Archive for February, 2012
LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison spoke in defense of religion and conscience before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in a Capitol Hill hearing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Feb. 16.
Expressing concern over the Jan. 20 U.S. Health and Human Services ruling regarding health-insurance plans and the recently required coverage of contraceptives, Harrison said, “We confess there are two realms: the church and state. They shouldn’t be mixed. The church is governed by the Word of God, the state by natural law and reason, the Constitution.”
Harrison was accompanied to the nation’s Capitol by the Rev. John T. Pless, who teaches theological ethics and is an assistant professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., as well as Ann Stillman, vice-president and general counsel for Concordia Plan Services (the Synod’s health plan for church workers).
On Friday, Feb. 10, the Obama administration revised the initial health-care ruling, allowing exemptions for non-profit religious organizations. Still, Harrison said, “Religious people determine what violates their consciences, not the federal government. “Along with other religious leaders — the Most Reverend William E. Lori of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Dr. C. Ben Mitchell of Union University, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University and Dr. Craig Mitchell of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary — Harrison denounced the violations of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience caused by the ruling.
“While we are opposed in principle — not to all forms of birth control, but only abortion-causing drugs,” Harrison said, “we stand with our friends in the Catholic Church and all others, Christians and non-Christians, under the free exercise and conscience provisions of the U.S. Constitution.”
“The conscience is a sacred thing,” he said. “To paraphrase Martin Luther, the heart and conscience has room only for God, not for God and the federal government.”
Harrison also outlined America’s historic tradition of uplifting and maintaining religious freedom. “I’ve traveled all over the world, to 40 or 50 countries or more,” he said. “Every time I return home, I want to kiss the ground because of the blessings we enjoy in this country. I will stand personally for … the rights of every single person. I will give my sons … up to fight for this country and sacrifice everything I have for the sake of guaranteeing the rights of every single citizen in this country.”
Congressman Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) thanked Harrison for his passion on the topic, noting, “Martin Luther would appreciate your intensity.”
Harrison also fielded questions from the committee. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.) asked for clarification regarding the church’s participation in the government’s health-care mandate. “The government spends your tax dollars involuntarily,” he said, “but you recognize that’s separate from telling you, you must take part in it directly.”
“It’s been said that Caesar must be given no less than what is Caesar’s, but no more, either,” Harrison responded. “We participate by paying our taxes, in every aspect of society. We participate communally, etc. But this provision is draconian in that it invades the realm of our conscience.”
After noting the church’s concerns regarding the recent health-care mandate and its violation of conscience, Harrison also urged prayers on behalf of President Obama, concluding, “I stand at an altar regularly to administer the Sacrament. In the prayers of the church, I pray regularly for the president and the well-being of the nation. … Luther bids us in the Catechism to defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.”
To read Harrison’s statement and watch videos of the LCMS president speaking before the House committee, click here.
To read a related Reporter story, click here.
Adriane Dorr is managing editor of The Lutheran Witness.
Posted Feb. 16, 2012
LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison will take part in a Capitol Hill hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington, D. C., on Thursday, Feb. 16. The hearing will focus on the issues of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience in relation to the Obama administration’s recent health-care ruling regarding contraceptives.
The panel also will include Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist and Jewish leaders.
The Rev. John T. Pless, who teaches theological ethics and is an assistant professor of Pastoral Ministry and missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, and Ann Stillman, vice-president and general counsel for Concordia Plan Services (the LCMS’ church workers’ health plan), will accompany Harrison to the nation’s Capitol.
On Tuesday, Feb. 14, Harrison also released a statement in response to President Obama’s Friday, Feb. 10, revision of the initial health-care ruling–one that required religious organizations to cover the cost of contraceptives (including abortive drugs)–calling the modification simply a “temporary enforcement delay.”
The original Jan. 20 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announcement required that health insurance plans “cover preventive services for women including recommended contraceptive services.”
