Getting the history right on Yankee Stadium

I wanted to post this important piece by David Berger, who has served the Lutheran Church in many capacities. He is perhaps best known for his work as the librarian at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. And as librarians tend to be, he is very particular about facts, and saw a need for clarification. Please see below:

Remembrance of Things Past

Since the issue has been raised again by Dr. David Benke (“The Gospel of Hope after September 11,” Lutheran Forum, Fall 2011, pp. 10-11) – as well as by former LCMS president, Dr. Gerald Kieschnick, in his “Perspectives” (Sept. 22 & 29, 2011) – we are compelled to revisit a most distressing event in the recent history of the LCMS. In an auto-hagiographical account of his activities surrounding the destruction of the World Trade Center, Dr. Benke focuses on several commendable community assistance projects and social agencies with which he has been involved before once again defending his participation in the Yankee Stadium Prayer Service on September 23, 2001. (Associate editor Paul Sauer, in a brief introduction carefully refers to the event as a “civic service.”) While no one, as far as I know, has ever taken issue with the acts of mercy performed by fellow Lutherans in New York following this terrible disaster, many have rightly objected to Dr. Benke’s insistent participation in a nationally televised prayer service with a panoply of civic leaders, celebrities, and representatives of various religions, Christian and non-Christian. That his rhetoric-laden prayer included no clear proclamation of the “Gospel of Hope” and only passing witness to the true God of the Scriptures (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and to his Christian faith is not the primary issue. Participation in the service was the problem, as was the permission granted by his ecclesiastical supervisor, Dr. Kieschnick.

Compounding the offense was a deeply flawed (to put the best construction on it) dispute resolution process that led to his “final vindication” (Dr. Benke’s words): “The official resolution of my ‘case’ focused on the interpretation of a Missouri Synod convention resolution allowing for pastoral discretion in civic events.”

That is all too true, i.e., it was the “official” resolution of the case, not the scriptural one. The latter would have required a repentant apology from both him and his ecclesiastical supervisor. Dr. Benke and his supporters insisted on Res. 3-07A (2001) as the criterion to judge his action. Dr. Wallace Schulz, who had been charged to adjudicate the case and had suspended Dr. Benke for his participation in the service, insisted that the only criterion be God’s Word, which clearly prohibits confounding the God of Scripture with false gods (having / placing them before Him, Ex. 20:3), as was surely the case at Yankee Stadium. Following the suspension, a dispute resolution process was inaugurated to resolve the controversy over the suspension. In that process, the president of the Synod (Dr. Benke’s ecclesiastical supervisor) and the executive director of the CTCR served as Dr. Benke’s witnesses.

The Dispute Resolution Panel (DRP) ultimately agreed that Dr. Schulz had presented a “very thorough argument concerning the charges on the basis of the Holy Scriptures alone.” They insisted, however, that the criterion for a decision had to be the recently passed resolution of the Synod. The problem? It didn’t apply. The DRP had posed a crucial question to the CTCR in their deliberations regarding pastoral “discretion” to participate in civic events as applicable under Res. 3-07A. The CTCR replied that the text of the document “commended” in Res. 3-07A “does not explicitly address the issue of ‘offering a prayer by an LCMS pastor in a “civic event” in which prayers would also be offered by representatives of non-Christian religions.’”(1) That is, the resolution did not address (apply to) discretion to participate in a multi-faith prayer service, such as occurred at Yankee Stadium on September 23, 2001. Nowhere does the decision of the DPR reference this key response from the CTCR to their query. Rather, much verbiage in the Decision was devoted to Res. 3-07A, as if it were relevant, even calling it “prescient,” passed miraculously, if you will, to provide permission to participate in the YS service.(2)

In two recent postings of his “Perspectives,” (see link above) Dr. Kieschnick also refers repeatedly to words and phrases from the irrelevant document “commended” by Res. 3-07A of the Synod to justify both his advice and Dr. Benke’s participation at YS. Why either he or Dr. Benke would draw attention once again to this sorry chapter in the history of our church body is a mystery indeed, but their efforts do not alter the truth of the matter: Neither on the basis of Scripture nor on the basis of a resolution of the Synod was Dr. Benke or his participation “vindicated.”

