God’s Pure Word Alone Brings Genuine Peace

In our day, many Lutherans wish to compromise the pure word of God.  They believe such compromise brings prosperity and peace with the world.  But such peace is only a temporal peace.  And the success such compromises bring is only a temporal success.  It does not last.

God’s word endures forever.  (1 Peter 1:25, Isaiah 40:8).  Therefore, God’s word alone brings genuine peace.  This is because genuine peace is a lasting peace.  It lasts forever.  Christ alone gives us this peace with God in His word of promise.

*

The excerpt below is from C.F.W. Walther’s “Fourth Evening Lecture” delivered October 3, 1884:


When a theologian is asked to yield and make concessions in order that peace may at last be established in the Church, but refuses to do so even in a single point of doctrine, such an action looks to human reason like intolerable stubbornness, yea, like downright malice.  That is the reason why such theologians are loved and praised by few men during their lifetime.  Most men rather revile them as disturbers of the peace, yea, as destroyers of the kingdom of God.  They are regarded as men worthy of contempt.

clinging to the pure teaching of the divine Word … in the midst of greatest dissension, builds up the Church

But in the end it becomes manifest that this very determined, inexorable tenacity in clinging to the pure teaching of the divine Word by no means tears down the Church; on the contrary, it is just this which, in the midst of greatest dissension, builds up the Church and ultimately brings about genuine peace.

Therefore, woe to the Church which has no men of this stripe, men who stand as watchmen on the walls of Zion, sound the alarm whenever a foe threatens to rush the walls, and rally to the banner of Jesus Christ for a holy war!

woe to the Church which has no men of this stripe, men who … sound the alarm whenever a foe threatens to rush the walls

Try and picture to yourselves what would have happened if Athanasius had made a slight concession in the doctrine of the deity of Christ.  He could have made a compromise with the Arians and put his conscience at ease; for the Arians declared that they, too, believed Christ to be God, only not from eternity.  They said: … “there was a time when He did not exist,” meaning, He had become God.  But they added: “Nevertheless He is to be worshiped, for He is God.”  Even at that remote time, had Athanasius yielded, the Church would have been hurled from the one Rock on which it is founded, which is none other than Jesus Christ.

Again, imagine what would have happened if Augustine had made a slight concession in the doctrine of man’s free will, or rather of the utter incapacity of man for matters spiritual.  He, too, could have made a compromise with the Pelagians and put his conscience at at ease because the Pelagians declared: “Yes, indeed; without the aid of God’s grace no man can be saved.”  But by the grace of God they meant the divine gift which is imparted to every man.  Even at that time, had Augustine yielded, the Church would have lost the core of the Gospel.  There would have been nothing left of it but the empty, hollow shell.  Aye, the Church would have retained nothing but the name of the Gospel.  For the doctrine of the Gospel that man is made righteous in the sight of God and saved by nothing but the pure grace of God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, is, as everybody knows, the most important doctrine, the marrow and substance of Christian teaching.  Wherever this doctrine is not proclaimed, there is no Christ, no Gospel, no salvation; there men perish, and for such people it has been in vain that the Son of God has come into the world.

bless all the faithful champions who have fought for every point of Christian doctrine, unconcerned about the favor of men

Lastly, picture to yourselves what would have happened if Luther had made a slight concession in the doctrine of the Holy Supper.  At the time of the Marburg Colloquy he could have made a compromise with Zwingli and put his conscience at ease, because the Zwinglians said: “We, too, believe in a certain presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, but not in the presence of Christ’s corporeal substance, because God does not set up such sublime, incomprehensible things for us to believe.”  By this claim Zwingli made Christianity in its entirety a questionable matter, and even Melanchthon, who was usually greatly inclined to make concessions, declared that Zwingli had relapsed into paganism.  Had Luther yielded, the Church would have become a prey to rationalism, which places man’s reason above the plain Word of God.

Let us, therefore, bless all the faithful champions who have fought for every point of Christian doctrine, unconcerned about the favor of men and disregarding their threatening.  Their ignominy, though it often was great, has not been borne in vain.  Men cursed them, but they continued bearing their testimony until death, and now they wear the crown of glory and enjoy the blissful communion of Christ and of all the angels and the elect.  Their labor and their fierce battling has not been in vain; for even now, after 1500 years, or, in the last named case, after several centuries, the Church is reaping what they sowed.

Let us, then, my friends, likewise hold fast the treasure of the pure doctrine.  Do not consider it strange if on that account you must bear reproach the same as they did.

— C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel,
Concordia Publishing House, 1929, 1986,
pages 28-30.


Jesus said:

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not fear what you are about to suffer.  Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.  Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

— Revelation 2:9-10, ESV.

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Pastor Lidtke’s Letters of Recognition

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Recently after the divine service at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Pastor Paul Lidtke received some letters of recognition.  In the picture above from left to right is Pastor Lidtke, State Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt, Congressman Glenn Grothman, Camille Solberg, and the congregation president Greg Kargus.

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Many of Pastor Lidtke’s accomplishments came as a surprise.  Apparently, in addition to preaching and visitation, he also does many other things such as help counsel offenders and victims of crime.

I have always been impressed by his good pastoral care and common sense.  He is an earthy preacher who proclaims the pure word of God without adding a bunch of nonsense; for example, he doesn’t preach about himself.

And that is why he was embarrassed by the letters of recognition he received.  (He did not know that he was going to get them until only a few days before the service).  Nonetheless, they were obtained for him out of love and appreciation.

