Making Clear What President Kieschnick Said on His Haiti Video, by Pr. Rossow

We have had a few posts about President Kieschnick’s video about his on-again, off-again trip to Haiti. In a couple of those posts it was asserted that President Kieschnick cancelled his trip when he found out that it was “too dangerous.” President Kieschnick did not say that it was “too dangerous.” What he said was that it was “extremely chaotic” and that he needed to wait until “conditions  somewhat stabilize.”

Too assert that President Kieschnick said it was “too dangerous” is a deduction from the actual terms he used and some of our readers have commented that this was misrepresenting President Kieschnick. This  post is intended to  set the record straight as to exactly what President Kieschnick said. In my estimation “too dangerous” is an acceptable deduction from what President Kieschnick did say  but it is important that we are clear on what is and isn’t an exact  quote.

The nagging issue behind all of this  still remains. Why is it  that  the LCMS does have a team in this chaotic and unstable region and yet President Kieschnick followed  counsel that told him he ought not to  visit. Something just does not add up. Yesterday I pointed out that President Kieschnick’s Blue Ribbon proposals bear an uncanny resemblance to President Obama’s unravelling health care plan. This Haiti confusion reminds me of another political comparison, John Kerry’s famous line “I actually did vote for… [it] before I voted against it,” referring to his position on wartime funding.

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.


Making Clear What President Kieschnick Said on His Haiti Video, by Pr. Rossow — 34 Comments

  1. Here are some possible interpretations that you might consider, abiding in the 8th Commandment:

    -Legal / Risk management counsel may have advised our president against visiting Haiti. He simply trusted the advise of people whose job it is to advise him on such matters.

    -The Synod most likely carries insurance for representatives while doing official, necessary work. Perhaps an insurer deemed his visit as less-than-necessary, and outside of covered risk.

    -Concerning the US Presidency, it is extremely rare to have the vice president and the other members of the line of succession together in a place of even measured risk, such as on a plane. Perhaps the LCMS has a similar, internal agreement between the president and the most-likely candidate for the office.

    -Matthew Harrison has a job to do, and right now, his job is in Haiti. Perhaps President Kieschnick did not want to appear as trying to edge-in on what is, properly, the time and place for World Relief and Human Care and its CEO.

    My point is not that I believe any of the above to be true. I actually have no idea what the reasons are for President Kieschnick choosing not to visit Haiti at this time. Yet, I am bound-as we all are-to put the best construction on all that we hear about a neighbor (unless it is a terrible public sin) and defend him against misconstruing criticism. The proper assumption is that you would have made the same decision, had you been confronted with the same choice.

  2. 1. A chaotic situation implies danger.

    2. President K is irreplaceable.

    3. Therefore President Kieschnick should not enter chaotic/dangerous situations.


  3. Pr. Rossow,
    I think you have the beat Kiechnick club out on this one. I’m critical of what he does, but I think this was the proper thing to do.

    Other than give prayer and comfort, of what possible use would he be? Granted prayer and comfort is important, but I truly believe he would be of no other use. In reality someone on the team would have to be watching him all the time. He would be a danger to himself and others and a pain in the donkey. I’m sure he has not been trained in the area disaster relief. If I was on the team I would want him out of my so the professionals could do their job.

    Intelligent donkey alert!
    I think he is better in making disasters than fixing them.


  4. Thank you for correcting your earlier assertion. Perhaps your deduction could be seen as “acceptable” bur hardly fair and hardly done with the best construction. President Kieschnick stated that his intended purpose for visiting was to assess the situation and circumstances in Haiti and to extend personal greetings care, love, concern, and prayer to his counterpart in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Haiti, President Marky Kessa. He was given counsel including by people “on the ground” and postponed his trip until the chaotic conditions stabilize. In other words, it appears that he postponed the trip until he could better accomplish the purpose for his visit.

    As stated above there could be many reasons why President Kieschnick postponed what would appear to be a relatively non-essential visit to Haiti. I see nothing in the statement that suggests that he did not go because he would be in danger.

  5. It’s always best to represent peoples’ statements as accurately as possible, that’s only honest. Thanks for clarifying.

    Off into editorial land, prez. K did the right thing by not going. His primary skill is as a high-visibility figurehead and politician, things Haiti would not benefit from, and I think his experience with disaster management is probably not as great as the others on the team (not being derogator: neither is mine). Some are given to be hands and some are given to be mouths, all for the good of the church. I don’t think we can chide him for not going because of a lack of skills; if he had gone, and for poor motivations, that would have been a time to chide.

