National Lutheran News

Controvery swirls around suspension of LCMS leader

“Lutheran Hour” radio broadcasts impacted by decision

Ever since the Rev. David Benke participated in an interdenominational prayer service at Yankee Stadium last fall, controversy has raged in the 2.5 million member Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).

Benke, president of the LCMS Atlantic District, wanted to show solidarity with New Yorkers who were not part of the LCMS, following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Towers. So, when a “Prayer for America” service was an-nounced for September 23, he requested and received permission from LCMS President Gerald Kieschnick to participate.

LCMS conservatives believe Benke’s action violates Synod rules barring unionism (participating in worship events with groups not in fellowship with the Missouri Synod). From their perspective, Kieschnick is as culpable for what Benke did as is the district president whose area includes New York City.
LCMS moderates think Benke did the right thing, and that any rules forbidding his action should be set aside in his case.
Last month a National Public Radio phone-in show dealt with the controversy, drawing a comment from an LCMS pastor who said, “Since our church has this rule, it should be enforced.”

Things came to a head at mid-summer when LCMS Second Vice President Wallace Schulz suspended Benke from office temporarily, pending the outcome of a hearing of the case. Schulz has been given responsibility for investigating charges brought against Benke.

But Schulz was speaker on the LCMS nationally-syndicated radio broadcast, “The Lutheran Hour,” and his involvement in the Benke case raised questions about the appropriateness of his continuing in that capacity. Schultz has since resigned as “Lutheran Hour” speaker.

Meanwhile, Kieschnick has asked Schulz to reverse the suspension of Benke, claiming it violates a resolution adopted by last year’s Synod convention.

While the case is being heard, Benke continues to serve as pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church, Brooklyn, New York. If the investigation goes against him, his name will be removed from the clergy roster of the LCMS.