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One of the challenges of photography at Bethlehem Lutheran Church is the amber stained glass windows.  They can make it difficult to get a clear color-balanced picture.  Nonetheless, I like how the pictures above and below brought out the beautiful color, grain, and texture of the wood in the sanctuary.

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In the end, it is all about Christ.  His cross, his sacrifice, his sacraments, his grace and mercy are the beginning and end of all life.  (John 14:6).


Notes

For all the pictures in this post, I used Digital Photo Professional to do the white balance on RAW files.  DPP came bundled with my camera, and can be very useful when dealing with certain types of tricky indoor lighting.

Pastor Lidtke to Receive Letters of Recognition

WELS logoToday, I received a news release indicating that Pastor Paul Lidtke will be receiving letters of recognition for his work in advocating for victims and helping to rehabilitate offenders.  The letters will be presented on Sunday, April 19, 2015 at 10 am after the 9 am divine service at Bethlehem Lutheran Church; 1206 Ontario Street; Oshkosh, WI 54901.

Oshkosh Pastor Receiving Eight Letters of Recognition

Reverend Paul J. Lidtke, a Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) pastor, at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Oshkosh, WI will receive 8 Letters of Recognition from Wisconsin leaders and government officials on Sunday, April 19th at 10:00am for his work as a victim advocate and with offender rehabilitation.

Several victims along with other ministers and attorneys contacted Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s office to let him know how much Pastor Lidtke has done for them and what he has meant to them.  In his written Letter of Commendation, Governor Scott Walker thanked Pastor Lidtke for encouraging and assisting crime victims in the State of Wisconsin, particularly in advocating on their behalf to make sure they received the help and support they so desperately need.

Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch also adds, “His work in the victim advocacy and offender rehabilitation fields is praiseworthy.”  Kleefisch further stated that Pastor Lidtke’s, “efforts and leadership over the past 25 years have helped make a lasting difference in countless lives.”

Pastor Lidtke’s commitment and dedication to victims goes well beyond his congregation.  As expressed by one victim, “It is with his leadership and crucial contributions to assist and empower victims, that he has given hope to many, even under the most difficult circumstances.”  Pastor Lidtke has gone above and beyond advocating for victims and, “his voice became their voice and that gave them strength” states Harry Sydney, former Green Bay Packer and founder of My Brother‘s Keeper.

In addition to victim advocacy, Sydney also states, “The impact of Reverend Lidtke’s relentless efforts can be felt from his work in prisons as he works with individuals preparing themselves for their next chapters in their lives.”  On at least one occasion, he spent four years encouraging and supporting a woman on parole so she wouldn’t reoffend again recalls Reverend Daniel Krause, a former Wisconsin Lutheran Institutional Ministries pastor and Winnebago County Sheriff’s chaplain.

Governor Scott Walker, in closing, praised Pastor Lidtke by saying that he “is a wonderful example that others would do well to emulate”.

Reverend Paul J. Lidtke Recognitions:

  • Letter of Commendation Given by:  Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
  • Letter Given by:  Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch
  • Attending and speaking:  Wisconsin State Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt
  • Attending and speaking:  U.S. House of Representatives Congressman Glenn Grothman (WI-06)
  • Letter Given by:  United States Senator Ron Johnson
    • Read by:  Camille Solberg – Regional Director/State Minority Outreach Coordinator for Ron Johnson
  • Letter Given by:  Burke Tower, Former Mayor of Oshkosh
  • Letter Given by:  Harry Sydney, Former Green Bay Packer and founder of My Brother’s Keeper
  • Letter Given by:  Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) Northern Wisconsin District President Joel Zank

When this first started, it was supposed to be a surprise for Pastor Lidtke, but this simple expression of gratitude and appreciation quickly grew too large to keep it a secret from Pastor Lidtke.  So now the information is public.

For members of WELS churches who might be interested in attending the 9 am divine service, Bethlehem Lutheran Church receives the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day (every Sunday).

May the Lord bless Pastor Lidtke.

Meritless Lawsuits and Spiritual Abuse

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A little over a year ago, Pastors Glende and Skorzewski and two of their staff members brought four meritless lawsuits against a former member of their congregation.  All four lawsuits were either dismissed or thrown out of court for having no merit.  Here are some links to articles about the issues:

However, unanswered questions remain.  This article asks just one of those questions:  Will Pastors Glende and Skorzewski ever express contrition for bringing these meritless lawsuits?  Or in other words, will there be any fruit of repentance?

Pastor Skorzewski made repeated unwanted sexual comments toward another man’s wife.  Pastor Glende also made a rude sexual comment.  Then when her husband complained at an “informational meeting” about the matter, they took him to court.

They asked the court to issue a restraining order because he had been complaining about them.  Put another way, they wanted a secular court to potentially throw a man in jail, because he had complained about them and their inappropriate sexual comments.

Jail.  Think about that for a moment.  When someone violates a restraining order, they often go to jail.  Jail.

So this was not a little thing.  This was not two pastors gossiping behind someone’s back.  They and their staff filed four (4) restraining order petitions.  Disobeying a court restraining order is called contempt of court, and a remedy for contempt of court is jail.

Glende took his case right to trial, however, his case was so weak the court threw his case out before the defense even presented any evidence.  For example, on the witness stand Glende complained that the layman had asked his family and friends on Facebook for prayers and support.

Think about that for a moment.  A WELS pastor complained to a secular court that a layman asked his family and friends for prayers and support.

Here is Pastor Glende’s testimony under oath:

A:   Okay, I received this.  I received it yesterday.  It was dated yesterday at 2:29.  I believe that would have been from Wednesday.

