By Martin R. Noland, December 20, 2011
The recent history of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, i.e., the internal ecclesial conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s, continues to garner interest from those who want to make their “interpretation” of that history the official and enduring one. James C. Burkee’s book, “Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict that Changed American Christianity” is the present center of this historiographical hurricane. Earlier this year, Mollie Ziegler-Hemingway posted two articles on the book and its reviews (see here and here). Now two more reviews have surfaced, one from Waldo Werning, retired Professor of Stewardship at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne and David Settje, Professor of History at Concordia University, Chicago.
Settje’s review is found in the “Lutheran Historical Conference Newsletter,” Volume 49 No. 3-4 (August-November 2011), pp. 2 & 11. Settje is the book review editor for this newsletter, which is the official quarterly publication of the pan-Lutheran “Lutheran Historical Conference” (see http://luthhist.org). Those interested in membership in the organization may send a check for $35.00 payable to the “Lutheran Historical Conference” to: Marvin A. Huggins, Membership Secretary, Lutheran Historical Conference, 5732 White Pine Dr., Saint Louis, MO 63129-2936.
Settje agrees with the essential interpretive framework of Burkee’s book. Settje states: “Burkee points to the influence of J.A.O. Preus and Herman Otten as most significant in propelling the LCMS to the right. . . . Both well-known figures appear vindictive, selfish, and power hungry in Burkee’s telling of the story. Burkee is especially critical of Preus and rightfully so.” Settje also states: “Conservatives therefore manipulated LMCS polity and ran roughshod over the liberals and moderates, even when resorting to infighting among themselves and eschewing a spirit of Christian civility in order to maintain power.” Settje’s primary criticisms of Burkee’s book are that he did not let Oliver Harms and John Tietjen speak for themselves, and that he overlooked the writings of more liberal interpreters, such as Mary Todd, Kathryn Galchutt, and Jon Pahl.
Werning’s review was published, only in short excerpts, in the “Christian News,” Volume 49 No. 46 (December 5, 2011), pp. 1, 5, & 6. A copy of the entire 25 page review is available from: Dr. Waldo Werning, 8220 Harwood Ave., Wauwatosa, WI 53213, phone 262-782-9900, email: wjwern1 (at) aol.com. A printed copy is $10.00, an electronic copy is $5.00.
Werning fervently disagrees with the essential interpretive framework of Burkee’s book. Werning states: “Most of [Burkee’s book] is a sideshow about the Jack Preus-Herman Otten private struggles . . . A significant part of the book came from draining the political swamps of anonymous opinions especially of liberal supporters of the St Louis seminary faculty at that time.” Regarding the larger picture of the LCMS conservative movement, Werning writes: “The confessing activity was seen as part of the LCMS polity and governance required by the Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions, and the LCMS constitution and bylaws. This was not a right-wing political party, but a movement of LCMS members within the Synod. Since the presence of false doctrine by the St Louis seminary professors was not being addressed or halted by the LCMS administration, at least 22 District Presidents encouraged a response.”
Here is the bottom line: Werning’s summary interpretation of the LCMS conservative movement, as stated in the previous three sentences, is correct and Burkee’s is wrong.
The problems at the Saint Louis seminary were first addressed in a major and wide-ranging way by the “Faith Forward – First Concerns” (hereafter FFFC) group in 1965, which was led by ten LCMS District Presidents. They issued, along with ten parish pastors, “A Plea of Concern in Christian Love” expressing concern about the teaching of biblical higher criticism and theistic evolution in many parts of the church. The second FFFC thesis in “A Plea of Concern” also stated “We are saddened by the action of independent groups within our church who in taking upon themselves the expose of doctrinal aberrations in our midst are undermining the work of our synodical leaders! We regret the conduct of these critics, even though their intention may be a concern for the truth. It is regrettable that some objectors have gone beyond the limits of ordinary alarm and have made rash and reactionary statements which have beclouded issues. We disassociate ourselves from such groups that have pointed to personalities as much as to basic issues.” (see Waldo Werning, “Making the Missouri Synod Functional Again” [Fort Wayne: Biblical Renewal Publications, 1992], p. 56). This “Plea of Concern” was circulated and signed by about 140,000 people that year.
The FFFC statement led to intensive study of these issues by all congregations, pastors, and laymen in 1965 and thereafter. It led to the election of Jack Preus, the organization of Balance, Inc., and the publication of “Affirm,” which focused on issues, not personalities. Preus, Balance, and Affirm followed the path blazed by the ten FFFC district presidents when they worked WITH the synodical leadership, confessional articles, and structure, not AGAINST or AROUND them.
To date, the most balanced and objective treatments of this subject remain: Kurt Marquart, “Anatomy of an Explosion” (Fort Wayne: CTS Press, 1977; available here) and Paul Zimmerman, “A Seminary in Crisis” (Saint Louis: CPH, 2007; available here). I urge you to read Marquart’s book, pp. 88-95, for the true story of LCMS church politics in the Harms and Preus eras. Then read Zimmerman’s book for the results in Preus’ Fact-Finding Committee investigation of the seminary.
I am looking forward to the presentation on January 16, 2012 by two laymen who personally witnessed most of these events, Dr. Scott Meyer, President of the Concordia Historical Institute and Attorney Walter Dissen, Esq., member of the Saint Louis seminary Board of Control during the Fact-Finding Committee investigations and the Walkout. They will speak about the Preus era at the conference of the Lutheran Concerns Association in Fort Wayne. More information on the conference can be found here, on pages 6 & 7. If you attend the Lutheran Concerns Association conference, plan to stay for the CTS Symposia the following days, January 17-20. Current information on the Symposia and registration is available here: http://www.ctsfw.edu/Page.aspx?pid=974