LCMS, ELS, WELS presidents offer papers at Emmaus Conference

The presidents of three American Lutheran synods offered papers at the Fifth Annual Emmaus Conference Feb. 9-10 at Parkland Lutheran Church and School in Tacoma, Wash. Parkland Lutheran Church is a member congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

 LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, Evangelical Lutheran Synod President Rev. John A. Molstad Jr. and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod President Rev. Mark Schroeder all offered presentations on the topic, “The History and Prospects of Lutheran Free Conferences.”

Harrison served as the lecturer for the Tacoma gathering; Molstad and Schroeder as “reactors” to Harrison’s presentation.

The conference marked the second time the three church executives met together to, in the words of conference organizers, “share information on a selected topic of interest to confessional Lutheranism in a setting outside the realm of church fellowship.”

Organizers added that “the conference is not to be viewed as having any official status of formal doctrinal discussions between church bodies.”

The organizers also expressed their desire that the gathering might lead to “the establishment of such official free conferences among confessional Lutheran church bodies in America.”

Harrison, Molstad and Schroeder also attended last year’s Emmaus Conference.

The idea of a “free conference” is not new, observed the Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, LCMS director of Church Relations — assistant to the president.

In 1856, the Rev. Dr. C.F.W. Walther, president of the Missouri Synod, first proposed the idea of free conferences to “bring together American Lutherans who unreservedly confessed the Augsburg Confession.”

The proposal was Walther’s “first major ecumenical effort,” Harrison noted in his presentation.

“The now-famous free conferences were proposed by Walther in Lehre und Wehre in 1856 and actually held during October 1856 at Columbus [Ohio], October 1857 at Pittsburgh [Pa.], August 1858 at Cleveland [Ohio]; and July 1859 at Fort Wayne [Ind.].”

Unfortunately, Walther was unable to attend the fourth free conference, Harrison said.

A large portion of Harrison’s presentation addressed the “historical trifecta” that threatened 19th-century Lutheranism: Reformed theology, Pietism and Rationalism. This “threefold battering ram,” was the impetus for the free conferences based upon the Augsburg Confession, Harrison explained.

Harrison concluded his paper with a statement by the Rev. F.C.D. Wyneken, who attended all four of the original conferences. “I offer it here as my deepest prayer and personal confession, as my deepest longing over against you who are my separated brethren,” Harrison said.

In part, Harrison noted, Wyneken said this:

Then why, beloved brothers, do we stand by one another? Why can’t we leave one another? It is because we cannot let go of the one truth that we, in fellowship with all the saints, have acknowledged, believe, and confess as it is in the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. These confessions bear witness to the truth clearly, plainly, and powerfully on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, against all the desires of Satan, to the whole world. …

Therefore, neither can we let go of the most insignificant portion of the Confession because the entire series of the individual teachings of the faith are for us one chain. This chain not only binds our understanding in the truth, it binds our consciences and lives. The loss of an individual part of the same would break this chain, and we would be torn loose from Christ, tumbling again into the abyss of anxiety, doubt and eternal death. Therefore we hold fast to our Confession, as to our very life’s life. [The full quotation may be found at the LCMS “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” blog,]

“While the early set of free conferences did not bring about the desired unity of doctrine sought by Walther, they did serve as a catalyst for a highly treasured blessing. A second set of Waltherian conferences [in the 1860s] led to the formation of the solidly confessional and endearing Synodical Conference of 1872,” Evangelical Lutheran Synod President Molstad said in response to Harrison’s presentation.

In his presentation, Wisconsin Synod President Schroeder thanked Harrison for his remarks and offered thanks to the members of the Missouri Synod for the many blessings that benefit “other Lutherans, even in those synods such as mine, which are not now in fellowship with the LCMS.”

Those who would claim the label “confessional” today have an “ongoing responsibility and opportunity to define carefully what that term means and what it means for the person and synod wanting to wear the label,” Schroeder said. “If free conferences and other discussions can help to clarify and solidify what it means to be truly confessional, then such discussions should take place with the prayer that God would use the power of His Word and the working of the Spirit to encourage faithfulness to the doctrines of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. It is only such faithfulness, confessed and practiced, that holds the promise of true unity and full fellowship. That is a noble and God-pleasing goal which all confessional Lutherans can strive to reach.”