God grant that we are still able to salvage a silk purse from this sow’s ear and learn from it a valuable lesson in church polity and politics, both their use and abuse.

For more thorough analyses of the issues and process see
Concordia Journal Vol. 29:4, October 2003, pp. 370-373 ; Vol. 30:3, July 2004, pp. 118-121
Concordia Theological Quarterly Vol. 67:1, January 2003, pp. 79-85

(1) “. . . . Section V, B. [of one of the documents commended in Res. 3-07A] does not explicitly address the issue of ‘offering a prayer by an LCMS pastor in a “civic event” in which prayers would also be offered by representatives of non-Christian religions.'” The CTCR is presently considering assignments with respect to this issue, including the formulation of guidelines for participation in civic events and the definition of ‘civic event.'” [Response to the DRP from the CTCR] (Adopted February 18, 2003.)

(2) “The events of 9/11/2001 were certainly not directly anticipated when Resolution 3-07A was passed, nor could they have been, but the resolution was amazingly prescient in providing direction for proceeding in a situation where men equally dedicated to the Synodical principals [sic] of fellowship would inevitably be divided as to whether it was better to avoid possible doctrinal confusion by not going or to boldly go to ‘Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim…’” [excerpt from the DRP Decision, April 10, 2003 ; N.B. the DRP’s editorializing about a bold proclamation of the Gospel that did not occur]


Getting the history right on Yankee Stadium — 71 Comments

  1. @Paul #26

    President Harrison did not “run” for his current office. He never “sought” it nor did he expect it. He allowed his name to stand, he was supported, and he was subsequently elected to the office.

    He truly allowed the “office to seek the man”, an example to us all.

  2. @mbw #48
    Thanks, MBW, well, as I said…all’s well that ends well. The efforts made to supress the Reader’s Edition have proven to be unsuccessful. And the fact that there are now nearly 125,000 copies in print and being used worldwide, being translated into languages as diverse as SE Asian dialects and Indian languages attests to its success, for which I personally take very little credit. We had a great team working on it and it definitely scratched and itch out there.

    If you give laypeople have a chance and an opportunity actually to learn what the Lutheran Confessions it really proves to be something they enjoy learning about. I lost track long ago of the number of laypeople who told me that they had no idea just how wonderful the Book of Concord actually is.

    Thanks, be to God.

  3. @Rev. MLKumm #51
    Respectfully, you could not be further from the truth. It was organized, pursued and, in the end, he won. All of which, in my opinion, is completely fine. I just don’t think we should try to make him out to be this humble pastor that “let his name stand.” He wanted it and he went after it.

  4. Paul :
    @Rev. MLKumm #51
    Respectfully, you could not be further from the truth. It was organized, pursued and, in the end, he won. All of which, in my opinion, is completely fine. I just don’t think we should try to make him out to be this humble pastor that “let his name stand.” He wanted it and he went after it.

    This is my understanding as well. I was told by someone who attended the convention that President Harrison’s own mother commented at the convention that he has wanted to be Synod president since he was a boy. I also have heard that funds were raised and spent on a political consultant who advised how to run the campaign. But I readily admit that I have no personal knowledge of any of this … just that I heard it from people who I have no reason to doubt. I would be appreciative if anyone here can confirm or deny.

  5. Here is my question: Why is there such a desire to simply “Put this event behind us?” The reason for my question is this: If I as a pastor have a member who committed adultery, could enough time pass that would eliminate the act as sin? In other words, “out of sight, out of mind?” If Benke and Kieschnick did indeed sin against the Word of God as Rev. Schulz stated, then can we simply sweep it away (i.e., “off the books”) if we allow enough time to pass? Benke is just as guilty of his sinful act today as he was in 2001. No amount of quoting (or in this case mis-quoting) of some convention resolution alters God’s Word or stands above it.

    To my mind this is one more example of why the LCMS is in the shape it is in today. Rather than deal with the issues theologically, we deal with them pragmatically. If we had dealt with the theology behind the “Statement of the forty-four,” if we had dealt with the theology behind seminex, if we had dealt with the theology behind the Fl-GA “Celebrate” document, then we would not see this same kind of nonsense continually occurring. Yes, we would probably have had quite a number of people leave the LCMS. That would not exactly be a bad thing.

