Remembering September 11, 2001

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This week I’ll be sending two issues of Perspectives. Although it regularly comes on Thursday, I cannot let today pass without a remembrance of what happened on this day 17 years ago.

Terry and I had just settled into our home in St. Louis after leaving behind our family and friends in Texas. Three days earlier, September 8, I had been installed as the 12th president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, our national church body.

What happened September 11, 2001 occupies only a couple pages in the history books now being studied by high school students, most of whom who were not yet alive in 2001. But the events of 9/11 are indelibly etched in the memories of those of us who lived the experience.

Terry and I hold in our hearts and prayers all who were directly or indirectly affected by the events of this day 17 years ago. That includes children whose parents did not pick them up from school that day and parents whose adult children did not return to their homes that evening.

My prayer is that the memories of 9/11 will cause us to give thanks for the women and men who provide first response to disasters in our beloved country. Especially in times of catastrophe and chaos, these heroes unselfishly rush to the scene to do whatever they can to preserve the lives of those who survive and to honor the lives of those who don’t.

We also give thanks to God for the women and men of our military forces. They bravely confront the sources of evil around the world, leaving behind spouse, children, comfort, and safety in order to prevent a repetition of the events that catalyzed the memories of this day.

Evil men will always be inspired by satanic forces to inflict death and devastation wherever possible. September 11, 2001 is a prime example. Although the context is different from that in which these words were written by the apostle Paul, they are nonetheless appropriate for this day: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21)

May the remembrances of this day, with the power of almighty God, inspire and encourage us to do exactly that!

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America Remembers

WTC KieschnickFourteen years ago today, life changed in America and around the world. Most of us vividly remember that day, September 11, 2001, now known worldwide as 9/11. Images of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City burning and collapsing are indelibly etched in our minds and hearts.

Today many Americans are observing, participating in and watching TV coverage of ceremonies in New York City, at the Pentagon and in western Pennsylvania. The names of those who lost their lives that day are being read by relatives in somber observances. America remembers 9/11.

On September 19, just over one week after the devastation, Atlantic District President Dr. David Benke and I visited Ground Zero in New York City. Dave’s wife Judy and my wife Terry have special, heartfelt recollections of that day and the days that followed. So do many others in our national church body, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

In a meeting of the LCMS Council of Presidents September 22-25, 2001, leaders of our church reached out to the nation by drafting and unanimously approving a full page statement published October 2, 2011, in USA Today and The New York Times. The text of that statement, titled A Promise, is posted below my signature.

If you were alive September 11, 2001, and old enough that day to grasp the gravity of what occurred, you will always remember 9/11. And so will I, remembering God’s promise that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

A Promise – The New York Times and USA Today – October 2, 2001

In the aftermath of our nation’s tragedy three weeks ago today, we of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod wholeheartedly offer our love and prayers for those tens of thousands of people whose lives have been drastically altered by the sudden loss of their loved ones and friends.

At such a time it is natural to wonder how we can get on with life.

Still heavy with the burden or our enormous loss, we face the potential for even more danger at our doorstep. And as we look out upon the world seeking a promise of comfort and hope, we may see only darkness.

Yet we are not the first people to suffer such darkness, nor to long for such a promise.

David in the Old Testament, in time of great personal and national distress, looked to God and took comfort in His promise:

“The Lord is my shepherd … Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

Jesus, to whom the Scriptures refer as our “Good Shepherd,” spoke words that are particularly poignant right now:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  

That Good Shepherd understands suffering and death … and His own death and resurrection promise hope and comfort to us all.

In these days of great personal and national trial, it is important to remember the words of St. Paul as we struggle with ‘getting on with life’:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And that’s His promise!

Installation Reflections

Church windowInstallations are on my mind these days. This past Sunday I preached for the installation of our new associate pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Walburg, Texas. Kevin Hintze will be serving with senior pastor John Davenport and the other wonderful members of our church and school staff. It’s a great team of dedicated servants of the Lord!

Last Monday, September 8, was the 13th anniversary of my initial installation as 12th president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Only three days later the events of 9/11 occurred. It was a difficult time for both our nation and our church body. Our nation rallied against the evil behind the 9/11 attacks. Our church leaders did what leaders do. We led!

While some, mostly pastors, were not pleased, the overwhelming majority of people and pastors in our national church body expressed thanks and support for our public response. As a matter of fact, the LCMS Council of Presidents unanimously adopted a widely read and broadly applauded full page ad in U.S.A. Today. The text of that ad is printed below my signature.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the day I was installed to my second term as president of the LCMS. The three years between those two installations were difficult ones. Yet they also provided multiple opportunities for publicly demonstrating the love of Christ for people whose lives were wrecked and ruined by the atrocities of 9/11.

The primary difficulty was not that some disagreed with decisions I had made. It was the vitriolic manner in which their disagreement was expressed. That included personal attacks, name calling, mischaracterization and refusal to acknowledge that my decisions were in accord with the position of the LCMS, expressed in convention resolutions at the 2001 national convention. My decisions were ultimately upheld by those responsible for the system of appeals then in place.

Leaders always disappoint someone. If they’re doing nothing, some think they should be doing something. If they’re doing something, some think they should be doing something else.

Installations are all about the beginning of a relationship between the one being installed and the organization, institution or other entity that has called, hired or otherwise engaged the one being installed. All the installations in my life have been both meaningful and memorable!