THE COURT:   What is it?

WITNESS [Glende]:   It’s a Facebook post that was made by [Jonathan] and then there are several comments that follow below.

BY ATTORNEY GILL:

Q:   Could you read them to the Court?

A:   The comment that was Jonathan’s posting was,

“If anyone would like to support Mara Rose and I Friday at 9:30 to noon at the Outagamie County courthouse, that would be amazing.  There’s currently four temporary restraining orders against me for alleged harassment by me from four petitioners.  They are the former pastor of The CORE church, his assistant, the senior pastor at St. Peter and his assistant.  They were filed after I attended the meeting on August 13.  I was allowed to speak at it, too.  I’m thankful to get my day in court.  Mind you, this is the same church where their leadership caused repeated sexual harassment against my wife, drinking on the job, and using an AK-47 as a church prop, ‘lapse in judgment.’  They are in the process of potentially reinstating one of the pastors that was ordered to resign.  I hope and pray that many others will too see the potential pitfalls they are creating with others and past and current decisions.  Thanks for your prayers and support, Jonathan and Mara.”

— Court transcript, pages 19-20.

Does that sound like harassment?  Does that sound like the sort of behavior that should potentially result in time spent in jail?

This is serious.  Would you like your pastor to treat you like this?  Why does the WELS tolerate this sort of behavior?

The danger here is not just that two litigious guys can bring spectacularly bad lawsuits against innocent people and threaten to have them thrown in jail, but that two pastors, with impunity, have wronged a layman.  This is not just secular abuse, it is spiritual abuse.

This is one of the ways that faith is destroyed:

Satan gets another Christian to sin against us in deed or word.  It pleases Satan if a person with spiritual significance or authority, such as a parent, pastor, spouse, or leader in the Church sins against us.  Their spiritual status, their office, magnifies their offense and intensifies the damage that it does.  This is a kind of ritual abuse, the misuse of holy things against us.

Grace Upon Grace, by John W. Kleinig, page 234.  Emphasis added.

Can we do better?  The WELS must do better, for the sake of the Lord’s name.

WCCA vs. WELS Privacy Concerns

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WCCA stands for Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (formerly known as CCAP), and is the internet portal for information about Wisconsin court cases.  When someone applies for a job, an apartment, or any important position; every employer, landlord, or inquirer of every denomination checks WCCA.  If your name shows up on WCCA, it could have a profound long-lasting negative effect on your life.  Information on WCCA lasts for decades.  For example, information on a civil lawsuit is available on WCCA for 20 years.

Recently, four WELS church workers brought four almost identical civil lawsuits against a WELS layman.  (See Two WELS Pastors and Four Meritless Lawsuits).  They publicly accused him of harassment, they publicly said he was mentally unbalanced, they publicly said he might have a gun, they publicly implied he might use this alleged gun against them, and they publicly said they were living in fear.  These accusations were made in open court, in a public hearing, and as part of a public record.  Their written accusations remain a part of the public record.  Their cases all appear on WCCA.

The court dismissed all four harassment restraining order petitions.  But WCCA does not really explain why they were dismissed, just that they were dismissed.

So what happens when this young WELS husband, father, and layman goes out to apply for jobs?  What do prospective employers see?  They see four civil lawsuits against him, and not just small-claims court stuff, but harassment restraining order petitions.  Harassment restraining order lawsuits are the sort of cases that usually involve stalking, threats, and/or violence.  How many potential employers would stop right there?  How many potential employers would interpret these public court records to mean that at a minimum this young man is a troublemaker who can not get along with others?

If a potential employer were to dig a little deeper, they could go down to the courthouse, and read the four vicious letters that the church workers filed with the court against this WELS layman.  Each of those letters was a public violation of the Lutheran understanding of the Eight Commandment: each of them twisted every word and action into the worst possible construction, and those disgusting documents are all a matter of public record.  They are all on file at the courthouse.

What else could a potential employer find?  Nothing.  Not a single word of defense from this young man appears in the public record.  That is because during the court case, he never spoke in his own defense.

The court dismissed these WELS pastors’ accusations before the defense presented any evidence.  Why?  To find out, a potential employer would have to read the court transcript.

Some benefactors paid to have the transcript prepared to help defend this young man, so that people could see directly the vacuousness of these WELS pastors’ accusations.  (For example, the pastor’s evidence for threats was that the young layman said, “I will publicly defend my wife because that’s what God demands of me.”  The pastor testified, that was “a very open-ended statement,” thus the pastor was concerned what the young husband would do.  Court transcript, pages 45 & 47.  The pastor’s evidence for the young layman being mentally unbalanced was his pastoral knowledge that the layman had suffered trauma in combat while serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq.  The pastor’s evidence for the layman possibly having a gun was that the layman had served in the U.S. military.  So there was no evidence of any wrongful threats.  There was no evidence of anyone being mentally unbalanced or dangerous.  And there was no evidence that anyone had a gun, as if that should matter anyway).  Because some people paid to have the transcript prepared, now a potential employer could at least go to the courthouse, and read the 80 page transcript of the proceedings.  But realistically, who would do that?

WCCA is society wide, and can destroy a man’s reputation far beyond the WELS.  Who will defend the reputation of our young Christian brother?

Some people tried to discuss this case on a WELS Lutherans Facebook group, but WELS pastor administrators deleted comments and entire threads.  Some WELS pastors have said that discussing this public case on the internet is profoundly wrong because it doesn’t go through the right channels, it aligns one with the tools of the devil, it leads to false rumors, and it hurts Christians because they might lose trust in their WELS pastor.