    Let us truly begin to tackle the issues theologically, biblically, not relying upon what brings the greatest peace and agreement. Not to do so will consign the LCMS to the blackness of American denominationalism, a body in seach of a confession.

  6. Paul :
    @Rev. MLKumm #51
    Respectfully, you could not be further from the truth. It was organized, pursued and, in the end, he won. All of which, in my opinion, is completely fine. I just don’t think we should try to make him out to be this humble pastor that “let his name stand.” He wanted it and he went after it.

    To my knowledge, I am the first lay person to have nominated him for the praesidium. This would have been in 2006 in his then-home congregation and it was not only my own idea but I didn’t discuss it with anyone ahead of time nor had I heard the idea mentioned anywhere. My choice was based on his obvious liking of human beings, his obvious pastoral qualities, his obvious scholarship, his obvious love for the Lutheran church, his excellent reputation running WRHC, and other good and right factors. He appeared to have been born for the job. I think I am safe to generalize my own experience to other lay people and conclude that he absolutely was drafted. At some point it certainly would be a good thing for him to have decided he wanted the job! If in fact he was born for this job, I would certainly hope that he dreamed of it as a boy, though I have no idea whether that happened.

  7. @Larry Kleinschmidt #54
    Larry, To say that President Harrison had nothing to do with his election I think would be a mischaracterization. At the same time, I asked President Harrison probably around 9 months before the convention if he was planning on running. His response was something to the effect that he was rather overwhelmed by the whole thing (his potential nomination), and by his answer, he obviously wasn’t somebody who was stealthily plotting his next move on how to get elected. There were many people who worked to get him elected, much of which was a grass roots sort of movement that began all on its own. The Harrison for President website, for instance, was started without his knowledge. I would certainly characterize him as a humble candidate, and much of the “how” in the election happened organically. At every election, there’s a lot of the same people working to get “their guy” elected, so in a sense, if there’s a clear cut candidate like there was this time, he’s going to have a “team” working to get him elected whether he wants it or not.

  8. Larry Kleinschmidt:

    I wanted to respond to a couple rumors you posted in comment #54

    I’ve known Rev. Harrison for well over over half of my life, and at not a single point in time did he ever express any interest in being Synodical president, and his mother never said any such thing about his boyhood dream of being Synod president …. simply not true.

    During the previous administration’s closing years, he finally did say he would be willing to be considered for Synodical president. Period. Not a thing wrong with that, nothing dishonorable or otherwise with working within the Synod’s own political process.

    Generally in these things the losing side always tries to attribute a loss to some deep, dark, secret plot. As in most cases, it is not so. And, no, there was no secret fund raiser to hire political consultants. The losing side would like to blame something other than dissatisfaction with their choice in leaders as the reason why “their guy” lost. Would happen no matter who won, or lost.

    Everything you related here is simply baloney.

    Just thought you’d like to know.

  9. @Larry Kleinschmidt #54
    @Paul #26

    Dear Paul and Mr. Kleinschmidt,

    You have communicated into the public realm several private assertions about our current LCMS president:

    1) his mother said that he wanted to be LCMS president since he was a boy;
    2) money was raised and spent on a political consultant who advised on how to run the campaign for president;
    3) no one ran harder than him for the position.

    First, anyone knows that it is the lowest form of gossip possible to bring the family members of a public office-holder into the spotlight, for any reason. Don’t you remember all the fuss about the daughters of George Bush, Jr. or the about the kids of Barack Obama? Even if the mother said that, that does not mean she remembers correctly. Keep the wife, the kids, and the parents out of it!

    Second, I am not aware of money raised or spent on a political consultant. I am not an “insider,” but I heard lots of talk about people wanting Harrison to be President. I never heard talk about such a consultant nor was asked for money. Maybe someone else knows for sure on this. I would assume that unless that there is evidence for this, that it is just gossip.

    Third, in the LCMS we really don’t have “races” for offices. It goes against our grain of what an office-holder should be. I have seen this in 30 years or so, of watching both sides try to get their candidates elected.

