Benke Case Closed, but Tensions Remain

LCMS appeals panel rejects arguments of critics in 9/11 prayer debate

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. Despite the conclusion of the case, tensions run high in the 2.6 million-member denomination. Synod leaders expect a showdown at next year's synod conference.

Twenty-one pastors and churches charged Benke with syncretism (mixing religions), defending false doctrine, and unionism (worshiping with non-LCMS Christian clergy) in the September 2001 "Prayer for America" event. Wallace Schulz, the synod's second vice president, investigated the charges and suspended Benke.

On April 11, a three-person dispute resolution panel dismissed all charges. The panel cited a 2001 resolution allowing LCMS pastors to participate in "once in a lifetime" civic events so long as no restrictions are placed on praying in Jesus' name. The decision reinstates Benke as the denomination's Atlantic District president. While the 8-month suspension affected Benke's duties as president, he remained pastor of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Brooklyn. Had the appeals panel decided the charges applied, Benke would have been removed from the LCMS clergy roster.

After a 30-day period for Schulz to appeal, the church announced the decision in mid-May. In a letter to the LCMS, Schulz says he did not appeal because "our synod has been through enough of this process."

However, Schulz told Christianity Today that he strongly disagrees with the decision. He says he based his decision to suspend Benke on Scripture, but the panel's "14-page decision contains not one direct reference to God's Word. To make their case, the panel simply quoted a convention resolution."

"If this approach ...
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March
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