Unfortunately, this concern is all focused on the WELS, but the WELS does not exist for its own sake.  The good news is not that the WELS is perfect, but rather that Christ is perfect.  The WELS is supposed to be brothers and sisters walking together in truth and repentance, but anytime someone says, “Here is the truth, we need to repent,” the WELS minders shout “No!  You are harming the WELS’ reputation.”

A WELS pastor posted on Facebook that if we post truthful negative things about the WELS on the internet, then we are aligned with the tools of the devil.  However, this is not true Lutheran teaching.  Lutherans don’t believe in a holy WELS Synod, instead we “believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church.”  (Nicene Creed).  He who speaks against the one holy Church is aligned with the devil, but he who exposes sin in the visible church is not aligned with the devil.  It is false teaching to confuse the WELS with the one holy Church.

Further, if talking truthfully on a little WELS Facebook page or blog is communicating with an audience too large, then what does it mean when WELS church workers put undeserved black marks against a WELS layman on WCCA, the Godzilla of reputation destroyers?

Is it the reputations of only WELS pastors that matter?

When these church workers brought their unfounded allegations against this young man to the WCCA and the public court system, they forfeited their claim to privacy.  Even then, all of this could have remained “private” for the sake of the visible church.  However, when the Northern Wisconsin District publicly declared one of the pastors who brought these meritless lawsuits to be “blameless” and “above reproach,” then the District also forfeited its claim to privacy.  The Church calls pastors to the public ministry (Power and Primacy of the Pope, paragraphs 23-24), and the Church is composed of every baptized believer.  Everyone in the WELS is now involved.  Everyone in the WELS should know what is happening.

We need to collectively repent, and make restitution to this young couple we have victimized.  We in the WELS need a genuine culture of repentance.  And the Northern Wisconsin District needs new leadership.  The Church calls and ordains, but the District leadership does it directly for the sake of good order.  If they cannot uphold good order, then the leadership must be removed.

The Northern Wisconsin District convention will be held in Appleton, Wisconsin on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 17 & 18, 2014 A.D.

Kyrie eleison.

Two WELS Pastors and Four Meritless Lawsuits

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Recently, two WELS Pastors, Tim Glende and James Skorzewski, and two of their staff members filed four almost identical lawsuits against a WELS layman, Jonathan Donnan, a former member of their congregation.  Specifically, they asked a secular court to issue four restraining orders, ordering Jonathan Donnan to stop “harassing” them.

In the courthouse lobby before the first case was heard, a local attorney who handles a lot of cases in that court (and who had absolutely no connection to this case) looked at the court’s calender, and said, “When you see four restraining order petitions against one person, then usually that person did something extremely bad, or it’s a bunch of bullies ganging up on someone.”  Jonathan’s wife, Mara, who was sitting nearby, piped up and said, “It’s the second one.  It’s a bunch of bullies ganging up on someone.”

History

According to Jonathan Donnan’s wife, Mara, Pastor Skorzewski said numerous sexually inappropriate things to her over the course of months, and on at least one occasion, Pastor Glende also joined in with this disgusting behavior.  (At the time, Mara was a member of The CORE, a WELS church, and also Pastor Skorzewski’s executive assistant).

After a long ordeal involving the Circuit Pastor, District President, and even the Synod President, Pastor Skorzewski finally resigned.  However, Skorzewski almost immediately requested CRM status.  (CRM means that a man is deemed to be blameless, above reproach, and qualified to receive a call as a pastor).

Jonathan did not think the man who behaved so inappropriately toward his wife should become a pastor again, and he thought the WELS pastors from the district who would be asked to comment on Skorzewski’s CRM status should have more information.  So he wrote a letter to the pastors of the Northern Wisconsin District giving them information about Pastors Skorzewski’s and Glende’s behavior toward his wife.  This letter was signed by Jonathan, his wife Mara, and also concerned WELS pastors Lidtke and Suhr.

Having received comments regarding Skorzewski’s potential CRM status from other WELS pastors, District President Engelbrecht then also sought comments specifically from the membership of St. Peter & The CORE, which had been Skorzewski’s congregation before he resigned.  To this end, an informational meeting was scheduled at The CORE for August 13, 2013.

At the beginning of the meeting, Pastor Glende said the purpose of the meeting was so that the congregation could seek direction and make decisions about the ministry “specifically on this campus,” The CORE.  During this meeting, District President Engelbrecht summarized Skorzewski’s behavior and the Donnan’s reaction and the steps the District took to rehabilitate Skorzewski, he solicited questions, and then he gave the members of St. Peter & The CORE thirty days to submit comments to the district leadership regarding Skorzewski’s proposed CRM status.  During this meeting, District President Engelbrecht also said that he was an ardent supporter of Skorzewski and his ministry.

Jonathan Donnan showed up at this meeting because he wanted to protect his wife’s reputation and honor.  After DP Engelbrecht’s summary, Jonathan believed that DP Engelbrecht had portrayed Pastor Skorzewski’s behavior in the best possible light, while portraying his wife’s reaction in the worst possible light.  Therefore, Jonathan sat through much of the Q&A section with his hand raised waiting to be called upon.  Finally, Pastor Glende said that he would allow Jonathan to speak; however, he first informed the congregation that Jonathan was not invited to the meeting, had no legal right to be there, and that if Jonathan started attacking people, then he would be asked to leave.