    Here is what really happen: What happens is that groups of people decide either to support the incumbent, or support someone against him. The “against” groups often don’t have a candidate in mind, originally. They just want a change in leadership (this happens on both sides of the “liberal”/”conservative” fence). Then they go looking for a candidate who is the most electable and most competent for the office, and who agrees with their general outlook. If he says “No,” they go looking for another; if he says “Yes,” they go do the work to give him name recognition and nominations. There is nothing else that a “candidate” normally does, and very little more that a supporting group CAN do, because of how the synod is organized.

    Fourth, you need to take ANYTHING said about “conservative” Lutheran pastors with a grain of salt–consider WHO is telling you the story, consider WHY they might be telling you this, and then CONFIRM by independent testimony or sources. I do this ALL the time, no matter who is the object of the negative testimony, whether “liberal,”
    “conservative,” or whatever. I have quotes around “liberal” and “conservative” because I don’t think they are usually accurate terms when applied to LCMS members, but they are the terms people understand.

    I entered into the big-bad world of LCMS politics as a complete innocent in 1976 when I matriculated at Concordia Teachers College, River Forest. I had professors who were teaching the historical critical method, advocating ecumenical relations with all sorts of people, and some were teaching a type of universalism. The on-campus church was in open rebellion against the LCMS, and most of our professors attended that church. The president of the college, and his administrators, were despised and constantly attacked verbally by most professors and staff, and by a few students who didn’t know what was going on.

    We heard all sorts of gossip and stories from the “liberal” professors and staff about the “evil” college president and his allies. I wasn’t sure what to believe at first. Then a couple of students, who realized that I was a Bible-believer and committed to Lutheran theology and practice, took me into their confidence and told me what was going on. They explained the whole Seminex thing and how that had worked itself out at River Forest. They didn’t say which professor was on which side of the fence; but they gave enough detail about the controversies that I could figure that out for myself.

    After that, all the gossip and false testimony made sense. The strange thing, and maybe that was just River Forest, was that the “conservatives” did not criticize the “liberals” for their life, ethics, or sanctification. When criticism went that way, it was always about a theological error, or the potential for error, and names were rarely named. But when the criticism went the other way, the “liberals” never criticized the theology, but always the life, ethics, or sanctification of the “conservatives” and names were always named. The “liberals” did not seem to realize that they were running a nasty gossip mill; and that their accusations could never be confirmed or disconfirmed.

    SO . . . we have this very odd situation in the LCMS where people in the “liberal” camp have for a good fifty years thrown all sorts of accusations and false testimony at “conservative” Lutheran pastors—–and also at any “conservative” Lutheran laymen that stick their heads into synodical business—–while the “conservatives” criticize only the theology or church-practice of the liberals. There is only one persistent exception to this rule, on the conservative side, and that exception has discredited itself when it makes accusations of an ethical sort.

    In the LCMS, “liberals” are accused of DOCTRINAL violations and “conservatives” are accused of ETHICAL violations. It is a pretty consistent theme, at least since I have been around. The weirdest thing is where a “conservative” will accuse a “liberal” of false public doctrine and then the “liberal” accuses the “conservative” of breaking the 8th commandment because he criticizes false doctrine. The “liberals” always seem to forget that the 8th commandment forbids “FALSE” testimony, not testimony about FALSE DOCTRINE.

    This is why James Burkee’s book is so unreal and unreliable. He takes all the ethical accusations and gossip he could find against “conservatives” and gives all that gossip the halo of historical TRUTH. He could find plenty of this gossip, because that is about all that has come out of the mouth of the “liberals” for the last fifty years. And how do you know whether it is true or false? I think the “liberal” strategy here has been “repeat the gossip often enough, and people will believe it.”

    I am not saying that “conservatives” are more saintly or more ethically sanctified than “liberals.” I have worked with them long enough to know that! My experience, on that account, is that both weigh in about the same. Where they differ is in their treatment of the Word, the Sacraments, worship, the church, and the ministry. “Conservatives” are more careful to retain in these things what has been given to us in Scriptures and Confessions. “Liberals” are more careless in the same respect, and sometimes in open rebellion against Scriptures or Confessions. “Liberals” justify their carelessness by pointing out presumed ethical failings in “conservatives,” which psychologists call “compensatory behavior.”

