Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The LCMS Presidium's Libel

Although I was expelled from the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod last July, the leadership of that church body continues to malign me in public. Earlier this week a friend forwarded to me an “open letter” from the LCMS “presidium” (i.e., Matthew Harrison, Herbert Mueller, John Wohlrabe, Dan Preus, Scott Murray, Nabil Nour, and Christopher Esget). This letter is a response to another “public letter” by three former members of the synod’s Commission on Constitutional Matters. The former CCM members are troubled by what appears to be Pres. Harrison’s efforts to change the bylaws of the synod so that the president will have more leverage to discipline those he thinks need to be disciplined. In the words of the former members of the CCM: “We are concerned that President Harrison, having initially expressed concerns about the concentration of power in the Office of the President caused by the structural changes adopted by the Synod in 2010, has now abandoned that position and is actively attempting to aggregate even more power in the Office of the President.”

So now, in its letter, the synod presidium has tried to explain why the bylaws dealing with ecclesiastical supervision need to be revised. Here’s how Harrison & Company begin their letter:

What precipitated the need for taking a look at the dispute resolution process as it currently exists in our Bylaws? The suggestion to examine the current Bylaws on dispute resolution came from President Harrison when the system had exonerated a pastor who was publicly and aggressively teaching that the Bible has errors, that women should be ordained, that homosexual activity is not sinful, and that evolution is true. Prior to all of this, President Harrison had patiently arranged for this man’s dissent regarding A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles (which rejected the errors of Seminex and was adopted by convention as official Synod doctrine in 1973) to be considered by the CTCR. After the CTCR unanimously rejected the dissent, President Harrison—in a spirit of patience, and hoping to win the brother—requested that the CTCR staff (the Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer and the Rev. Larry Vogel) and two seminary professors serving on the CTCR (one from each seminary) meet privately to try again to win the brother. All efforts failed. After the brother’s exoneration by a panel, a new case was filed regarding his teachings on evolution. As a result of this last case, however, the individual in question was removed from the Synod. It was in this context, after some five years dealing with the problem, that President Harrison appointed a task force to examine the current Bylaws and make recommendations for improvement.
That opening paragraph contains libelous statements. (Libel = “a published false statement damaging to a person’s reputation (cf. slander).”

To be sure, I’m not mentioned by name here, but anyone who has read about my expulsion last summer (e.g., on Matt Harrison’s Facebook page, on the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in the Washington Post, in the Christian Century, in the blogosphere, etc.) or has read the Indiana District overture against me (published in the LCMS 2016 Convention Workbook), knows who is being referenced in that opening paragraph.

Apparently Exodus 20.16 does not apply to individuals who reach the heady levels of the synod’s presidium. Or maybe Luther's explanation to that verse just doesn't fit the situation of a person who is no longer a member of the presidium's church body. Or maybe it just doesn't fit the situation of a person Harrison & Co. consider to be a "heretic"?

I don’t think I have ever “aggressively” taught anything in my life. I certainly have never “aggressively and publicly” taught “that the Bible has errors.” If the presidium’s assertion here were true, then surely there would have been an uproar in the LCMS congregation I served between 2010 and 2014. Of all people, they are the ones who know what I have “taught publicly” and continue to teach. Or ask the Indiana District President who spoke with me several times during those years. Or ask the Northwest District President, who frequently did likewise. The only document that I know of, wherein I have pointed out a few “minor errors” in the Bible (which is no different from what Martin Luther himself did in the sixteenth century) is my critique of “A Statement.” In my book, Fundamental Theology, I devote several pages to defending the authority and infallibility of Holy Scripture. I write there about the Scripture’s “perfection” and “sufficiency,” i.e., the Holy Scriptures contain everything one needs to know in order to become knowledgeable of the nature and will of God, of the world as God's creation, of human beings as sinful creatures of God, of how sinners have been redeemed by Christ Jesus, and of the new creation that has dawned in Christ. I have also publicly written there about Scripture’s "necessity," which means the Scriptures are “able to refute the errors of human beings with respect to the revealed truth of the gospel and the articles of faith that serve as corollaries to the gospel.” I have not ever “publicly and aggressively” taught “that the Bible has errors.”

Yes, I have argued for the ordination of women to the pastoral office, but those writings can hardly be described as “aggressive.”

What about "homosexuality"? I have never “publicly and aggressively” taught “that homosexual activity is not sinful.” That assertion of the presidium is libel. Plain and simple. Members of the presidium, run your assertion past the saints at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Michigan City, Ind. Run it by Dan May or Paul Linnemann. Run that assertion by my students here at Valpo. Run it by my colleagues. Run it by my wife. In other words, run it by people who actually know me and are familiar with my life and teaching. I have never written an essay nor delivered a paper on sexual ethics, let alone one that teaches “homosexual activity is not sinful.” No human activity, in and of itself, is ever free of the power of sin.

With respect to Pres. Harrison’s actions toward me, many who are familiar with the course of those actions in 2009-2014 would not describe them as “patient.” Apparently the presidium has forgotten about Harrison’s email to Joel Lehenbauer and Larry Vogel in which he directed the CTCR to act quickly on my dissent. If you examine that email there's not a hint of concern for the brother in question. Just an order to get a swift decision. And when I was formally and officially cleared of last year's charge of teaching false doctrine (dealing with my openness toward women's ordination), well, just check out Harrison's Facebook posts from that period. I will leave it to others to evaluate how best to describe Pres. Harrison's behavior in all this. The words "spirit of patience and hoping to win the brother" are not ones that come to my mind.

Clearly, the synod cannot tolerate even a single professor who publicly raises criticisms against the synod's support for creationism and its rejection of a mainstream scientific theory. Nor can the synod tolerate even a single professor who publicly raises criticism against the synod's practice of restricting the office of pastor to men. Nor can the synod tolerate even a single professor who publicly criticizes "A Statement" for its flawed and wrong-headed approach to biblical authority and interpretation.

Members of the Presidium: I'm no longer a member of your brotherhood. There's no need for you to stretch the facts of my dissent to the point of libel. If you feel the need to scapegoat me and use my dissent as the main reason for why you feel the need to call upon the synod to revise its bylaws, then at least stick to the facts.