Jonathan said that was a rude way to call upon him.  The entire exchange then quickly devolved into whether Jonathan had a right to be there because he was not a member of St. Peter & The CORE.  Jonathan believed that as a Christian husband he had a duty to try to defend his wife, and that St. Peter & The CORE’s constitution and bylaws could not overrule his moral obligations.  After a short period of time, Jonathan left the meeting, but announced that he was there to defend his wife, and would be outside to speak with anyone who wanted to hear the whole truth.

While Jonathan was outside, he could hear laughter and applause inside as the meeting continued without him.  While Jonathan was outside, he also received a lecture about forgiveness and about how he did not understand forgiveness.

A few days later, Pastors Glende and Skorzewski and two church staff members filed four almost identical lawsuits against Jonathan Donnan.  They asked the Outagamie County Family Court to issue four restraining orders telling Jonathan to not write any more letters to WELS pastors about Glende or Skorzewski, to not show up at any future meetings at St. Peter & The CORE where they would be discussing personnel issues, and to have no further contact with St. Peter & The CORE or its staff.

Pastor Glende’s case was heard first.  Pastor Glende spent about two hours presenting his case.  He himself testified extensively along with two laymen from his church.

Legal Issues

In order for a behavior to be harassment, it has to serve no legitimate purpose.  Does writing a letter to the men (WELS pastors) who would help decide Skorzewski’s CRM status serve no legitimate purpose?  And does showing up at a congregational meeting where they are discussing how your wife was treated, and where the District President is seeking comments and advice about whether that pastor should get CRM status, does that serve no legitimate purpose?

Is that inappropriate behavior?  Or could those be the behaviors of a man trying to protect and defend his wife?

The allegations Mara made against Skorzewski were not false.  A false allegation would serve no legitimate purpose, but a truthful allegation does.  If certain WELS pastors and a certain WELS congregation are going to be specifically asked to provide comments about whether Skorzewski should serve as a pastor again, is it legitimate that they should also hear from the victim or her representative?

The August 30 Court Hearing

Under oath, Pastor Glende testified that Jonathan’s behavior served no legitimate purpose because it hindered the ministry of St. Peter & The CORE, and it was just an attack.  (Court transcript, page 40).  According to Pastor Glende, Jonathan’s behavior served no legitimate purpose because the decision about whether Skorzewski would serve as a pastor was made back in January and April.  Pastor Glende stated this numerous times throughout his testimony.  Below is just one example.

Under oath, Pastor Glende said that Jonathan’s “behavior was disruptive in our congregation in a meeting.  It is — it attacks me personally.”  Attorney Maurer then asked Glende: “What’s wrong with that, pastor?  What’s wrong with a person attacking on how you handled the situation of allegations of sexual harassment by one of your pastors?  What’s wrong with that?”  To which Pastor Glende responded: “A group of my peers have said it’s been dealt with, addressed, move on.”  (Court transcript, page 39).

In summarizing all of the evidence presented by Pastor Glende, Pastor Glende’s attorney said:

There are statements that have been provided as evidence that … show that Mr. Donnan is not going to let this issue die.  He believes his purpose is to see this through.  The issue has absolutely been resolved, and for some reason Mr. Donnan refuses to come to grips with that.  So his conduct in sending the letters, continuing to contact people, showing up at the church and refusing to leave, clearly, in my opinion, falls within, engages in a course of conduct that has no legitimate purpose …

— Court Transcript, page 75.

Was the issue of Skorzewski’s CRM status absolutely resolved?  No.  This court hearing took place during the 30 day comment period in which members of St. Peter & The CORE were being asked to advise the District about Skorzewski’s CRM status.  And only a few months later, the District granted Skorzewski CRM status, he immediately received a call, and has already been installed as a WELS pastor in Texas.

Attorney Maurer tried to get Pastor Glende to admit that the August 13 meeting was about potentially reinstating Skorzewski to the pastoral office.  Attorney Maurer questioning Pastor Glende:

Q:   Okay, you testified earlier that the issue in the past had been resolved back in January, correct?

A:   There was an initial decision reached on it in January.

Q:   He resigned in April?

A:   Correct.

Q:   And you’re stating that the August 13, 2013 meeting had nothing to do with that whatsoever, with his disposition going forward with the church, correct?

A:   Pastor Ski resigned and is not currently a pastor.  He doesn’t have status to be a pastor.  The church has nothing to do with him going forward as a pastor.

Q:   That’s not entirely true, is it?  Isn’t it a fact that part of the purpose of this meeting was some specific members of the congregation wanted to reinstate the pastor to his previous position, correct?

A:   That’s not true.

Q:   If I have people come in and testify that there were people at that meeting that were petitioning the church to reinstate the pastor, that’s not the truth, they’re lying?

A:   Were there people there that their opinion was that the pastor should be reinstated?  Yes.

Q:   Were there people at the meeting that said that?

A:   There could have been people in the meeting that said that.  The purpose of the meeting; however, was not to reinstate him.

Q:   The purpose of the meeting was as it related to Jonathan’s wife, correct?

A:   To share information regarding the case.

Q:   So why would you think it’s inappropriate for the husband of the alleged victim to be present at the meeting to hear this?

A:   Mr. Donnan has heard all that information before, and from my knowledge, it was a meeting for the members of our congregation, which he is not one of.

Q:   Why didn’t you simply tell him to leave in the beginning?  Instead you gave him the opportunity to speak.

