Dave Preus is now against the ELCA merger,
and so is former LCA president Crumley.
Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict That Changed American Christianity
By James C. Burkee, Foreword by Martin Marty
Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2011, 183 pages. #9780800697921.
Reviewed by Gregory L. Jackson, PhD
Martin Marty sets the tone of this book, in his foreword, where he refers to Pastor Otten as “Mr. Otten.” The Missouri Synod apostates have always insisted on “Mr. Otten” because they do not wish to recognize his ordination, which was valid and proper according to their own polity.
Marty guided the completion of this dissertation, as a “minor” and “neutral” observer. He has never been a minor figure in the Missouri Civil War, and he was hardly a neutral observer. A parallel would be asking Fuller student David Valleskey to write an analysis of the Church Growth Movement.
Fortress once had a reputation for telling the truth in its books, even if the truth involved their own liberal heroes, such as Barth or Tillich. That honesty is missing from Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod. The ELCA does not like the Missouri Synod; many of its leaders left the LCMS. In fact, Carl Braaten (never accused of orthodoxy) has blamed the Missouri come-outters for making ELCA so radical. They used their minority status to recast the merger into their dream organization.
The famous Seminex, made up of faculty and students who left Concordia Seminary, became the official seminary for the Metropolitan Community Church, a denomination set up exclusively for homosexual and lesbian pastors and members. These intellectual giants of Seminex determined the substance of ELCA with a quota system and other enhancements.
Burkee’s book is well written and difficult to put down, with many good insights into the background of the Missouri Synod conflict. However, he is completely clueless about the cause of the synod’s conflict. If he is not clueless, then he simply dishonest about what caused the split.
From the beginning, the author sets up a Straw Man with the inerrancy term. His ELCA readers doubtless agree with him that inerrancy is a new term that does not fit the teaching of the Scriptures. Therefore, they will resonate with the concept that the evil Preus brothers used this newly-invented term to grab power and oust the Seminex martyrs.
The Christian Church has always taught the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of the Scriptures. The old term was “infallible” but the apostates kept watering down the meaning of infallible by saying “infallible in doctrine, but not in history or geography.” As a result, the term “inerrant” was used in its place or added to it. Catholics and Protestants alike, not to mention the Eastern Orthodox, were in agreement. One pope said the Bible was like Christ, having two natures, divine and human, and yet without error.
Luther defined the Scriptures as “inerrant” and “infallible” in the Book of Concord, the Large Catechism, on Baptism, using the Latin words.
“57] Thus we do also in infant baptism. We bring the child in the conviction and hope that it believes, and we pray that God may grant it faith; but we do not baptize it upon that, but solely upon the command of God. Why so? Because we know that God does not lie. I and my neighbor and, in short, all men, may err and deceive, but the Word of God cannot err.” The Large Catechism, Book of Concord, Infant Baptism.
Moreover, the articles of the Creed were never subject to debate in the Christian Church proper until the rationalists began to attack each one. Someone who doubted the Virgin Birth of Christ and the actual resurrection of Christ was not an honored leader, a valued teacher, a man of wisdom and discernment.
The massive response against the Seminex heretics came from the laity and the ministerium realizing that Fuerbringer and his faculty were apostate, mainline Protestants, Unitarians who still used the liturgy – not faithful Lutherans, not proclaimers of the Gospel.
I got to know many of the main characters in this book, although I was newly ordained when most of the events happened and only viewed them from the perspective of an LCA pastor. I have met most of the main figures in this drama: Herman and Grace Otten, Walter Otten, Jack Preus, Robert Preus, Kurt Marquart, John “Warlike” Montgomery, Martin Marty, Walter Maier II, Fred Rutz Sr., Waldo Werning, Ralph Bohlman, Robert Sauer, David Scaer, Father Richard John Neuhaus (and his father), and a few others.
Burkee argues that Missouri has fallen apart because the conservatives won, but the Seminex crowd actually came out on top. The synod no longer has a consistent witness of any kind. This is best illustrated by one of the heroes of the book – Waldo Werning.
Most of the leading figures are introduced with a mini-biography, quite useful. Although Werning is still alive and active, at the age of 90, he is not introduced in the same way. He gave many hours of interviews (p. xv) and emerges as a superman of the conservative movement. Burkee is no Thucydides.
Werning was an early ecumenist and went back to unionism, so his conservative phase was bracketed by the opposite stance, making him more of a power-seeking opportunity rather than a principled leader. Far from being a conservative, he was an early advocate of Church Growthism from Fuller Seminary, promoting it in every way possible and brutally persecuting anyone who offered him a critique of his Schwaermer doctrine. I know one LCMS pastor who was driven out of two synods because he did not agree with Werning. Concordia Seminary, Ft. Wayne students were told never to confront Werning on anything, or it would be the end of their careers.
In fact, Werning was told he could not teach anymore because no one wanted his classes. He responded by helping to get rid of Robert Preus, acting on behalf of LCMS Synod President Ralph Bohlmann, another supposed conservative who switched sides.
Werning also turned against Otten, although he made so many secret contacts with Otten that the Otten children nicknamed him “Agent X.”
Werning is a major source for this book, but I would not trust a word from him, even if his tongue were notarized.
Burkee does a fine job of revealing the secret deals and gambits of the conservatives, who were always anxious to hide their connections with Otten and Christian News. They wanted the advantages of anonymously submitting their information, gossip, and opinions to the public, through the tabloid.