  6. Joseph,

    Can you and others help me understand this whole “best construction” thing. The originator of the term, Martin Luther, used every nasty name and image in the book to paint his foes when the Gospel was at stake.

    We have posted this story so that LCMS’ers can know what’s going on. Some are claiming on this string that PK changed his mind for legal reasons. Do you not think that he would have said so? If that is the reason, stating that would not leave the rest of us wondering about this. This clearly smells of bad politics to me.

    I think that LCMS’ers deserve to know that their president plans a trip to the region and then cancels it with a vague explanation.

    Why did he have to tell us he was going to go in the first place? Can anyone answer that? If this is all about the Gospel and as you and others say, we have Gospel people on the ground there, then why the video at all? It just does not make sense and people need to know about this and raise questions.

    Do you really think that Luther’s call to put the best construction on things applies when the issue is who will lead the institutional church? Luther did not think that. Do you think that? I am not being rhetorical here. I really want to know. I cannot in good conscience keep from raising these questions when so much is at stake.


  7. Tim,

    I would be pleased to discuss how to balance speaking our minds and upholding the 8th Commandment. I struggle with it myself. In consideration of that topic, I think it is one best addressed apart from any specific, contemporary personalities or events.

    I can’t and won’t excuse Luther’s often harsh words for his enemies – except to say that many of them actually were his enemies. Papal Bulls come to mind. There’s probably some fine line between assuming charitable motives about one’s opponents (that is, giving the benefit of the doubt that their actives and motivations are sincere, even if wrong) and assuming them to be villains.

    I can think of one possible reason why President Kieschnick shared that he had planned to go to Haiti, after he had decided not to: by doing so, he may have successfully heightened awareness of just how unstable the situation is, thereby increasing support through World Relief and Human Care. Again, that’s just one possible reason, but the presence of even one justifiable explanation is enough to demand my best construction.

  8. @Pastor Tim Rossow #8

    Pr. Rossow,

    I fear the term “best construction” is used many times as a substitute for “say nothing negative”. There seems to be a confusion over saying or writing something negative about one’s neighbor and saying/writing something about our neighbor which would defame or slander him. Expressing an unfavorable aspect about someone’s behavior (a negative) is not failing to defend them and is not defaming or slandering them, if what is being said/written is true about them. Ad hominem can be rightly used when material to an issue and accurately describes our neighbor. As you point out, Luther did not “pull punches” with his words when he knew they were truthful.

  9. Jim,

    Thank you. That is helpful.

    I guess in this case there is some conjecture but at the very least it is a case of less than stellar managment (why plan the trip without counsel) and there are a lot of gnawing questions about the whole thing.


  10. I believe he should have gone… He seems to be so concerned about changing our synod to make it socially relevant, that he has forgotten that his main focus is to serve and support. He didn’t have to spend a lot of time there…just show up to show his support for those LCMS workers who were faithfully serving in the midst of such chaos. Pray with them, bless them, do the work of a servant of the Lord. I THANK God that Christ did not choose not to come to earth because our planet was too chaotic, but came right into our midst, right into the spiritual darkness, sin and death that had claimed us, and He served us in our time of need by not only putting Himself in harms way, but suffering the ultimate chaos for us…dying and giving us salvation… Those who take the responsibility of leading must take the risk of danger, even loss of life and limb, to serve.

  11. I’m certainly not a big fan of PK. But it might not be true that his place is in Haiti. I don’t know his reasons for not going and never will. But this I will not hold against him unless it can be shown that going to Haiti would have been the most faithful exercise of His call.

    I didn’t go to Haiti. I have people I have been called to preach to and care for. The work of God in the US doesn’t stop because of a natural disaster in Haiti.

    That’s not to say that I know he shouldn’t have gone… just that I don’t know that he should have. I don’t really think his stated plans couldn’t change upon reflection and he couldn’t use one reason out of many in his statement regarding a change of plans.

    To be honest, I think if he went I’d believe it was just for the photo-ops. So, maybe I’m so cynical that his inaction seems more sincere to me…

  12. The benefit provided by pres. K. going to Haiti is limited to “attaboys” and “Jesus lovesyas.” The cost would be pretty substantial; you’re not going to fly at coach rates to Haiti these days, and then there’s the costs of the entourage – the PR flacks, the bodyguards, the lawyers – who would need to be there. Then there’s the cost of finding limos and helos in Haiti at a time of great demand. I expect it might have cost the whole proceeds of the sale of KFUO just for this one trip.

    Best to stay home and lead committee meetings. We each have our function in the body.

