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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

26 March 2008

An Issues, Etc. Open Letter

I didn’t write this. I wish I had.

Easter 2008

An open letter to the Praesidium of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod

Dear Brothers in Christ,

David O. BergerThere are times when one must step back and be willing to admit a mistake. This, I am convinced, is one of those times. It offers, however, also a window of opportunity. On Tuesday, March 18, a widely syndicated, web-cast radio program on KFUO-AM dedicated to Lutheran apologetics and getting out the Gospel message was effectively cancelled by terminating the employment of its host and producer, ostensibly for “programmatic” and “business” reasons. The lack of specific information, because employment issues are involved, has led to much speculation concerning other possible reasons for the action of a staff member of the Board for Communication Services.

According to information supplied by a district president, the president of Synod has given his permission to acknowledge that “The KFUO decision transpired with my awareness but neither by my order nor at my direction.” And, we are compelled to add, neither was the action prevented. Thus, it is difficult to attach sole responsibility to any one person. It might well have been expected that the abrupt termination of two prominent staff personnel at KFUO during Holy Week, as well as subsequent actions, such as the initial removal of all traces of the Issues, etc. program from the web (with archives later restored) and the lack of explanation on the air regarding its absence, would cause great division within Synod and offense to many in our church body and beyond. That has clearly been the case. It has not been Synod’s finest hour,

Although we cannot change what is past and done, we can focus our attention on what remains to be done. Even from the dismal perspective of this week, we see a window of opportunity. As you know, a petition circulating on the world wide web has garnered to this writing nearly 4000* signatures — pastors in the parish, Lutheran lay people, other Christians, and those who credit Issues, etc. with steering them or their acquaintances to the saving Gospel. I encourage you to go to the site and see for yourselves. The number has grown hourly.

On the site, you will find a wealth of testimonials to the benefits of Issues, etc., from witnessing to the Gospel to defense of the faith. The program has clearly been spiritual and substantive theological sustenance for Lutherans and a powerful witness to the Gospel to Christians and non-Christians alike. Below is a random selection of signers and comments. None of the names is familiar to me. I trust that no privacy is violated, as all names and comments are publicly posted.

As a Christian apologist who has spent many years defending the faith, I would ask that you please restore the Issues, Etc. program. I am not a Lutheran, nor have I always seen eye-to-eye with Todd. And yet I can only view this dismissal as a true loss for the entire Body of Christ, regardless of denomination affiliations. Todd Willken has consistently dealt with crucial issues affecting the church in general, paying careful attention to exposing error wherever error might be found in the cults, the occult, and world religions. He has been a faithful servant and a dedicated voice of truth in the ever-growing din of false teachings throughout our culture. Please reconsider your actions. In Christ, RICHARD ABANES.

I am very saddened about the abrupt removal of this program from KFUO. It has been a wonderful learning tool for my personal spiritual growth. Whether you are of the liberal or conservative persuasion we are all to be focused on Jesus Christ our Savior and not on "politics" of the church. In this case the devil has won. Micki Horstmann, Concordia Lutheran Church Kirkwood, MO

I am a Baptist General Conference pastor who has benefited greatly from the Issues, Etc program. I am very dismayed and disappointed that you have discontinued this fine program. Does the LCMS not care about truth, the gospel, and its own confessions? I have told my wife that if I keep listening to this show I might end up becoming a Lutheran! Your decision to remove a program that so clearly promotes the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ was a careless one. Even as a non-Lutheran I was greatly impacted by this program and its confessional approach. In my opinion, you have cut one of the best things you had going. What a shame. Rev. Scott Eaton, Calvary Community Church, Schaumburg, IL

We have often used the discussion points and contents of Issues, Etc. as a jumping off point for our Topical Men's Bible Study. We have found this program to be of great value. Please return this program to the public. Rev. Michael Wenzel, Trinity Lutheran Church, Olympia, WA

I found Issues Etc. to be very insightful and unwavering in its analysis, especially of current events. It helped me by being a shining example of thoughtful and respectful analysis of issues from the Lutheran Christian perspective, while always preaching Christ and Him crucified. Olivier Calle, Messiah Lutheran Church, Marysville, WA

[The following comment is included in view of the reason given for Tuesday’s action. To protect the privacy of the signer, the name has been deleted, although it is on the petition.] The $750,000 LCMS beneficiary of my policy is in [jeopardy] here. Council Bluffs, IA

I converted to the Lutheran Church largely because of Issues, Etc. Adam J. Roe, Trinity Lutheran Church Worden, IL

One observer has also noted the demographics of the petition signers. I have not personally verified them. Ages range from 7 to 84. All but one state has been represented. Ten vocations have been listed, including pastors, missionaries, chaplains, military personnel, professors, and students. Twenty denominations have been listed other than Lutheran, including Presbyterian, Baptist, and Roman Catholic. Most significant is that signers represent 21 countries. Issues, etc., is truly an international program. In addition to the above are the hundreds (possibly thousands) of e-mail messages that representatives of Synod have received, individually and corporately.

No survey conducted at great expense to Synod could have provided any more valuable information on the importance of KFUO radio and its related web ministry — truly a providential byproduct of Tuesday’s action. It is most unfortunate that it took such action to reveal the esteem in which the program, Issues, etc., is held and how effective LCMS radio ministry has been and can be. What a unique opportunity we have, with God’s help, to convert a sow’s ear into a silk purse!

