March 18, 2008, will go down in infamy for many in Lutheran circles, and, I imagine, in some other Christian circles as well. Today is the day when bureaucrats of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod exercised infamous wisdom and spurious judgment by canceling the popular and well-respected radio program Issues, Etc. The show's host, Pr. Todd Wilken, and producer, Mr. Jeff Schwarz, were summarily fired (no, that's not too strong a word!) with absolutely no reason given - even when they asked for one.
(As a matter of full disclosure, I must say that Pr. Wilken and I have been friends for over 20 years, first, as seminary classmates and buddies, then as brother pastors, including a brief stint of 3-4 years as co-editors of a little journal for pastors called Doctrine & Practice. I have also come to respect Mr. Jeff Schwarz as a faithful comrade in arms in the Church's task of proclaiming the Truth of God's mercy and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.)
Very little is known at this point about the whys and wherefores of this incredulous cancellation and callous firing. When others have called the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, they have received a nice little bureaucratic two-step that gave the most minimal information and no rationale for such a jolting development. So, we must wait and see what the story (spin?) turns out to be.
At the outset, let me suggest that all who are concerned should contact the LCMS and/or KFUO radio - by phone calls, letters, and emails - to express their great sadness and concern that Issues, Etc. has been canceled and that faithful servants of the church have been so shamefully treated. Rev. David Strand is the head of the communications office, and you can contact the LCMS Information Center. Here are the details:
David Strand's email: David.Strand@lcms.org
Street address of the LCMS (for snail mail):
1333 S. Kirkwood Road
St. Louis, MO 63122-7295
LCMS Information Center: email@example.com
On the one hand, I am not that surprised at this infamy. I strongly suspect there is an agenda at work in the executive halls of the Missouri-Synod, namely, to steer the church body's course away from its roots, its theology, and its practice, as taught in the Scriptures and confessed in the Lutheran Confessions, and into the murky waters of American Protestantism/Pentecostalism. Issues, Etc. has long been a voice trying to stem that tide.
Then, on the other hand, I cannot help but be shocked and saddened. Supposed church-men hanging fellow church-men out to dry? Apparently little thought given to the needs of the families of each of these men? (And, yes, there are some great needs! If you would like to contribute to help Pr. Wilken and Mr. Schwarz, see these details on Pr. Weedon's blog.) And here, in my mind, is what clinches the appropriateness of the label "infamy" for this tragic event: the host and producer of Issues, Etc. were not even given the courtesy to say "Good-bye" to their loyal listeners. Not only are Pr. Wilken and Mr. Schwarz directly affected by this bureaucratic infamy, but so are their dear families, as well as their listeners who gained greater appreciation for the Christ-centered Gospel so faithfully proclaimed over the airwaves.
How shall friends and faithful listeners of Issues, Etc. respond? Allow me to suggest some thoughts based upon God's commandments and teaching in Scripture. First, let's fear, love and trust in our gracious, forgiving God and His Son Jesus Christ, who Himself was treated with bureaucratic infamy and betrayal and rewarded with the death sentence upon a cross. (Yes, today's infamous deed came on the heels of this morning's reading from Mark 14 in our Morning Prayer for Tuesday of Holy Week!)
Second, let's properly use God's holy name by calling upon it in this time of trouble for Todd, Jeff, their families and their listeners. Let's also thank Him for the good that Issues, Etc. has certainly done over the years. Our God is faithful, and He will answer prayers to provide for and strengthen His redeemed children, especially now in the Wilken and Schwarz households. But also, let's pray for the "powers-that-be" (I didn't know if I should toss out the oh, so "flattering" term of "bureaucrat" again ;-). Let's pray that our Lord will lead them to repentance for their infamy and callousness. Let's pray that our Lord will have His proper justice rather than the perverted justice we see unveiled before our eyes (and in the now silent airwaves). Let's pray that those who are trying to silence the voice of Issues, Etc., for whatever the real reason might be, may be brought back to God's mercy in our Savior Jesus Christ.
Third, let's drive ourselves more and more into God's words of promise, mercy, hope, and forgiveness, especially as we continue to wend our way through Holy Week. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who endured the cross, scorning its shame, and thus shows us the way of perfect love. We all have our gut reactions and our desire to see justice done. We all have our inclination to get all guns blazing to set right this infamous wrong. But let's not draw our strength or comfort from such things. Let's, instead, confess our sinful passions. Let's draw our strength from our Lord's Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, for He alone brings blessing out of tragedy, life out of death, and joy out of sorrow. Whatever machinations may happen, whatever proper ways of righting this wrong may occur, whatever future a once good radio show may or may not have now, the Lord of life will sustain us and comfort us in these dark days. He will certainly sustain and comfort Todd and Jeff and their families.
Fourth, let's remember God's command to love our neighbors and our enemies, just as our Lord did on the cross. Our first reaction to such infamy will be to get even, or unseat whatever bureaucrat(s) made this utterly misguided decision, or.... Let's seize this opportunity to follow St. Peter's words of wisdom: "have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing" (1 Peter 3:8-9). Let's also remember the words of St. James: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:4-2). And let's keep St. Paul's words in the forefront of our minds and hearts: "Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Colossians 3:12-14).
So, Todd and Jeff, my prayers are with you and your dear families. May our gracious God supply your every need, and may He give you the joy and comfort of sins forgiven and new life in Christ Jesus our Lord. I consider it no accident or mere happenstance that we at Hope got to pray the words of Psalm 91 this evening. I will continue to pray these words for you and with you: "Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place--the Most High, who is my refuge--no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways" (Ps. 91:9-11).