David Benke is back. A three-member Dispute Resolution Panel of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod last month voted unanimously to reverse the suspension of the denomination's Atlantic District president.
The case goes back to an interfaith prayer rally emceed by Oprah Winfrey at Yankee Stadium following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. With the permission of LCMS president Gerald Kieschnick, Rev. Benke delivered one of the prayers, offering the prayer "in the precious name of Jesus."
The event included invocations of Allah, readings from the Koran, and Hindu rituals. Eighteen LCMS pastors formally charged him with violating an LCMS policy on syncretism that limits clergy dealings with leaders of other religions. Rev. Benke contended the rally was more of a civic event than a religious one.
It fell to Rev. Wallace Schulz, the LCMS second vice president and the main speaker on "The Lutheran Hour" weekly radio broadcast, to rule in the case. He found that Rev. Benke had participated "with pagans" in the event and had allowed "the impression that there might be more than one God."
In the ensuing rancorous aftermath, Rev. Schulz was booted out of his radio job. He told LCMS officials last week that he "strongly" disagreed with the panel's ruling but would not appeal it. He faulted the panel for basing its decision on interpretations of "man-made" LCMS policies and ignoring Scripture. The panel for its part credited him with following LCMS protocol in the Benke matter.
Hoping to lessen tensions and bring pro-Benke and anti-Benke factions closer together, LCMS leaders have scheduled dialog sessions across the country.