  13. @GK #13
    Of course he may have had a hundred reasons why he couldn’t go…but those are all hypothetical. He chose to explain why he wasn’t going as it is too “chaotic”. I believe him when he says that is his reason. The fact that he planned on going originally, shows me that he felt he should go (whether as part of his call, or just for personal reasons is debatable), but for personal safety reasons chose not to. I am not a big fan of President K but would never assume he went for self serving reazsons (unless he admitted as much) which, to me anyway, he has done by his reason for abandoning his original plan. Unless, by saying it was too chaotic, he meant, it would hamper the relief effort to have him there, but then he should have explained it as such.

  14. @Jim Pierce #10

    Truth is not a suitable cover for saying whatever we might like. See par. 266-270 in the Large Catechism. Just because something is true, even if you may have witnessed it, doesn’t then give the right to publicly announce it what you know. And this specifically applies to cases of established, provable sin. I fail to see any sin in canceling a trip, no matter the reason.

    The requirement of “best construction” does not equal “say nothing negative.” It does, however, require that we always explain things to our neighbor’s advantage. That means that if there is a possible explanation, we are obliged to cling to that. See the Large Catechism, par. 288-289. Doing less is breaking the Commandment.

  15. @Rev. Joseph Eggleston #16
    Rev Eggleston,

    Pr. Eggleston, I am not sure that the sections of the Large Catechism you are referring to make your point. Luther is writing that we should not publicly judge another of sin outside the bounds of established authorities such as the civil authority, preachers, father, and mother. For example, if you know someone has murdered another, but it hasn’t been proven in a court of law, then you cannot judge the person publicly as a murderer. That is bearing false witness. (See section 272-276 in support of my points.)

    I also don’t think that “explain things to our neighbor’s advantage” means that we ignore the truth about our neighbor’s actions, where the truth is a negative, and portray them in a positive light. I really see that as mistaking what a “best construction” means with a positive hypothetical. Indeed, to spin a given negative into a positive in the name of giving the benefit of the doubt to our neighbor is also bearing false witness against our neighbor, since we are saying he is something (or doing something) which he may not be. Yes, we have to be very careful.

    I do agree with you that I don’t see any sin in cancelling a trip, but then again I don’t see where in the original post, or subsequent comments, anyone had accused the SP of sin. Can you point out those charges to me? I agree with Pr. Rossow that the SP’s behavior appears to be, at best, a case of mismanagement. Surely we can point out such cases?

  16. @Rev. Joseph Eggleston #16
    Thinking more critically (biblically) of my first opinion I am changing my stance. I cannot say whether it is sin on his part or not…but I do know that we should do our good works because we want to…not because we have to. If he did go to Haiti he should go willingly, not out of feeling forced to. I do wonder what responsibilities the president of the synod has in this matter. Where can I find out what his job description is?

  17. If President Kieschnick were really politically savy, he would’ve called attention to the fact that his certain opponent in the coming election was on the scene in Haiti; mentioning him by name and giving him credit for it.
    This would have made him look very “bishop-like” when it comes to the kingdom of the right and very “presidential” in the kingdom of the left. Furthermore it would have steered him far clear of the criticism of people like us.
    Hey, it isn’t like we despise the man, we just don’t want a CEO – lay people can manage the BUSINESS end of a Synod. Confessionals want a pastor, theologian and chief doctrinal officer.
    Call him bishop or president, we won’t get hung up on the title.

  18. Don,

    2007 Handbook Article XI Section B (starting on p. 15)

    B. Duties of the President
    1. The President has the supervision regarding the doctrine and the administration of
    a. All officers of the Synod;
    b. All such as are employed by the Synod;
    c. The individual districts of the Synod;
    d. All district presidents.
    2. It is the President’s duty to see to it that all the aforementioned act in accordance with the Synod’s Constitution, to admonish all who in any way depart from it, and, if such admonition is not heeded, to report such cases to the Synod.
    3. The President has and always shall have the power to advise, admonish, and reprove. He shall conscientiously use all means at his command to promote and maintain unity of doctrine and practice in all the districts of the Synod.
    4. The President shall see to it that the resolutions of the Synod are carried out.
    5. When the Synod meets in convention the President shall give a report of his administration. He shall conduct the sessions of the convention so that all things are done in a Christian manner and in accord with the Constitution and Bylaws of the Synod.
    6. It is the duty of the President, or an officer of the Synod appointed by the President, to be present at the meetings of the districts, to advise them, and to report at the next session of the Synod.
    7. The President shall perform all additional duties assigned to him by the Bylaws or by special resolution of the Synod in convention.
    8. When matters arise between meetings of the Synod in convention which are of such a nature that action thereon cannot be delayed
    until the next convention, the President is authorized to submit them to a written vote of the member congregations of the Synod only after full and complete information regarding the matter has been sent to member congregations by presidential letter and has been published in an official periodical of the Synod. If such matters are related to the business affairs of the Synod, such a vote shall be conducted only after the President has consulted with the synodical Board of Directors. In all cases at least one-fourth of the member congregations must register their vote.