“The conference attendees were greatly encouraged by President Harrison’s paper and the responses of Presidents Molstad and Schroeder,” Collver observed on the LCMS’ “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” blog.

“The emerging friendships developed and the clear confession of the Lutheran Confession at the Emmaus Conference is helping to overcome tensions that developed between the three Synods after the breakup of the Synodical Conference in the mid-20th century.”

Ultimately, Collver added, “every reformation of the Lord’s church, every reconciliation and restoration of relationships involves repentance and absolution. May the Lord grant repentance and His forgiveness to us.”

The provisional dates for the 2013 Emmaus Conference are April 11-12.

Posted Feb. 15, 2012 on LCMS Reporter

A Brief Catalog of Press Stories Regarding President Harrison's Testimony Before Congress on Religious Freedom

LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison’s February 16, 2012, testimony before Congress with representatives of the Roman Catholic, evangelical Christian, and Jewish on the threat to religious liberty posed by the contraception mandate recently promulgated by President Barack Obama’s Health and Human Services department has generated significant press coverage.

President Harrison testified in a hearing titled, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” 
President Harrison testified: “I’m here because there is a narrow but very significant provision in the HHS provisions that is, I believe, very dangerous to religious people with our kind of convictions — and it’s also dangerous to any religious people with unique convictions.”

Below is a brief catalog of press stories about President Harrison’s testimony before congress on religious freedom:

Saint Louis Post-Dispatch Story About President Harrison’s Congressional Testimony

Tim Townsend of the  Saint Louis Post-Dispatch wrote a story titled, “Lutheran leader sides with Catholics on contraceptives issue in fiery testimony.”

New York Times Coverage

The New York Times covered the event with a story titled, “Passions Flare as House Debates Birth Control Rule.” The NY Times writes quotes Harrison, “‘I pray for the president every day,’” Mr. Harrison said, even as he expressed ‘deep distress’ over the new policy and complained of ‘government intrusions into Christian conscience and practice.'”

Fox News Coverage
Fox News posted a story titled, “Contraception ruling: Democrats accuse clergy of complicity with GOP at hearing.” Fox News quoted President Harrison testifying, “While we are grandfathered under the very narrow provisions of the HHS policy, we are deeply concerned that our consciences may soon be martyred by a few strokes on the keyboard.”
CBS News Coverage

CBS News displayed its bias with a story titled, “Dems decry all-male House panel on WH contraception rule.” CBS News quoted President Harrison, “Religious people determine what violates their consciences — not the federal government. Please get the federal government, Mr. Chairman, out of our consciences.”

CNN Front Page Coverage

CNN posted a story on their front page titled, “Culture War 2.0: The New Front Lines.” CNN did not quote President Harrison.

Molly Hemingway wrote a clever-titled story, “A Lutheran, a Jew, a Baptist and a Catholic Walk Into A Hearing.” 
THOMAS MESSER, an LCMS pastor, wrote an op-ed piece, “Religious liberty on trial in America.”

Maggie Karner, LCMS Director of Life and Health Ministries wrote a piece titled, “Where the Women Were During the House Contraception Mandate Hearing,” for Christianity Today.

St. Louis Radio Host Interviews LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison on HHS Ruling

On Friday, Feb. 17, KMOX radio host Charlie Brennan interviewed LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison on his appearance before a House committee regarding the recent HHS mandate on health insurance and its mandatory coverage of contraceptives.

You can listen to the audio file of the eight-minute interview by clicking either here or here.

Right-click here to save MP3

President Harrison’s testimony before Congress can be seen here:

The LCMS Webpage also is maintaing up-to-date coverage at

— Posted by  Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations

Harrison defends freedoms before House committee

By Adriane Dorr

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 charrison-defends.gifonfess 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

Harrison to Speak before House Committee

By Adriane Dorr

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.'”

Harrison’s statement regarding Obama’s revision of the ruling can be read here. Harrison also released a video statement that can be seen here.

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

President Harrison Video on HHS Ruling


Download this video or watch President Harrison give live testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, on Thursday, February 16, 9:30 a.m. EST.