A:   I didn’t see him there at the beginning, I was up in the front.  I had not had a chance to do anything about it and I didn’t want to cause a scene to ask him to leave.  For two hours of the meeting Jonathan sat there.  From my position he looked agitated and upset when different things were said, which, as I have always said, Jonathan is entitled to his opinion in regards to this case.

Q:   Wouldn’t you be upset if you believed your wife was the victim of sexual harassment by a pastor and they were discussing that at a meeting?  Do you think that’s unreasonable?

A:   I guess I don’t know how to answer that question.

— Court Transcript, pages 35-37.

Attorney Maurer further questioning Pastor Glende:

Q:   Do you believe there was any merit to the allegations against the pastor?

A:   Do I believe it was sexual harassment?

Q:   Do you believe there was any merit to any of the allegations, factual allegations, alleged against the pastor?

A:   The pastor resigned.

Q:   That’s not an answer to my question.  Do you believe there was any factual basis for the allegations of harassment made by Jonathan’s wife towards the pastor?

A:   We have said, declared publicly, that lapses in judgment happened.

Q:   I’m just — yes or no, you personally?

ATTORNEY GILL:  Objection to the relevance, your Honor.

ATTORNEY MAURER:  It’s part of a harassment injunction, conduct that does not serve a legitimate purpose.  Making up allegations of harassment just to attack these people, then that doesn’t serve a legitimate purpose.

ATTORNEY GILL:  Your Honor, the continued behavior has no legitimate purpose.

THE COURT:  The objection is overruled, he can answer.

WITNESS [Pastor Glende]:  Can you repeat the question?

Q:   I’m asking you if you personally believe there was any merit to the factual allegations of harassment raised by Jonathan’s wife against the pastor?

A:   Are you asking me if there were —

Q:   Just yes or no.

A:   You’re asking me a yes or no to — I can’t agree with -­-

Q:   So you don’t believe there was any merit to the factual allegations of harassment?

ATTORNEY GILL:  I’m going to object.  There were eight or nine allegations, your Honor.

ATTORNEY MAURER:  I’m asking about any of them.

ATTORNEY GILL:  What specific allegations are we talking about, your Honor?

THE COURT:  Overruled, he can answer.

[Attorney Maurer questioning Pastor Glende]:

Q:   To any of them in general.  Yes?

A:   Sure, yes.

Q:   Okay, so would you personally condone that type of conduct by one of your pastors?

A:   No.

Q:   Okay, so you believe that there were indiscretions by the pastor directly towards Jonathan’s wife that occurred by the pastor, correct?

A:   Yes, which were addressed.  And then once he resigned, it was over because he is no longer a pastor.  That happened in the middle of April.

Q:   Okay, but again, the August 13 meeting was to address possibly the allegations that had happened in the past?

A:   It was to share the summary of everything that had gone on from the end of October, November to that point.

Q:   What precipitated that meeting?

A:   Because of the letter that Jonathan and Mara sent out.  Our district president said it was appropriate, at this time, to set it out.  Until that point, we had not shared publicly with anyone in our congregation that this involved Jonathan or Mara.

Q:   Your superiors told you, let’s have a meeting with the congregation on this to let everyone know what happened, and it’s your position you didn’t want him and his wife to be there?

A:   He wasn’t a member, he was an uninvited guest.

Q:   Okay.

A:   Wanted or not wanted, I wouldn’t have thought of inviting him, he wasn’t a member.

— Court Transcript, pages 40-43.

Also at issue during the hearing was whether the August 13 meeting at The CORE was about how Pastor Skorzewski treated Jonathan’s wife, and Pastor Glende admitted that was true.

After Pastor Glende finished presenting all his evidence, and before the defense called a single witness, the court ruled on the case.  The standard the court used was this:  It put the best construction on everything Pastor Glende and his witnesses said, it considered Pastor Glende’s case in the kindest possible light, and gave Pastor Glende the benefit of the doubt on everything.  Nonetheless, the court ruled that Pastor Glende’s case had no merit, and dismissed his case.

Pastor Glende’s case was dismissed even before the defense called a single witness or presented any evidence.  Glende had nothing.

Aftermath

Immediately after the court dismissed Pastor Glende’s case, Attorney Maurer suggested that Skorzewski and the two church staffers should voluntarily dismiss their own virtually identical cases.  (Because Pastor Glende’s case took so long, the other three cases were rescheduled to a later date).  However, Skorzewski and the two church staffers refused to dismiss their cases, and instead attempted to negotiate a settlement out of court.

However, Jonathan refused to give up any of his legal rights in return for them agreeing to dismiss their cases.  In response, Skorzewski and the two staffers waited until the very last hour to dismiss their cases, thereby forcing the Donnans to endure the maximum amount of stress, and to pay the maximum amount in legal (attorney) fees.

Soon after, the Northern Wisconsin District denied Skorzewski CRM status, but made no announcement.  In congregational meetings at both St. Peter & The CORE, Skorzewski then advised the congregation that they should move on without him.  (“Around the Council Table,” November 2013 church newsletter).  The November 2013 church newsletter also had a special section entitled: “MOVING FORWARD AT THE CORE” which stated:

The announcement has been made that Ski will not be returning to that position [pastor at The CORE].  Although he applied for it, his reinstatement to the pastoral office was not granted at this point.  In a special meeting at The CORE, Ski expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to serve in our midst, but encouraged all in attendance to move forward.  That is the intent of our leadership on both campuses.  We will continue to pray for Ski, his family, and his reinstatement.

