"To participate with pagans in an interfaith service and,
additionally, to give the impression that there might be more than one
God, is an extremely serious offense against the God of the Bible."
Rev. Wallace Schulz, national second vice president of the the Missouri
About Lutheran denominations:
Almost all Lutherans in the U.S. belong to either:
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) -- the
sixth largest Christian denomination in the U.S. with about 5.2 million
The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod -- the tenth largest
denomination with about 2.6 members. It is considerably more
conservative than the ELCA.
A "Prayer for America:"
On 2001-SEP-23, less that two weeks after the terrorist attack on New
York City, Oprah Winfrey hosted "Prayer for America." It
was a meeting
of New Yorkers of all faiths -- and none -- in Yankee Stadium. The prayer
service was simulcast on large television screens at stadiums in Staten
Island and Brooklyn, NY. It was televised on four national networks. It
was at a time when attendees at the service, the rest of the nation,
and people worldwide were still trying to come to terms with the tragedy.
The prayer service naturally had a strong religious tone. Rev. Dr. David Benke of
the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod called Yankee Stadium a "field of dreams
which has now become a House of Prayer." Among the many faiths represented were:
New York Police Department bagpipers played "Amazing Grace;" many
performers had to wipe away tears between phrases of the music.
A gospel ensemble sang "God Be With You 'Til We Meet Again."
Placido Domingo sang "Ave Maria."
Invocations were by Cardinal Edward Egan, Roman Catholic archbishop of New
York, and Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, chaplain of the New York City Fire
The Blowing of the Shofar (a ram's horn used to announce major
Jewish events) was followed by Rabbi Arthur Schneier's "prayer for
the country," and Rabbi Alvin Kass, the chaplain of the New York City Police Department.
He lead a Prayer for the Families. Rabbi Marc Gellman, head
of the New York Board of Rabbis, read a reflection. Rabbi Joy Levitt
read Psalm 23 ("The Lord is my shepherd...")
Griselda Cuevas of the Incarnation Parish in Manhattan read Romans
8:36-39 in Spanish. Firefighter George Reece repeated it in English.
The Most Rev. Thomas V. Daily, bishop of Brooklyn, offered a
reflection and prayer.
A Sikh prayer and reflection was offered by Dr. Inberjit Singh of the Sikh
Temple in Richmond Hills, NY.
There was a Muslim call to prayer translated as "God is all-knowing and
is well acquainted with all things....Be just. That is next to piety."
Representatives of the Council of Churches of the City of New York
offered prayer and reflection. Six Protestant leaders said prayers. They represented a variety
of denominations, including Archbishop Anania Arapajian of the Armenian
Church in America, Rev. Calvin Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, and
Rev. Dr. David Benke, a District President of the Lutheran Church, Missouri
Synod. A District President is the equivalent of a bishop in other
Actor James Earl Jones opened the service, saying "Our spirit is
unbroken. In fact, it is stronger than ever. Today we reaffirm our faith in
the essential dignity of every individual. What we share as Americans and as
human beings is far greater than what divides us."
Oprah Winfrey concluded the service with the statement "Let not one
single life have passed in vain."
Archbishop Demetrious of the Greek Orthodox Church of America
A second benediction was given by Pandit Roop Sukhram of the Hindu
Sreeraam Temple in Brooklyn.
There were also a number of predominately secular speeches by Oprah Winfrey
and Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Prayer by Rev. Dr. David Benke of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod:
As noted above, Dr. Benke was one of six Protestant clergy who gave a
reflection followed by a prayer. He said:
"We're stronger now that we were an hour ago; but sisters and brothers,
we are not as strong now as we are going to be. The strength we have is
the power of love, and love comes from God, for God is love. Our task is
to take that love from this place into our communities, one by one."
"Join me now in prayer on this field of dreams which has now become a
House of Prayer -"
"Lord, we are leaning on You today, for You are our Tower of Strength.
We are leaning on you, for you are our Mighty Fortress, the Rock of our
Salvation, and our Strong Deliverer."
"Those of us who bear the Name of Christ understand that your towering
love found its ultimate strength when you stooped to send your Son to die
and live again in order to bring the world back together."
"We implore You in tender mercy to comfort with signs of Your Presence
those who morn the lost and missing and cannot find you now in the ashes;
unbind unfear, unscorch, unsear our souls; renew us with your free
"O Tower of Strength, extend Jacob's ladder for those who ascend the
stairways to save us even as others escaped the fire and flames."
"O Tower of Strength, open innocent and victimized hearts to the
sacrifice of the Innocent one; pour our your consolation upon the
traumatized, especially our children."