LCMS President Jack Preus was elected and continued in office because of Christian News. He worked with Otten, met with him, phoned him, attacked him in public and apologized in secret. Otten taped their conversations because he could not trust Preus.
Everyone knew Jack was a double-dealer, but almost all church officials are. They pose as conservatives while rewarding the apostates. I can offer names and dates for similar actions in various synods. Burkee has offered proof for what everyone suspected all along.
Al Barry was elected LCMS president the same way. Paul McCain was the Waldo Werning for that election, talking to Otten in secret and stealthily sending materials to be leaked via Christian News. McCain denied being in contact with Otten, but he bragged about it to me, just as Otten did.
The Seminex bunch lied from the beginning, saying they were faithful and confessional when they knew very well they were not. Tietjen started a foundation (FLUTE) to support the faculty’s exit from Concordia Seminary, but refused to answer any official questions about it. As an employee of the synod, he owed them answers.
The LCMS gave the Seminex faculty all kinds of chances, allowing them to stay in faculty housing. Burkee did repeat the fact that the glorious day of EXILE, photographed by the press, ended with the students coming back to have their next meal at the seminary – not much of an exile, not a heavy cross to bear!
I asked a Seminex student if they stole all kinds of valuable books from the Concordia Seminary Library. He said, “They were ours!”
Tietjen’s public relations offensive was completely dishonest. He portrayed them as victims, martyrs of a power-made cabal of extremists. The press ate up the phony drama and acted as the Seminex mimeograph room. Nevertheless, Seminex was a flop and got moved to Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago, another failure.
Moving the Structure Around
Jack Preus managed to take away the props for Seminex, by moving the schools around. Once the LCMS colleges could no longer feed students into Seminex, it faded away, even with the extra Metropolitan Community students.
Burkee is correct in showing that this civil war was more of a power play than a principled effort. Its success came from the training and knowledge of the old guard, commonly mocked as Bronze Age Missourians.
When Jack Preus left office, there was no more jousting against liberals in the presidency. His chosen successor, Ralph Bohlmann, was committed to the opposite side (in spite of his image) and soon displayed it. Bohlmann supported the Church Growth Movement with gusto, worked with the LCA/ALC, and moved toward women’s ordination. His lesbian daughter is now an ordained United Church of Christ minister, living with her partner.
Al Barry was no improvement, and the LCMS has recently voted overwhelmingly to work with ELCA.
I enjoyed this book immensely, but it should be read with Adams’ Preus of Missouri, and Marquart’s Anatomy of an Explosion. Marquart is good in tracing the doctrinal history of the civil war. Adams is full of background material and anecdotes.
Herman and Grace Otten are the indispensable leaders in this drama. They put together a newsletter, later a tabloid, with great efficiency and CPA frugality. The value of Christian News, and the pain inflicted, is not the quirkiness or even bizarre nature of the publication. Otten reproduced the actual documents displaying the Unitarian doctrine of his Seminex opponents. Meanwhile, Herman and Grace raised a large brood of kids, built a camp used by many Lutheran groups, and published a few books on the side.
The Left accuses him of doing unethical things, and some details (especially the student days) sound like training camp at CIA headquarters. The Left has done that much and more.
The most instructive section of this book was its treatment of Walter Maier II, Ft. Wayne professor and son of the famous radio preacher.
Maier dared to go against Jack Preus, so Jack did the most evil thing I have seen pulled by any church executive – and that is saying something. Jack attacked WAM II as a false teacher, accusing him of denying Objective Justification, which ended Maier’s chance to be Synod President or seminary president. The effort was intended as a complete repudiation and humiliation of WAM II. He also lost the chairmanship of his department.
The irony of this debacle is that Robert Preus stepped up as the new Ft. Wayne president. Robert Preus and the seminary took the false doctrine of Objective Justification from Pietism (and Walther) and made it the norma normans (ruling norm) of the synod. Robert Preus finally repudiated this OJ error in his final book, but the damage has been done. The OJ fanatics of the past cannot face up to their error.
Jesus did say that evil fruit came from evil trees. The old Synodical Conference is paying double for all its sins through their promotion of grace without the Means of Grace.
Clearly, the apostates of Seminex won. Those liberals who remained in Missouri were rewarded with the best positions, just as the signers of the Statement were in days past. The president’s office, already under Jack Preus, called off the war, surrendering while claiming, “We won!”
Under Bohlmann, Barry, and Kieschnick, the conservatives were spanked, shunned, punished, and fired. Werning’s Church Growth Movement was put on steroids, vitamin pills, and energy drinks.
Supposedly, the great doctrinal error of ELCA is Gospel reductionism and Universalism. Everyone is forgiven and everyone is saved.
What is taught in the LCMS, WELS, ELS, and the micro-mini sects? God has already declared the entire world forgiven of its sin (Enthusiasm), and the whole world is saved (Universalism). They will not admit this yet, but they teach exactly what ELCA teaches. That is why the LCMS, WELS, and ELS work so well with ELCA: they believe the same thing.
One solution, employed by Seminex supporter Richard Neuhaus, is to join the Church of Rome. Many LCMS pastors are now following his lead and becoming priests. Some choose Eastern Orthodoxy, which is just one step away.