But on Friday, after a public outcry concerning a violation of religious rights and rights of consciences, President Obama appeared to offer an “accommodation,” saying that non-profit religious organizations will no longer be required to include contraceptives in their health insurance plans. Coverage of contraceptives, however, would still be available through the insurance providers themselves.
“We see President Obama’s action Friday as significant,” said Harrison, but “the ‘accommodation’ did not expand the exemption for religious employers, nor did it restrict the mandate in any way.”
“We remain opposed to this mandate because it runs counter to the biblical truth of the sanctity of human life,” Harrison noted. “We can no longer expect a favored position for Christianity in this country. But we can, as citizens of this great nation, fight for constitutional sanity against secularizing forces.”
Harrison also encouraged members of the LCMS to “pray for and support our government” while reminding them that “our consciences and lives belong to God.”
James F. Sanft, president and CEO of Concordia Plan Services, praised Harrison for taking a strong stand on the issue, noting that the administration’s mandate has far-reaching implications for the Church.
“We strongly support President Harrison’s statement on behalf of the LCMS,” said Sanft. “The issues here go well beyond the Concordia Health Plan and our ability to serve our members in a manner consistent with our Lutheran doctrine.”
“This is, first, an issue of religious freedom and the First Amendment,” he said, “and second, an issue of life, as drugs that result in abortions are being defined as ‘contraceptives.'”
The Washington, D.C., hearing, which will begin at 9:30 a.m. EST, can be streamed live at the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s website.
Adriane Dorr is managing editor of The Lutheran Witness.
Posted Feb. 15, 2012
Prepared by the Division of News & Information, LCMS Communications
In Jacmel, Haiti, President Robert Bugbee of the Lutheran Church Canada (LCC) and President Marky Kessa of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti (ELCH) stand in front of a medical clinic donated to the ELCH by LCMS World Relief and Human Care after the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and severely damaged Jacmel and also Leogane.
Two years after the earthquake, this historic street in Jacmel is still badly damaged. This was a section of town with some of the oldest buildings dating to the time of the French occupation in the late 18th century.
A United Nations tent city still remains in Jacmel. Two years ago when I visited the tent city in Jacmel, Canada United Nations forces provided security for the earthquake survivors. In a blogpost, I wrote:
“The children being children made toys from discarded bicycle tire rims and a stick. A few other children made kites from scraps of plastic wrap or bags and a few sticks. The kite string was dental foss. In the midst of the disaster, the children can still play.”
Today, the children still play and there has been improvement to the city of Jacmel… Not to mention the completion of two Lutheran Villages.
Pastor Willy Gaspar and Ulna, the manager of the medical clinic in Jacmel, look over a list of needed medications.
Dr. Collver stands with Sydney Kessa in front of the Lutheran Guest House in Jacmel. A couple of short term teams from the LCMS stayed in the guest house this past month as they volunteered in Haiti.
Driving back from Jacmel to Port-au-Prince, a several hour drive through the mountains, we saw evidence of the challenges which beset Haiti. The problems and challenges of Haiti were only exacerbated by the earthquake. Nearly every SUV type vehicle was branded with the logo of one of the ten thousand non-governmental organizations (NGO) that operate in Haiti. Yet unbridled charity from the United States and other countries will not solve these problems.
On the way back to the hotel in Port-au-Prince, we drove past the collapsed presidential palace so that President Bugbee could see it. Our Haitian driver mentioned that every American wants to see the collapsed palace. I asked him, “Do you think it will be repaired?” He responded, “They will try to do something. This is our 9/11.”
President Bugbee reflecting on the trip remarked, “When we think of the sorrow and other human tragedies brought on by the earthquake here, I can’t help but think of that mighty refrain from Psalm 46, ‘The Lord of hosts is with us.’ In the middle of all their sorrow, our friends n Haiti are finding that He is with them in a big way in the faithful preaching of the Gospel. I can only hope that the Missouri Synod and the LCC can be the Lord’s instruments to deepen these wonderful people in their commitment to Christ, His Word, and our Lutheran Confession.”
— Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations
– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” (Ps. 111:10).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Many throughout the Synod have expressed great concern for the future of campus ministry. I want to update you briefly concerning the plans underway through the Office of National Mission (ONM) to increase Synod support for that ministry.
At the beginning of this year, the ONM hosted a Think Tank on Campus Ministry made up of campus pastors, workers and other invested parties from throughout The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. By every standard, the meeting was a great success. I was deeply impressed with the passion and dedication of everyone involved in campus ministry. These individuals and the countless others whom they represent are intensely dedicated to campus ministry. They deserve our thanks for all that they have done to support this important work, especially since the Synod’s Campus Ministry Office was closed in 2002.
Over the two days together, we were able to develop an understanding of the purposes, unique needs and support required for the ongoing work of campus ministry. While there are many things to work out, it is clear that the Synod once again needs to provide direct coordination and support.
In order to build on this consensus and chart a common path forward, President Matthew C. Harrison and I have requested a follow-up meeting with representatives from each of the four main groups involved in Synod campus ministry circles: Christ on Campus (Higher Things), International Student Ministry, Lutheran Campus Mission Association and Lutheran Student Fellowship. That meeting will hopefully take place in March and will provide us with direction as we move forward.
There is a fifth critical partner in campus ministry: districts of the Synod. Many districts continue to work and fund campus ministry despite diminishing congregational support. Another important task for the ONM will be to coordinate closely with districts who are involved in campus ministry. Working together we can accomplish all that our Lord has given us to do.
At the same time, the committee tasked to put on a national campus ministry conference is hard at work. In the past, such conferences provided opportunities for students and staff to get to know one another and engage in dialogue about topics facing our young people on campus and worship the triune God they proclaim together. I am confident that this conference will accomplish all that and more.
The efforts of all of these devoted individuals represent a rekindling of our Synod’s desire to make campus mission and ministry a substantial part of the Synod’s future. Among the many things learned at our January meeting is the truth that campus ministry is not just an essential part of the Church’s mission, but it is also one of the most strategic mission and ministry outposts that we have today. We are in a unique moment in time. The need and opportunity to be present on our college campuses is greater than ever. It is time for the LCMS to be a leader in campus ministry.
We still have work to do. As we move forward together, I am heartbroken to hear that even more LCMS campus ministry properties are being put up for sale. The actions to sell these facilities are sending mixed messages to those who work in campus mission and ministry as a labor of love. Our campus pastors, workers and volunteers are growing discouraged, and the college students they seek to serve are dismayed to hear these reports.
I beseech these districts’ Boards of Directors, the congregations and pastors of the districts and others who may be considering similar action to collaborate in researching other alternatives. While I recognize that there may be a time for the sale of campus ministry properties, the sweeping nature of that which is taking place is simply unprecedented. The sale of these properties in such prime locations is irreversible and will greatly diminish the Synod’s presence on these college campuses. We as the Church can’t support campus ministry while at the same time defunding our campus ministries or selling their facilities.
Please, let us slow down and find solutions together. I challenge all of our congregations and pastors in every district to consider how we might, by the mercy of God, work together to increase our support for Word and Sacrament campus ministry. Yes, we know these are challenging times financially. Yet the time our young people spend on campus provides a golden opportunity to help strengthen them in the faith of our Lord, Jesus Christ, an opportunity we must not allow to slip through our fingers.
May God grant us the foresight equal to those who have gone before us who built these campus ministry facilities for the sake of the spiritual needs of our Lutheran college students and for reaching the lost on the secular universities of our nation.
It is clear that campus ministry in our Synod is at a crossroads. The opportunities are as great as ever. Please know that we are doing everything we can to support campus ministry going forward. We are more committed than ever to support campus ministry through the ONM and to do so as soon as possible.
While we work toward this end, please continue to join all of us in praying for those who labor in campus ministry and especially those dear ones whose souls we desire to seek and save. May God, the source of every good and perfect gift, grant us a full measure of wisdom as we deliberate on the future of campus ministry in the LCMS.
Rev. J. Bart Day
Executive Director of National Mission