Shortly after that, Skorzewski applied for CRM status a second time.  This time, the Northern Wisconsin District granted Skorzewski CRM status (under the condition that he not be a pastor in the Northern Wisconsin District), and almost immediately Skorzewski received a call to serve as a WELS pastor in Texas.  St. Peter & The CORE then announced in their church newsletter that they were holding a farewell party for Pastor Skorzewski to wish him God’s blessings as he prepared to leave for his new call.

So a WELS pastor resigned, for cause, because of sin, but before he left for his new call at another congregation, his former congregation threw him a farewell party.

On Sunday, April 27, 2014, Skorzewski was installed as pastor at Christ the Rock (a WELS) church in Texas, and Pastor Glende preached at Skorzewski’s installation service.  (Vimeo 93511608).  At 28:20 in the sermon, Pastor Glende said that Skorzewski was his best friend, and that he wished he could work with Skorzewski forever, but God had a different plan: to bring him to Texas.  At about 28 minutes into the sermon, Pastor Glende said, “I’m sure down the road or in the course of time, you’ll hear a great deal about what it is that God used to bring him here.  It’s an amazing story.”

When Pastors Violate Trust

WELS logo

Trust.  This is the first qualification of a pastor.  He must be trustworthy.  This is because a pastor stands in the place of Christ, and has tremendous power over others.  He has been appointed by Christ to protect the flock, not to harm it.

It is wrong when a man says sexually inappropriate things to an unknown woman in a bar.  But because he has no power over her, she would feel little pressure to put up with his disgusting behavior.  However, when someone in a position of trust and power (for example, an employer, a doctor, a teacher, or a pastor) uses their office to say sexually inappropriate things to an employee, a patient, a student, or a parishioner, that is not only intrinsically wrong, it is also a violation of trust.

People with power over others have a duty to protect those in their care.  Doctors must protect patients.  Teachers must protect students.  Employers must protect employees.  And pastors must protect parishioners.

A pastor should not say sexually inappropriate things to an employee or a parishioner.  This is especially because a pastor has tremendous social power, not just over the victim, but often also over her family and friends.  He could not only use his position to create a hostile work environment, thereby pushing her to quit and lose her employment, but he could also apply social pressure in the church environment to keep her quiet, and to discredit her.  As a result, she could lose a job, a church, friends, and she could become depressed and maybe even alienated from Christ.

One might expect the wolves to attack the sheep, but a shepherd has been given a position of authority and trust.  He is there to protect the sheep.  Therefore, the shepherd must never intentionally harm the sheep, not even one of them.

Would a babysitter or daycare operator who intentionally harmed a child ever be put in that position of trust again?  Would a nurse who intentionally took sexual advantage of a patient ever be put in such a position of trust again?  Would a psychiatrist who intentionally hurt a patient be allowed to continue practicing?  The world does not tolerate this sin.  In the world, people who have violated a trust are not given offices of trust.

The issue is not just the intrinsic wrong, but also the abuse of an office to commit that wrong.  Those are two distinct offenses, and they magnify each other.  When a powerful person hurts a weaker person, that is an especially grievous sin.  How much worse is it when the powerful person is trusted by the weaker?  It is far worse because it is also a betrayal.  A pastor who has intentionally harmed an employee and/or a parishioner has also betrayed them.  He has betrayed the trust of not only the victim, but also his office, the Church, and Christ.

We do not trust betrayers.  Therefore, a shepherd who intentionally harms the sheep cannot be a pastor.

“But what about repentance?” some will ask.  First, “repentant” is not the only qualification to be a pastor.  A pastor must also be blameless and above reproach.  (1 Timothy 3:2, 7).  Second, genuine repentance involves not just faith, but also contrition.  (AC Apology XIIA (V) 28).  There should be fruit worthy of repentance.  (Matthew 3:8).

Thus, if a pastor says sexually inappropriate things to an employee or parishioner repeatedly over many months, he should resign immediately.  The pastor should not wait until her husband finds out.  He should not wait until the Circuit Pastor finds out.  He should not wait until the District President finds out.  He should not wait until after Christmas.  He should not wait until after the congregation’s building dedication.  He should not wait until the Synod President finds out.  He should not wait to be told to resign.  Finally, he should not file a meritless lawsuit against the victim or her husband.

True repentance is contrition and faith.  True contrition means that we accept the temporal consequences for our sins.  In contrition we accept the consequences, in faith we trust that even though we suffer in this world because of our sin God will still protect us to eternal life.  Only a man who completely surrenders in contrition and faith will ever be trusted again.

But if we try to avoid taking full responsibility, then we show that this world is more important to us.  And if we do not bear fruit worthy of repentance, then we are not fit to be called “pastor” or even “Christian.”

Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  (Matthew 10:39).  May the Lord grant to all of us true repentance.

Privacy and Abuse of the Public Ministry

WELS logoIf a man desires to be a pastor, he desires something that is noble, he also desires something that is public.  A pastor is a public representative of the Church.  The Scriptures declare that all public representatives of the Church (pastors) must be “respectable,” “well thought of by outsiders,” and “above reproach.”  (1 Timothy 3:2, 7, ESV).

Paul writes that those who seek to serve in the public ministry “must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve …”  (1 Timothy 3:10, NIV1978).  God’s word says that there must be “nothing against them,” they must be blameless, and above reproach.

If a pastor sins privately, then he can repent privately, and he can receive private absolution from his confessor.  Pastors are not expected to be sinless, nor should they expect their private sins to be exposed in a public manner.  Private lust is a sin that can remain between the pastor, his confessor, and God.