"O Tower of Strength, unite us now across all boundaries in acts of
grace and truth in this great city; guide and empower with wisdom
especially our religious and civic leaders;"
"O Tower of Strength, we are leaning on You today; keep us in the shadow
of Your shelter, and send us forth to walk in peace."
"In Jesus' Precious Name. Amen." 5 (Emphasis ours)
There is some confusion over the precise words that Dr. Benke said.
The LSMS site quotes Dr. Benke as saying: "Those of us who bear the Name of Christ understand that your towering
love found its ultimate strength when you stooped to send your Son to die
and live again in order to bring the world back together."
The Atlantic Division's web site quotes the same paragraph
as: "Those of us who bear the name of Christ know that You stood so
tall when You stooped down to send a Son through death and life
to bring us back together..." (emphasis ours).
A visitor to our site stated that an actual transcription of the prayer
included the phrase "a Son." If so, then it could be interpreted in
several different ways:
Dr. Benke may have made an unintentional slip of the tongue in
describing Jesus' status.
He may have implied that Jesus is God's only begotten son, but that
Christian believers are also considered sons of God. For example, Romans
8:14 states: "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are
sons of God." Galatians 3:26 states: "For ye are all sons of God,
through faith, in Christ Jesus." (ASV) See also Matthew 5:9, Luke
20:36, and Romans 8:19.
He may have been expressing a syncretistic belief, and implying that
Jesus is only one of many incarnations of God -- a heresy within LCMS
Aside from this theological fine point, Dr. Benke got into a lot of trouble
for even delivering a prayer at an inter-faith gathering. Some Lutherans
believe that this act granted legitimacy to non-Lutheran beliefs. "Twenty-one Missouri Synod pastors and congregations filed charges against"
Response by Rev. Wallace Schulz:
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod suspended Rev. David Benke,
one of its high-ranking pastors, both from his position as District
President of the Atlantic District and from his position on the
Board of Regents for Concordia College in Bronxville, NY. It is not because of what he said that
afternoon in Yankee Stadium. It was the fact that there were a number of
other clergy present -- Roman Catholic and Protestant Christian, Hindu, Jewish,
Muslim, and Sikh -- who also gave meditations and prayers to their deity(s).
He has been charged with two specific errors, both forbidden by the
Missouri Synod's 1847 constitution:
"Unionism" which is defined, as mixing the beliefs of various
Christian denominations (e.g. Roman Catholic and Missouri Synod).
"Syncretism" -- mixing Christian with non-Christian views
(e.g. Christianity and Islam).
There does not appear to be any content in Rev. Benke's prayer itself which
contains unionism or syncretism. It was the contribution of prayers and
reflections during other parts of the prayer service by Roman Catholic leaders, other Protestants, representatives
of non-Christian faiths: Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism.
The denomination is requiring him to apologize to
all members of the denomination and to all other Christians. Rev. Wallace
Schulz, second vice-president, wrote in the suspension letter: "By President Benke's joining with
other pagan clerics in an interfaith service
[no matter what the intent might have been], a crystal clear signal was
given to others at the event and to thousands more watching by C-Span. The
signal was: While there may be differences as to how people worship or
pray, in the end, all religions pray to the same God....In brotherly love and admonition. I appeal to you, President Benke, please make a sincere apology to our Lord, to all members of The Lutheran
Church-Missouri Synod, and to all Christians who are part of Christ's Body.
Joining in prayer with pagan clerics in Yankee Stadium was an offense both to
God and to all Christians."
Apparently Rev. Schulz was unaware that the prayer service was also
carried by CNN and other networks.
The word "pagan" has at least six
different meanings. Often, it is a general-purpose snarl word.
Apparently Rev. Schutz used the term in its rather rare meaning to refer
to the presence of leaders of non-Abrahamic religions.
These are religions which do
not recognize Abraham as a patriarch. This normally would include everyone other than a
Jew. By this
definition, Pagans include Agnostics, Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus,
Humanists, Sikhs, Taoists, Wiccans, other Neopagans, etc. About 45% of the people of the world are
Pagans, by this definition.
In his letter Schutz referred to: "...President Benke's joining with
other pagan clerics in an interfaith
service..." As written, it would seem to imply that he considered Rev.
Benke to be a Pagan himself. This may well have been a grammatical error
-- or it may have been intentional.