    When you understand these dynamics about late 20th and early 21st century LCMS, you can better judge the gossip that you hear.

    Besides all that, President Harrison is a nice guy.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  10. Thank you, Pastor McCain and Pastor Noland. I appreciate your insights. I did not mean to cast aspersions. I said what I had heard, and you refuted it. Thanks again.

  11. Thanks for the lengthy history lesson. I too have been around the LCMS for some time. “Running” for LCMS president is not like running for public office. However, some might contest I was an “insider” (whatever that means) and, in the way a candidate might “run” for LCMS President, Rev. Matt Harrison did. I know him and had discussions with him about this, long before 2009 convention. And yes, he is a nice guy. A highly qualified guy. A compassionate guy. A guy that loves his Lord and his church. But there is a standard here that is applied to “liberals” that doesn’t apply to “conservatives” (witness the victim mentality in your post #60). Kieschnick sought the limelight and Harrison doesn’t. It just doesn’t hold.

    And again, I’ll repeat my earlier assertion: I’m completely OK with the notion that Harrison, Kieschnick, Barry, others “ran” for the office. I don’t have an issue with that. My issue is the inconsistency that “liberals” seek the office for the wrong reasons and “conservatives” have the right ones.

  12. I remember this story and It pains me to look at the LCMS and how fast downhill it is traveling. By all means, if Pastor Harrison does not make some radical changes in the LCMS before he gets out of office I fear the LCMS could be lost. Of all that has happened the whole issue of syncretism is all over the LCMS. For goodness sake, my local LCMS church has ‘open’ communion which means you could take the Sacrament of the Altar with a Mormon and you would never know it because the pastor is too lazy to be a shepherd and do the job of a pastor. Why not allow ‘open’ communion when we have a great example in Dr. David Benke. He prayed along with heathens, why not take communion with heathens.

  13. @Paul #62

    Dear Paul,
    I appreciate your remarks and I agree that it is ok to seek the job at some level. Just like anything else our heart desires, it is possible to wish for some good thing and for that not to be sinful. There also exists unhealthy ambition, often cloaked in some idea of doing good. I went to the voter’s meeting I mentioned above carrying (with trepidation) Dr. Baue’s analysis of Rev. Kieschnick’s “Jerry”-mandering in 2004. I have never heard this factually challenged. To me, this appeared to be a kind of wanting the office that was not right. I say this in hopes of providing some perspective. If all I am doing is opening an old wound, especially if there is a reasonable challenge to Baue’s analysis, then I’d ask the admin to just zot this.

  14. @Chris #64
    Chris, you are spot on, the disregard for Scripture and the confessions, or the pastor following his ordination and installation oaths are appalling in a good number of LCMS congregations. We take the opportunity in CLCC seminars to encourage the attendees to buy a Concordia for their home use and use it. Educate yourselves, if nothing else can be done. Always use Scripture and the Confessions for your arguments.

    If you have thought about holding a liberal pastor accountable for his dumbing down of a Divine Service into a poor Contemporary one, go for it. You most likely won’t be successful, at least I have not, but still we must try to hold these errant pastors accountable. I submit however, no real progress will be made until Synod holds them accountable.

  15. The sad thing about the Keishnick/Rodgers attack on the Book of Concord was seeing the fallout personally. Copies were being put into the hands of our laymen and the Confessions were being studied, and we rejoiced to be immerced in them! Then Keishnick’s criticism came out (I believe in the Witness or Reporter or somewhere), and one layman came forward, almost in despair, as if he didn’t know what to believe anymore.

    Wonder how many other laymen of tender faith were wounded like this one.

  16. Did the Lutheran Layman’s League apologize yet for what they did to Pastor Schulz after he called District President Benke to repentance for his public sin?

  17. If LHM Executive Director Rodger Hebermehl didn’t apologize for what he did to the Rev. Wallace Schulz, it’s too late now.

  18. Mollie, I hope you soon find the time to “Get the history right” on that university chapel the district bureaucrats are selling out from under the congregation and their pastor.

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