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Lutherans Accused of 'Idolatry'

Lutherans Accused of 'Idolatry'

Author: Stephanie Simon, Los Angeles Times
Publication: The Washington Post
Date: December 2, 2001

ST. LOUIS -- To the Rev. David Benke, the ceremony at Yankee Stadium was a blessing, an opportunity to join other religious and civic leaders in offering comfort to a nation raw from the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. He joined the celebrities and politicians on stage to sing patriotic songs and to pray.

It was, he thought, his duty as a pastor.

But some fellow clergymen took quite a different view: They saw his participation in an interfaith event as heresy.

Last week, six pastors from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the nation's second-largest Lutheran denomination, filed formal charges calling for Benke's expulsion from the church.

Others have petitioned as well to oust church president Gerald B. Kieschnick for condoning Benke's participation in the New York event -- and for himself praying with chaplains from other Lutheran denominations after a tour of the World Trade Center wreckage in October.

Benke "participated in idolatry by participating with non-Christians" at the Sept. 23 service, one of the dissident pastors, the Rev. David Oberdieck, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

He and other clergy also have accused Benke of "syncretism," or promoting the view that all religions are equal. The 10-page petition against Benke called his participation in the New York ceremony "an egregious offense against the love of Christ" that gave "the impression that the Christian faith is just one among many by which people may pray to God."

According to these critics, by standing alongside "heretics" -- Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Christians of other denominations -- Benke implicitly endorsed those faiths, giving the impression that all offer an equal path to salvation.

That is taboo in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which has 2.6 million members nationwide.

Church leaders hold that they must not pray in public with anyone from another faith, even Lutherans of other denominations. They believe in worshiping only with those who interpret the Scriptures and understand God in precisely the same way they do.

Yet Benke and Kieschnick insist that the Yankee Stadium ceremony was not a formal worship service, and thus was not off-limits to Missouri Synod members.

They viewed it instead as a secular event -- organized by New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and hosted by actor James Earl Jones -- that happened to include some prayer.

As for Kieschnick's impromptu prayer session with chaplains from other denominations, the Rev. David Strand, a spokesman for the church, said the same justification applied. "In no way was it a worship service with religious leaders in formal vestments," he said.
 


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