Are we ready to retrace our steps, brothers? Is it possible, in a spirit of Christian humility and regret, to admit the error and to take steps to redress it? Let me be the first to confess any sin of commission or omission that may have led to the action. As an elected member of the Board for Communication Services, I have pledged to conduct church business in an open and honest manner. In two weeks, I will be meeting as a member of a joint BOD/BCS committee. We are to deal with two charges or “scenarios.” Below is the relevant excerpt from the February 2008 Board of Directors meeting minutes:

Resolved, That the LCMS Board of Directors establish a committee of three members of the Board of Directors (appointed by the chairman of the Board of Directors) and three members of the Board for Communication Services (appointed by the chairman of the Board for Communication Services), plus the Synod’s Vice-President — Finance — Treasurer as a non-voting resource person, to present two scenarios for consideration at the May (or August) 2008 Board of Directors’ meeting:

Scenario 1: A comprehensive operations, programmatic, and financial plan for engagement of KFUO AM and FM in support of the mission of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod “vigorously to make known the love of Christ by word and deed within our churches, communities, and the world.”

Scenario 2: A comprehensive communications, programmatic, and financial plan for allocation of net assets realized from the sale, realignment, joint venturing, or other type of divestiture or reallocation of KFUO AM and FM assets in support of the Synod’s mission.

My first thought following the announcement of Tuesday’s action was that the timing could not have been worse. But our God is a God of paradox, even a God of surprises. Within days of our first meeting, He has provided an unexpected gift: living, breathing evidence of the value of radio and web ministry for The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. He has demonstrated that we need more, not fewer, programs like Issues, etc. to support the mission of the LCMS. And so, in working on Scenario 1, we do well to examine carefully the responses found in the petition to help us understand the value of Lutheran radio and web ministry as a source of spiritual nourishment for our members and an effective means of outreach to the world at large. We have been given an unexpected gift. Let us accept it, learn from it, and build on it. In recent years, access on the world wide web, both to live call-in radio programs and to program archives, has increased exponentially the ability of the LCMS to “get the Word out.” That availability needs to be maintained and expanded.

Now that we have concrete evidence of the protean values of such programming, as well as evidence of its international reach, we also have opportunity to re-direct resources to this ministry. We can, for example, consider such sources as Fan into Flame funding. Is there any more appropriate use for these funds than Gospel-centered, Spirit-powered Lutheran outreach on radio and on the world wide web?

Our work initially, however, must be to repair the breach of trust in those who have seen that trust broken. Readiness publicly to admit the error is the first step. It will go a long way in re-establishing that trust. Since personnel issues are involved, I can make no concrete proposal for initial action, but I have no doubt that means to initiate it are within the purview of your respective offices. It may be that no overture will be able to bridge the deep divide caused by the termination, but every effort must be made to re-instate the program, Issues, etc. Changes in personnel or format will be viewed with great suspicion. If the injury to the two men was too great to expect a return to business as usual, then we will have to learn from our mistake. I pray, however, that with God’s help and the sincere good will of all involved, the error can be re-dressed. Let the world see how the church can really work.

Brothers, it is time to move forward with all urgency in positive directions in LCMS radio and world wide web ministry.

May our Risen Lord forgive us our errors, help us to labor together in love, and continue to support us in our efforts to carry His Word by all means to the ends of the earth.

In Him,
David O. Berger

A postscript of concern: It would be a sad irony indeed if the cancellation of one of the most widely listened-to programs on KFUO-AM — a program supported locally in other metropolitan areas and broadcast nationally, and a program with a long record of donor funding — were to lead to a financial crisis at the station, forcing the committee to consider Scenario 2 immediately. We pray fervently that that will not happen, but rather that generous donors will look past the unhappy circumstances of the past few days and see the value in radio and related world wide web ministry and continue to support it. Once a license is given up, it will not be regained.

[This open letter is a personal communication from the keyboard of the above-signed. While I have noted my membership on the BCS, I speak neither for the Board for Communication Services nor as a faculty member at Concordia Seminary.]

*As of this letter being posted on Ask the Pastor, the number has grown to 4605.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Pastor, for posting this.

Is this the "Battle for the Bible" of our generation?

Lord, keep us steadfast in thy Word!

26 March, 2008 04:54  
Blogger Xrysostom said...

“Is this the ‘Battle for the Bible’ of our generation?”

Quite likely, it is. While much of what’s been going on is theological, I think that in large part, it’s a theological divide defined by the first half of the Baby Boom. This half is shuffling off into retirement and I think many older Boomers fear that finally, they aren’t going to get their way for the first time in some 40-60 years.

26 March, 2008 15:55  
Blogger Rob Olson said...

Thanks for this post and your blog!

Here is my "Ask the pastor" question: Why aren't more pastors speaking out? Many have, indeed, even many from outside of Lutheranism. But I am still wondering why more pastors are not speaking out about Jeff and Todd like you are, even those pastors who are at the seminaries and/or the "regular guests" of the program. They are still pastors, right? Thanks for promoting the petition here.

Jeff and Todd are good, faithful men, and what has happened to them is just plain wrong. Why are so many remaining silent? There is no Jim and Tammy scandal here, as the silence of the Synod might suggest about their character. Other pastors should stand with their faithful brothers in Christ who are taking on the chin for the gospel of Christ!

To your readers, I would like to ask them if their pastors have signed the Issues, Etc. petition. If not, please encourage them to do so. If they are reluctant or refuse to sign the petition, then ask them why. You might learn something about where they stand theologically.


Blessings to all,.

Rob Olson
Zion Lutheran Church
Marshall, MI

26 March, 2008 19:06  

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