  19. Per subsection 7 the main section of the bylaws that deals with the duties of the President is in 3.3.1 (pp. 101-104)

  20. The most relevant section I found in the Bylaws is The President shall be the chief ecumenical officer of the Synod.
    (a) He shall represent the Synod, in consultation with the appropriate board or commission, in official contacts with all partner churches by aiding, counseling, and advising them and by strengthening the relations with and among them.
    (b) He or his representative shall represent the Synod in official contacts with other church bodies.

    This is consistent with the purpose of the trip as stated in #5 by Anon.

    I think there are plenty of other parts of the duties of the President about which PK could be criticized, but there doesn’t seem to be much about visiting disaster areas. That is not to say that he couldn’t if he wanted to, but from the browsing I have done through the handbook there doesn’t seem to be anything requiring it. Others may know of something I missed.

  21. Approximately two days into the disaster, a Haitian official was interviewed on television.

    He stated something along the lines of “Please stop sending politicians. We need food and water.”

  22. @Timothy C. Schenks #23
    I was thinking he would go to support those lcms members who were working so selflessly…to pray with and for them…to do the work of a pastor…the highest pastor in our synod. Not instead of sending food and water but to bless those helping, and those lcms members who live there and were still in the midst such a trial. A mercy mission of comfort…prayer and blessing.
    But again…as a good work this would need to be done gladly, and if the Pres. decided not to go, for what ever reason, then thats fine… (as long as it was not in any way his responsibility to go).
    I have the utmost respect for those on the ground in Haiti…those who, forsaking their own safety, are willing to even die to show Christ’s mercy to the hurting…I pray for them.

  23. Don,

    You hit the nail right on the head. This isn’t about being political. It isn’t about constitutional duties of the president. It isn’t about being a representative figurehead. It’s about the GOSPEL. It’s about being PASTORAL.

    President Kieschnick did not need to go to Haiti to be a figurehead. If he had, he would have been in the way. His constitutional duties do not dictate that he fly to Haiti — though I think there are many who know that Dr. Kieschnick has never limited himself to constitutional duties in other spheres of influence.

    But the Haitians NEED more than food and water. They need the comfort of the Gospel. They need someone who knows how to use the Scriptures and hymns and liturgy to gather the people to the Savior. They need someone who can rightly divide between Law and Gospel so that they might have peace and hope. Does Dr. Kieschnick know how to do that? I maintain that he does not. You might chide me for saying so, and you are free to prove that I am wrong, but my contention is not about being contentious. It’s a heartfelt concern for what our pastors and churches really ought to be about.

    Yes, that is what I maintain President Kieschnick is incapable of doing, in spite of the fact that some may consider me mean-spirited for thinking and saying so. I confess that I do get rather irate because THAT is also what I believe the whole blasted Ablaze! program is incapable of doing. Ablaze and Fanning the Flame are utterly and entirely impotent at dealing with the devil, the world, and the flesh. Ablaze! would probably address the Haitian problem by trying to raise money for social, dietary and medical needs of the Haitian people. Is that useless? Well, I suppose not entirely. But there are other agencies for that.

    Who will heal the hurt of the Haitian people’s souls once the pains of the injured limbs and empty stomachs are addressed? And HOW will it be done? Will contemporary music do it? Will Church Growth methods do it? Will billboards do it? Will coffee-shops do it? Will computer education do it? Will providing disposable diapers do it? Will providing work opportunities do it? Will any of the 95% of the other things that Ablaze! money has gone to support do it?

    President Kieschnick should also go to Haiti to get a dose of reality. He should have the stench of death in his nostrils. He should wear the dust of crumbled homes on his skin. He should hold orphans in his arm — not as some photo op, but so that he comes to understand that our church — The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod — is not about raising money for more administrative work, not about social ministries, not about revamping the constitution. It’s about the Gospel.

    Dr. Kieschnick must be held responsible for his leadership in our synod. It is not uncharitable if we point out that he is undermining and dismantling and subverting the work of the Gospel as has been confessed in the Lutheran Church. And while I am glad that there are people who as a matter of principle want to protect Dr. Kieschnick from undue criticism and unkind remarks even as I hope they would do that for everyone, they must also consider to what extent they will defend someone whose leadership fails to address the devil, the world, and our flesh, rightly dividing between Law and Gospel, skilfully holding forth the Means of Grace.

