Friday, September 30, 2011

Dear Friends in Christ,

In the course of the September meeting of the Council of Presidents, Minnesota North President Don Fondow and I requested of President Lane Seitz a meeting with himself and the Minnesota South District Board of Directors. Of the several concerns raised by the then-impending sale of the University Lutheran Chapel property, President Fondow and I were in agreement that it was unwise to disregard the resolution of the joint pastors’ conference requesting that any decision to sell the property be made at the Minnesota South District Convention. We were seeking to share this and other information directly with the board. President Seitz quickly offered us options for the meeting and was polling his board for an agreeable date. However, President Seitz later informed me that the individual authorized by the Board to sell the property had signed documents to that end at very nearly the same time as President Seitz was working to find an agreeable date for us to meet with the board.

The Life Together which we enjoy is fragile and often fractured. This action makes it even more so. There is no question that the Board had the right to do what it did with the property. Unfortunately, this action is difficult, even impossible to separate from ongoing dissensus in the district about what it means to be Lutheran, very similar to our larger challenges as a Synod. We have a long way to go in this regard. God help us.

I wish to state my hearty thankfulness for ULC. I have met more delightful and engaged Lutherans from this campus ministry around the country than any other. They are occupied in all manner of professions and active in church. We need many more campus ministries just like ULC. The army of clergy and now deaconesses who have come through ULC is astounding.

I would urge that all who are concerned about ULC turn away from judging motives, as difficult as that may be. This action comes as no surprise to anyone close to the situation. It’s time to turn toward ULC’s future, a future I support.

It is also time to have more brotherly conversations around the Word of God and to implore the Lord of the Church to grant greater harmony in what it means to be Lutheran. Together, let us hear and heed the apostolic word: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:9–10).

Pastor Matthew C. Harrison, President
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
I am grateful that President Harrison released this statement.  I know many will be critical, believing that he should have let DP Seitz and the MNS BoD have it with both barrels, showing them their sin, admonishing them, and calling for their repentance.  And, maybe those critics will have a point.  Maybe his statement could have been a little stronger.  But, I actually think this is about as perfect a statement as he could have made right now, and just further reveals why we are blessed to have him at the helm in our synod right now.  Like it or not, he simply can't "gas off" about how he personally feels about this situation, but must choose his words carefully, keeping in mind his larger goal of addressing our synodical divisions and working toward greater unity around the clear and compelling Word of God when the Koinonia Project gets going.  Plus, this statement is just further evidence that we are blessed with a synodical president who has a true pastoral heart and is a fine churchman.

Besides all that, I think President Harrison makes it clear in this statement where he does stand, even though it may not be in as strong a fashion as many would prefer.  I mean, the opening paragraph makes it clear that he has concerns about the sale of ULC and desired to express those concerns, along with MNN DP Fondow, directly to the MNS BoD.  He comes out and says that both he and DP Fondow thought it was unwise for the MNS BoD to proceed with the sale, disregarding the resolution passed by the joint pastors' conference to bring this matter to the MNS District Convention next summer.  And, in the next paragraph, he acknowledges that the MSN BoD's decision to proceed with the sale has made our life together more fragile and fractured, and that it is impossible to separate this action from the ongoing dissensus about what it means to be Lutheran in that district (and in synod).  In other words, that President Harrison is not a fan of this move is very clear, and is made all the clearer by his positive statements regarding ULC, pointing out that we need many more campus ministries like this one, which has been such a blessing to our synod over the years.

And, even as he urges us not to judge motives, he recognizes how difficult that will be, since "this action comes as no surprise to anyone close to the situation" (i.e. those who have a different understanding of what it means to be Lutheran have been trying to sell ULC for years, and precisely because ULC has stood for a Lutheranism to which they are opposed).  Thus, yes, we do need to have more brotherly conversations around the Word of God and implore our Lord to grant greater harmony among us regarding what it means to be Lutheran.  President Harrison nails it here, for he makes it clear that this action by the MNS BoD to sell ULC is not really about money or expanding campus ministry, but about competing understandings of what it means to be Lutheran.

And so, I'm very pleased with the statement.  The Old Adam in me would have rather had President Harrison write:  "DP Seitz and the MNS BoD are doo-doo head, non-Lutheran, jerks!"  But, the New Man in me recognizes this as the pastoral and churchman-like statement it needed to be.  Plus, I doubt that this is over.  We may very well hear more.   

Just my take.