But what if a pastor takes his private lust, and makes it public?  For example, what if a pastor uses his position as a pastor to make sexually inappropriate comments to his employee?  To his parishioner?  To another man’s wife?  Those are not private sins.  They are public sins.  They are public sins, first, because they involve other people, and second, because they are an abuse of the public ministry.  When one abuses the authority and power of a public office, that abuse of power is in no way a private matter.

Nonetheless, when a pastor falls into disgrace for abusing his pastoral office and must resign from the public ministry, it is possible that under certain circumstances he could be allowed to do so privately.  This is because he would be leaving the public ministry, and would no longer be a public representative of the Church.  If he will no longer be a pastor, then he does not need to meet the Scriptural qualifications of a pastor.

However, what if this pastor did not start looking for a private vocation?  What if instead, he began to use the remaining power of his pastoral office (connections, colleagues, church staff, and a large audience) to attempt to falsely discredit the victim and/or her family?  That would be another abuse of the power of the pastoral office.  A pastor who did that instead of repenting, would be compounding his sin.  He would be demonstrating, that even if he had understood his sexual sins, he clearly did not understand his abuse of the pastoral office to commit those sins nor his abuse of the pastoral office to continue sinning against the victim and/or her family.

The pastoral office can wield tremendous social power.  That is why the men in that office should never abuse that power.  When it comes to abuse of the pastoral office, they must be blameless, or they cannot be a pastor.  If a WELS pastor has abused the pastoral office, then he has abused a public trust, and he should not be quietly transferred to another congregation.  The Church needs to be able to trust all her pastors.  And the Synod needs to be able to trust that certain leaders are not just covering up for their friends.  When it comes to conflicts of interest and covering for its friends, parts of the WELS leadership need a lot more transparency and honesty.

Pastor’s AK-47 Sermon Prop

WELS logoRecently, a WELS pastor used an assault rifle as a sermon prop, specifically an AK-47.

The original Kalashnikov AK-47 was developed by the Russians during the Cold War, and came to be associated with the enemies of America and the West.  During the Vietnam War, it was the primary infantry weapon used by the North Vietnamese Army and The Vietcong.  (Vietnam War.net).  Although often associated with the Cold War, the AK-47 is still in widespread use today.  (GunClassics.com).  Because it is easy to produce and operate it is a favored weapon of many guerrilla and resistance groups, and is currently in use by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Recently, the U.S. Army fought against an insurgency in Iraq.  When a soldier serves in an area of insurgency, he must be on constant guard because he could be shot at anytime, anywhere, by anyone, even people dressed as civilians.  Over prolonged periods of time this can be very stressful, and often has a profound negative psychological effect.  Even after returning home, when in public, many combat veterans still prefer to keep their backs to a wall as protection.

Therefore, under such circumstances, one can imagine how veterans of a recent insurgency war like Afghanistan or Iraq might feel when they see the preferred weapon of their enemy.  I can imagine that they would be made to feel at a minimum profoundly uncomfortable.  In fact, a veteran of the Iraq War complained about the sermon prop, and said the AK-47 made him uncomfortable and that it was an improper prop to use in a sermon.

The sermon took place at a WELS congregation that calls itself (among other things) “922 Church.”   922 refers to 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”  According to their website

being “all things to all people” means the following:

•  offering a variety of worship opportunities each week all grounded on the truth of God’s Word but different in style—some using the traditional Lutheran Liturgy, others being modern traditional, and still others that are non-traditional.  We believe this variety is essential so that we can reach more people.  Different worship styles “speak” to people differently, so our members and guests are able to pick the form of worship that is most meaningful to them so that they’re motivated to live their lives for the Lord.

•  using technology and the visual arts in worship and beyond

What purpose does an AK-47 have in a sermon?  An assault rifle does not deliver the forgiveness of sins, nor does it render unto God a sacrifice of praise.  After the service, what were people talking about?  Jesus?  Sin?  Forgiveness?  Or the fact that the pastor had a gun in church?  And not just a gun, but a big gun?  And a notorious gun?  But that is just the point.  From the perspective of the church Growth Movement, getting people excited about “church” is what is important.  “Becoming all things to all people” is about giving the customers what they want, and bringing them back for more.  And if a big notorious gun will serve to get people excited and talking and coming, then it served its purpose.

However, a gun is not God’s word.  God has promised to come to us in word and sacrament.  Do we trust God’s promises and means?  Or do we trust in the “wisdom” of men?

It is not wrong to use a prop in a sermon.  But what is the wisdom supporting the prop?  Is it the hidden wisdom of God hidden in word and sacrament?  (1 Corinthians 2:7).  Or is it the wisdom of men that seeks attention and earthly glory?

Prayers for the WELS 2013 Convention

WELS logoThe Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod 2013 convention is being held this week in New Ulm, Minnesota.  Please pray for our brothers in the faith.

One of the major issues for the convention is the need of a new Bible translation.  Earlier this year, President Schroeder shared his thoughts on the translation issue in a paper entitled: “My Thoughts on the Translation Issue.”  President Schroeder’s thoughts are well worth reading.

May the Lord bless this convention with wisdom, truth, and brotherly love.

Almighty God and Lord, grant the delegates in New Ulm Your presence.  Enlighten and guide them by Your Word that in all matters of deliberation they may always consider the best interests of Your Church.  Let Your Holy Spirit rule and direct their hearts that, in the spirit of Christian love, they may present and discuss matters truthfully and be kindly disposed toward one another, to the end that all they say and do may please You; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

(The above indented prayer is a paraphrase of “To open a congregational meeting” from Lutheran Service Book, 307).