Ever since “A Prayer For America,” the interfaith worship service held at Yankee Stadium in the wake of the tragic 9/11 terrorist attacks, our beloved Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has been in great turmoil. Synod President Gerald Kieschnick’s approval of Atlantic District President David Benke’s participation “struck the match” that set the controversy ablaze. While the original debate swirled around participation in interfaith worship services, the underlying issues go much deeper, and have only greatly deepened by actions taken by the 2004 Synodical Convention. These events simply exposed significant disagreements regarding how our beliefs should guide our words and our behavior. The Synod can no longer ignore these divisions.
I serve as the pastor of an LCMS campus ministry. In the days immediately following 9/11, I provided prayer services at our chapel and helped students grapple with their many questions about what took place. These questions went beyond the events of 9/11 itself. Many saw the national television broadcast of the Yankee Stadium interfaith service. The very next day I was bombarded with questions: “Pastor, I saw an LCMS District President at this thing. What does this mean?”; “That wasn’t right was it?”; “You wouldn’t participate in a worship service with Muslims and Jews like that, would you?” My short answer to that last question was “No, of course not.” Yes, we conducted prayer services at our campus chapel, but when local interfaith services were held for our campus community, I simply declined to participate.
Within a couple of weeks of the Yankee Stadium service, tensions in our Synod increased noticeably. My students’ interest level also increased and their questions continued, so I decided to provide them with a simple summary of the events that had taken place. I put it on our church website, since most of our college students use the Internet to keep up with the news, one another, and our campus ministry. As the debate in the synod escalated, I kept adding new items to the summary. Before long I learned that others beyond our campus had begun checking this page on our website, and some sent e-mails to tell me they found it helpful. Still, it is for our young college students and the future church that they will inherit that I labor in this avocation. I never could have anticipated that this chronicle would be continuing three years later, but here we are.
For the sake of all who are aware of what has taken place, but especially for the sake of those who are not, it was eventually moved to its own website. My hope is that these will not only help document what has taken place, but also facilitate ongoing catechesis on the integral issues that face our church body.
While many had hoped that the 2004 Synodical Convention would help return the LCMS on to the right path, the opposite actually is the case. The wounds are deeper, the Synod is more polarized than ever before, and the future of the LCMS as a faithful and confessional Lutheran church body lies in the balance.
Truly, if sincere prayer was ever needed regarding our walking together as a synod, that time is now:
O God, whose infinite love restores to the right way those who err, gathers the scattered, and preserves those whom You have gathered, of Your tender mercy pour out on Your Christian people the grace of unity that, all schisms being healed, Your flock, gathered to the true Shepherd of Your Church, may serve You in all faithfulness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. (Collect for Unity of Faith, Lutheran Worship, p.126)
Fraternally in Christ,
- Rev. Marcus T. Zill
- St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church and Campus Center, Laramie, WY
- Webmaster, www.crisisinthelcms.org