  24. @Rev. Joseph Eggleston #16
    I think a serious question I received from a member of a church where I was pastor is good to mention. She asked if it is gossip if it is true. The short answer is, yes. Second question, is gossip really a sin. The short answer is, yes.

  25. [A Haitian official] stated something along the lines of “Please stop sending politicians. We need food and water.”

    @Timothy C. Schenks #23


    The Haitians have Pastors (who can speak their language, which is always helpful.)
    That is what the efforts of CTS, Ft. Wayne and the Marquart Fund have been about.
    (If you are concerned about pastoral care, contribute to the fund.)

  26. And/or, contribute to CTS, Fort Wayne, and thank them for the programs to educate overseas pastors to the point that they can set up their own seminaries at home.

  27. Joel wrote: “President Kieschnick should also go to Haiti to get a dose of reality. He should have the stench of death in his nostrils. He should wear the dust of crumbled homes on his skin. He should hold orphans in his arm — not as some photo op, but so that he comes to understand that our church — The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod — is not about raising money for more administrative work, not about social ministries, not about revamping the constitution. It’s about the Gospel.”

    Something Pastor Matt Harrison understands well. Which is but one reason that he will make such a refreshing and necessary replacement for Dr. Kieschnick this summer.


  28. @Pastor Tim Rossow #8

    “Why did he have to tell us he was going to go in the first place?”

    In the liberal zeitgeist of American society, wanting to do something holds as much cache as actually doing it. Neither I nor most of the BJS readers (I suspect) accept that premise, but all too many of our neighbors do. It would seem that Pres. Kieschnick is speaking in the contemporary, contextual language of the people. (Not that this means that Pres. Kieschnick IS liberal – other evidence speaks to that issue. I am merely stating that he SPEAKS “Liberal.”)

    I, for one, probably would have counseled him not to take the trip. There are other, capable people who can accomplish the needed tasks (both spiritual aid and physical aid) more efficiently and deftly. I will admit, my first (heart) reaction would have been to hop on a plane immediately, but my thoughtful counsel would have been to remain in the US.

    Pastor Harrison can be in Haiti, coordinating efforts to provide physical and spiritual relief, and fulfill his tasks of raising awareness and funds for the crisis because he has a capable staff here in the US and the technology to phone and e-mail. Pres. Kieschnick can be in the US, coordinating fundraising and awareness activities in the US, and fulfill his tasks of providing physical and spiritual relief in Haiti because he has a capable staff there and the technology to phone and e-mail. Would that we could all go to Haiti, but that just isn’t helpful, and it is not our vocation to do what makes US feel good or look good to others, it IS our vocation to do what actually helps our neighbor.

    The PPPadre

  29. re: Rev. Brondos #25

    THANK YOU! Having been in Cap Haitien, Haiti many times, I can tell you without a doubt: You can’t imagine what it is like there from naratives and pictures! The sights, the odors, the air, none can be described. And I wasn’t even in the quake area after it happened! (We’re going again in Feb with about 150 pounds of meds and $$ to help refugees from the quake. Pastor Eliona Bernard says, “The refugees who have nothing are coming to Cap Hatien and other northern cities, asking for help from people who have nothing.”)
    There may be 200-300 or more LCMS folks working in Haiti. That leaves more than 1.8 million here to help fund those in Haiti, and do all the work needed here in the USA and other foreign missions. We are not lacking people in LCMS.

  30. How awful it would be to be the leader of such a Church. They certainly do lend credibility to the story of Cain and Able. I can not imagine having to lead a group that constantly snipes at you, each other, other Protestants in the most Un-Christain tones in public, that puts your every action in the worst light, that can think of nothing to do to raise themselves than to engage in back stabbing and imagined slights.

    Maybe the good Pastor thought he would be in the way of the Professional relief workers? I question what the title of Pastor means to them, if they think it is primarily shown by acting like politicians sniping at each other in every forum. How awful for the victim.

    Could we not all show a little humility and win elections by growing our wing of the Church and not by infighting and tearing down the Church as a whole. Some of us are in need of serious Anger Management teratment, we should seek a Counselor, before we have a stroke or injur ourselves.

    I personally believe that the LCMS needs to put more effort into America’s Youth who are daily becoming more Pagan and Aetheist, than funding foriegn trips for Pastors who don’t seem to be accomplishing much at home except watching Lutheran Youth drift away from neglect in many cases. Maybe he was afraid that interaction with too many of us might damag the reputation of Christianity in Haiti.

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