A Promise

In the aftermath of this recent tragedy, the 2.6million members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod express our love, care and concern for the tens of thousands of people whose lives have been drastically altered by the sudden loss of their loved ones and friends.

David, in Psalm 23, looked to God and took comfort in His protecting presence in times of great personal and national distress:

“The Lord is my shepherd…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

Jesus, to whom the Scriptures refer as our Good Shepherd, said in the gospel of John words that are particularly powerful at this moment in time:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  

That Good Shepherd understands suffering and death. His own death and resurrection give hope to us all. He grants those who trust in Him forgiveness of sin and everlasting life.

In these days of great personal grief and national mourning, our source of comfort, hope and strength is the same as that expressed by St. Paul:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Your friends and neighbors of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod open to you our hearts and our churches in this time of human grief, suffering, fear and uncertainty. We invite you, along with us, to cling to the comfort, hope and strength in God’s promise that He will never leave you nor forsake you.

One Dozen Years Ago

World Trade CenterThis past Sunday, September 8, marked the anniversary of my initial installation one dozen years ago as 12th president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. It was a memorable day, likely forgotten by many, surely remembered by a few.

What I remember most about that day was an overwhelming sense of humility and awe, surrounded by family, friends, past and present co-workers, and many complete strangers. We all had gathered in The Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.

Lots of pomp and circumstance was the order of the day. That included a procession of the 35 white-robed, red-stoled district presidents with whom I had worked for the previous decade on the Council of Presidents, the newly elected Synod vice-presidents and Board of Directors.

But what I remember even more clearly than that service of installation was what occurred three days later on Tuesday, September 11. You’ve probably figured out that one dozen years ago was the year of our Lord 2001. Our country marked that anniversary yesterday, September 11, 2013.

Anyone alive at that time and most people born since then know that what is now simply called “9/11” was a time of shock, horror, grief, death and devastation. It will be remembered, long after we’re all gone, as a turning point in America’s history.

Before 9/11 we boarded airplanes without airport security lines, time consuming shoe and outer clothing removal and X-ray scanning we must now endure in order to provide at least a modicum of safety assurance prior to boarding. How strange and frustrating in the land of the free!

All this, and much more, is a reflection of the challenges facing the church in a society and world comprised of many people, in the U.S. and beyond, who do not value God-given life. Folks who walk down chapel aisles for installation to important offices have significant responsibility in trying to change that sad reality. But we/they cannot do it alone.

Many experiences in my life, including that installation of one dozen years ago, remind me that the real work of changing the world by influencing people for Christ is done by the faithful people of God in congregations and communities. You are the ones who influence families, co-workers, neighbors and fellow citizens to be the salt and light our Lord intends us to be! (Matt. 5:13-15)

“So let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16) Doing so requires much more than just one dozen years!
Jerry Kieschnick with Blog Background
Dr. Gerald B. (Jerry) Kieschnick

Unionism and Syncretism – Part 1

Prayer 1

The terms unionism and syncretism are not found in Holy Scripture. Nevertheless, they have become hot buttons within our national church body. This is nothing new. These two topics have been debated for quite some time in the LCMS, which observed its 166th anniversary April 26.

Throughout its history The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has declared unionism and syncretism out of bounds for congregations and individual members. For many, these terms are not clearly understood. Here’s a brief explanation.

Unionism generally began with the 19th century Prussian Union. It was a forced merger of the Lutheran Church and the Reformed Church in Prussia under King Frederick Wilhelm III. In large part, this attempt to force a merger between two church bodies with significantly differing theologies precipitated the exodus of many of our Lutheran forefathers and their families, who left Germany and came to America to seek religious freedom.

Syncretism generally refers to objectionable cooperation between Christians and non-Christians. In our church body’s context, the basic issue revolves around the appropriateness of Lutheran Christians participating in worship or prayer with non-Lutheran Christians (considered unionism by some) and/or doing so in the presence of non-Christians (considered syncretism by some).

Two activities that catalyzed much controversy in recent times are the participation of Dr. David Benke in a prayer service at Yankee Stadium on September 23, 2001, and that of Pastor Rob Morris in a memorial service at a public high school in Newtown, Conn., on December 16, 2013. Both events were community responses to horrific, satanic terror and trauma.

Some saw these events as unionistic and syncretistic and were very upset. Many others disagreed and were thankful for the public participation of LCMS clergy at a time of national crisis. The disagreement, in large part, has to do with what the official documents of our church body say or do not say about this important matter.

For example, the Constitution of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod states: Conditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod are the following: Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such as: a. Serving congregations of mixed confession, as such, by ministers of the church; b. Taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed confession.

Note the consistent use of the word congregations. Constitutionally, one point of disagreement is whether it matters that events in question did not occur in the context of a congregation as commonly understood in our church body. Neither event noted above occurred in a congregational setting. Both transpired in public settings. Obviously the issue has additional constitutional and theological implications.

Undeniably and somewhat problematically, this constitutional article uses the activities listed as examples of unionism and syncretism and does not claim to be an exhaustive listing of such activities. Accordingly, contention and conflict arise from and are exacerbated by the questions of what other activities might be considered unionistic or syncretistic and, conversely, what activities should be acceptable and commendable.

Those questions are neither completely answered nor conclusively resolved in our Synod’s Constitution or Bylaws. However, they are addressed in convention resolutions and documents from the Commission on Theology and Church Relations. Next week’s article will explore some of those documents.

In the meantime, my prayer is that the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ will be with you always!