synod’s concerns is also called into question given their previous actions. After canceling the show the archives and all references to the show were removed from the website. I also believe that large numbers of CDs were destroyed. Todd indicated that merchandise related to the show had been sent to them from the synod. Such actions on the part of synod do not seem to reflect their concerns as expressed in their opposition filing.

    The opposition filing, as opposed to discussion between Christians, did give the synod an opportunity to seek something it had wanted before. This seems to me to be the main difference between what they could achieve in filing the opposition rather than discussing concerns with fellow Christians. The opposition filing would give them leverage to get Todd and Jeff to sign a gag order that would prevent them from broadcasting any content the synod deems disparaging to them. The consequences for violation would be surrender of the trademark. It was an opportunity to get what they failed to achieve when dangling severance packages in front of Todd and Jeff. If they sat down with Todd and Jeff as brothers that leverage would not have been there.

    A disadvantage to the synod in filling the opposition was that as opposed to their previous attempt to restrict what Todd and Jeff could say, in which they had internal control of everything and by their silence could invoke the 8th commandment against any critics, this attempt was public and controlled by the government. This process was transparent.

    It also seemed strange to me that the proposed settlement from synod always seemed to make this a Todd and Jeff vs Synod situation when they really had no say in the matter. Harry Madsen applied for the trademark and allows LPR to use it for a nominal yearly fee. Their focus on a 3rd party for a settlement also seems to speak to their motives.

    Given what synod has done regarding the show, what they sought in the opposition and what they sought as a settlement it does seem that of Luther’s 3 options that the first is most, though not entirely, suitable. It doesn’t seem that they sought vengeance in the secular courts, but rather by going to the secular courts they may have the leverage to strong-arm a private settlement that would involve Todd and Jeff surrendering a number of freedoms.

  6. “I am puzzled by your response to Pr. Preus’ six article in this series.”

    Puzzle no more. My descriptive use and discussion of “motivation” comes from the conventional meaning of the word (“to give reason, incentive, enthusiasm, or interest that causes a specific action or certain behavior”) and the conjectured reasons given in the article for the BOD actions and behavior:

    1. “maybe the synod filed this legal action in the secular courts because the synod is seeking vengeance”

    2. “maybe the synod engaged in a legal action against other Christians as a zealot to make sure that Harry, Todd and Jeff are punished for their sins and learn their lesson”

    3. “maybe the synod and the good people at Issues etc. simply could not come to agreement on the matter and in good will toward each other decide to bring the matter before the secular authorities”

    The BOD actions were referenced in public documents; the suggested internal BOD motivations (vengeance, zealotry, good will) were not. We can judge the former; but without clear public evidence it is not appropriate to judge the latter.

  7. To Mr. (?) Vehse #2 above: I had tried to post this much earlier today but for some reason it did not “take” even though I tried to post it two or three times – grrrr to some things electronic.

    Your point is taken, Mr. (?) Vehse. Of course, there is something else which could happen here to clear up everything. The Synod (or the SP or whomever) could state what their intentions were and that they are sorry for a series of events which made it appear as though their intentions were somehow different. They could say that they are sorry for offense which had been unintentionally given, and for their part in that event.

    I remember a time in the history of our Synod when we would occasionally read (in the Lutheran Witness or in the Reporter) an apology from a District President or some other Synodical official for some public offense. It might have been some gaff or foible or error in judgment, or in other cases it was plainly a sin. I always appreciated those notes not b/c of some sophomoric desire to see the “big shots” get caught somehow, but b/c it was a good reminder to everyone in the Synod (and to the unbelievers and scoffers in the world) that these were real men who could be guilty of real sins but who, by God’s grace, could publicly repent and seek the forgiveness of both God and God’s holy people. It also made it clear that there was ecclesiastical supervision at work in the Synod, and ecclesiastical supervision is good for at least a couple of reasons: [1] it keeps us humbly accountable to one another; and [2] it provides the proper check and balance so that none of us starts to think of himself as living, acting, or serving (this would be a true oxymoron) unto himself.

    For whatever it’s worth . . .

  8. This analysis needs a quick shave with Occam’s Razor.

    There is a much simpler explanation, which can be found in the Trademark Assignment and License Back document drawn up by LCMS, Inc’s legal beagles (http://crosebrough.typepad.com/files/realmotive.pdf). The plan was to reclaim the trademark and license it to Todd & Co. in return for the gag order LCMS, Inc. couldn’t get with the previously rejected severance package. In other words, “We’ll let you use the Issues, Etc. label provided you don’t say anything bad about Ablaze! or anyone in the Kieschnick administration.”

    A simple left-handed power grab with some lawyers thrown in for the letterhead.

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