Motivation for the suspension:
Reporter Alan Cooperman of the Washington Post suggests that the suspension was related to a conflict between
two movements within American Christianity -- one liberal and the other
conservative. They are:
Liberal ecumenical and interfaith efforts
which recognize the diversity of religions in America and promote either
an inclusive or pluralistic dialogue approach
to Christian denominations other that one's, and to non-Christian
religions. This movement has received considerable support from President
Bush's calls for tolerance since the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
"Back to tradition"
(a.k.a. renewal or reform) groups
which are largely formed of religious conservatives. They emphasize the differences
among religions, the uniqueness and exclusivity of Christianity, and the lower
or zero chance of salvation for non-Christians and for Christians who have
not been saved.
Some Missouri Synod personnel have said that many view the charges
against Rev. Benke as an attack both on Benke and also on the Rev. Gerald M. Kieschnick. He is the
Synod's national president, and is a moderate.
Comments and actions by other Missouri Synod personnel:
Dr. Benke posted a carefully reasoned "response to charges" on
the Atlantic Division web site. 7 Included is a
day-by-day account of the atmosphere in his office and in New York City in
the days between the terrorist attack and the day of the Prayer for
Rev. David H. Mahsman, is editor of the Lutheran Witness, the
Synod's newspaper. He said: "The principle is, you don't want to do
anything that would compromise the gospel of Jesus Christ. The question is, does participating in
an interfaith service after September 11th do that? Benke would say no. In fact,
it honors Christ and shows that Lutherans are concerned about the well-being of
the entire community. Others would say it placed Christ on an equal footing with
Allah and Vishnu and whatever gods are involved."
In an attempt to cool down the controversy, the Missouri Synod's Board
of Directors ordered all parties to refrain from discussing the dispute publicly.
The Rev. Charles W. Froehlich, who has temporarily taken over Benke's
office, has written a letter stating that Schulz' letter "contains
inaccuracies and intentional omissions" and "reflects the author's
Formal charges of syncretism were filed against National President Kieschnick, apparently
because he authorized Benke's participation in "A Prayer for America."
However, a church panel has decided that Kieschnick can only be disciplined by the
full synod, which will next convenes in 2004.
What do the Missouri Synod regulations allow?
National President Kieschnick told The Washington Post
that he authorized Benke's participation in the interfaith service. "He cited a
decision by the synod at its July 2001 convention to allow pastors to
participate in civic events as long as they are free to express their religious
The synod decision referred to is a document "The Lutheran
Understanding of Church Fellowship: A Report on Synodical Discussion." It
was unanimously adopted by the Synod's Commission on Theology and Church
Relations." It was also "in Resolution 3-07A, commended by [the]...Synod
gathered in Convention" in 2001-JUL. 5 The document refers
to instances in which pastors, teachers and other officially recognized church
workers are asked to participate in activities which are outside of the Synod's
congregational life. The resolution reads: "Some of these are civic events.
Offering prayers, speaking and reading Scripture at events sponsored by
governments, schools, and volunteer organizations would be a problem if the
organization in charge restricted a Christian witness. For instance,. if an
invitation requires a pastor to pray to God without mentioning Jesus, he cannot
in good conscience accept. Without such a restriction, a Lutheran pastor may for
valid and good reason participate in civic affairs such as an inauguration, a
graduation, or a right-to-life activity."
Developments during the year 2002:
Rev. David Benke appealed the suspension to a three member conflict
resolution team. The
appeal will be first heard by a three-member panel. If he is unsuccessful,
he can still appeal further to a panel of three district presidents. As of
2002-AUG-22, the initial appeal panel has not yet delivered its decision.
The internal blood-letting continued. In 2002-JUL, the International
Lutheran Laymen's League (ILLL) relieved Wallace Schulz from his
duties at the ILLL and the Lutheran Hour Ministries (LHM). He was
suspended with full pay. It has been reported that the ILLL Board of
Directors had asked Schulz to not take part in the decision concerning
Bekne's suspension. He allegedly ignored the request. LHM Executive
Director Rodger Hebermehl said: "The effect of Dr. Schulz's decision
has compromised the ministry's mission of Bringing Christ to the Nations -
and the Nations to the Church. Lutheran Hour Ministries is seeking a
swift, fair, God-pleasing resolution that will resolve these matters and
restore the confidence of our donors, pastors and lay people." 6
Also in July, the LCMS removed the gag order, and started to publish
information on the Benke case on their
Alan Cooperman, "New York Lutheran Leader Suspended: Synod Seeks
Pastor's Apology for Praying With 'Pagans' After Sept. 11 Attacks,"
Washington Post, 2002-JUL-6, Page A02. See:
"A statement from Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, President of the Lutheran
Church - Missouri Synod regarding Atlantic District President David Benke's
participation in 'A Prayer for America' at Yankee Stadium," undated, at:
http://www.lcms.org/president/pdf/benke.pdf You need software to read this files. It can be obtained free from: