An appeals panel of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) has overturned the suspension of pastor David Benke for praying at an interfaith September 11 memorial event at Yankee Stadium (CT, Sept. 9, 2002, p. 17). As a result, tensions are running high in the 2.6-million-member denomination, and sources expect a showdown next year.
Twenty-one pastors and churches charged Benke with syncretism (mixing religions), defending false doctrine, and worshiping with non-LCMS Christian clergy in the September 2001 "Prayer for America" event. Wallace Schulz, the synod's second vice president, investigated the case last summer. Schulz then suspended Benke, pastor of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Brooklyn.
On April 11, a three-person dispute resolution panel dismissed all charges against Benke. It reinstated him as the denomination's Atlantic District president. After a 30-day appeals period, the church announced the decision in mid-May. The panel cited a 2001 resolution, 3-07A. It allows LCMS pastors to participate in "once in a lifetime" civic events, with no restrictions placed on praying in Jesus' name.
Schulz lost his 25-year position as host of the syndicated "Lutheran Hour" radio program because of controversy raised over his decision. He told Christianity Today he strongly disagrees with the panel's decision.
"If this dispute resolution panel's approach is permitted to stand, there will be chaos in our synod, since the Word of God will become subject to the word of man," Schulz said.
LCMS leaders say the Benke case has dredged up existing divisions in the denomination. These include disagreements over the interpretation of Scripture and the church's involvement with non-LCMS Christians and non-Christians. Benke told CT, "It appears ...1