Academic journal article Church History

Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict That Changed American Christianity

Academic journal article Church History

Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict That Changed American Christianity

Article excerpt

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In chronological order, with chapters on periods 1938-1965, 1965-1969, 1969-1974, and 1974-1981, James C. Burkee gives his readers an inside, up-close-and-personal look at the conservative-moderate split in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod (LCMS). I was looking forward to this read because I had an up-close-and-personal look at this split of my own during the nine years in the late 1980s and 1990s that I was a member of the Theology Department faculty at Valparaiso University, which served in many ways as a safe haven for Missouri-Synod moderates. Some of the Valparaiso colleagues that I respected and came to love wore scars not fully healed, and they spoke sadly and sometimes bitterly of what became of "the seminary," their mentors, and friends during the internecine battles that led to the departure of moderate intellectuals and clergy, some forced out, and the establishment of Concordia Seminary in Exile, or "Seminex," by dismissed "liberal" Concordia faculty.

Burkee's book is momentous in that it is the first time that a scholar has had access to myriad personal papers and records from that period in Missouri-Synod history--especially correspondence from J. A. O. Preus, the Synod president who orchestrated the fundamentalist take-over of the Synod--and has conducted long personal interviews of key players--especially Herman Otten, editor of the infamous conservative newsletter, Christian News ; Waldo Werning, close confident of Preus and a key conservative strategist; and Ralph Bohlmann, Preus's successor to the Synod Presidency in 1981.

The story is, in general, one of a moderate, inclusive ethnic denomination--then the eighth largest denomination in the U.S.--torn apart by conservative activism. Today the LCMS is solidly in the Religious Right wing of American religion, conservative theologically, socially, and politically, almost devoid of diversity on any of those scores. …

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