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]

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