In the past few weeks, extreme-right pastors and laymen have been harming the LCMS with strained rumors that the newly-published of Luther’s Large Catechism with Annotations and Contemporary Applications (LLCACA) supported Critical Race Theory (CRT), a “woke” and LGBTQ+ agenda, unbiblical theology, and anti-whitism. Their outlandish complaints charge that even including women authors as essayists stands against God’s order of creation and is reason alone to denounce the book.
These claims, unfounded as they are according to President Harrison and others, have still reached into LCMS pews. They harm our witness to the world of Christ and Him crucified for sinners’ sake.
These false claims lead our layfolk astray. And the use of “mobbing” techniques on Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon.com, as well as blog posts, podcasts, and comments (you have to read both) on websites such as Gottesdienst.org, harms reputations and relationships.
One thing we can all learn from this: Leaders should never give in to mobbers. Extremists are never satisfied. They just entangle you in their dysfunction. Once you give in, they just demand more.
Let’s Start to Recover Now
It will take a long time to restore the reputations of the editors, authors and the CTCR who worked together to create LLCACA.
But we’ve got to start now.
The LCMS must begin to challenge our extremists with truth, love, and conversation. A mob riled up by tunnel-visioned commentary spewed into the echo chamber of social media can soon be dissipated by cooler heads, sweet reasoning, biblical confrontation, and good leadership.
That hasn’t happened yet — but it must. President Harrison gave in to a mob. He followed their knee-jerk reaction with his own. A good leader would take their concerns seriously, but not act as impulsively as the mob demanded.
Dysfunction Leaks to the Pew
Mob control in the LCMS is like an open fire hydrant without a shutoff valve. Everyone around gets wet, but not much good is accomplished. No fires are fought. The hydrant just keeps flowing uncontrolled until it runs out of water. Dysfunction drains everyone.
That happened here. Local laymen are confused — and abused. Reports of this disgraceful brouhaha even made it to the pages of Christianity Today.
A Florida pastor called up to relay this latest conversation with a parishioner.
“Pastor,” the man said, “I just heard this from a friend of mine from Indiana. Do you know you know anything about how the CTCR changed the words of Luther’s Large Catechism? They included all of this “woke” language and Critical Race Theory, and even socialism and Marxism. They’re even in favor of LGBTQ+ lifestyles! Our Large Catechism is now a socialist book defending socialism. And all this was snuck through without any theological review.”
The faithful pastor spent the next half-hour unpacking all these false rumors, pointing his parishioner to the original documents and wise statements about the newly-published Annotated Large Catechism.
He defended in particular the LLCACA editor, Rev. Prof. John Pless of the Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne. That’s where Pless serves as an Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions, the Director of Field Education, and the Editor of For the Life of the World. He is a member of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR). Pless was on the Agenda Committee for Lutheran Service Book. He also served as one of the primary drafters for the Synod’s revision of Martin Luther’s Catechism with Explanation (2017).
In other words, if you worship in the LCMS and teach from the latest Small Catechism edition, you are blessed by Pless and many other faithful men and women of Missouri.
The Mob Claims Are Extreme
Can anyone seriously believe that Prof. Pless (who we trust to train our pastors), the CTCR (who we trust to advise on our doctrine), and the President’s Office (who we trust, in the end, for doctrinal review of all publications) would let support for false doctrine slip through unnoticed?
And yet there are many calls for Pless’ removal from the Fort Wayne faculty. He has been personally maligned because this CTCR volume bears his name as an editor.
Is mobbing about wielding power and control? You bet. And it forgets about everything else — even our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Mob action burns everything in its path without care or control.
Unfortunately, this whole affair seems more about which group wields power and control in the LCMS than our partnership in the Gospel and our witness to the world. If it were about the latter, people wouldn’t have used mobbing tactics.
Good Leaders Don’t Submit to Mobs
Sadly, the conversation this Florida pastor related is happening all over the LCMS due to the mobbing criticisms of the LLCACA on Twitter, Facebook, and on various websites.
And even more sadly, the unwarranted ruckus happened because people listened to rumor with itching ears. After reading outlandish reviews and negative comments, pastors and layfolk complained before reading the book for themselves — or even asking if the rumors were true.
Some even revelled in this response. Approximately 47 minutes into a Gottesdienst Crowd podcast, one of the detractors, Pastor David Ramirez, revealed the mob reacted in ignorance before even reading the book.
“But, what I don’t like is people saying, “Everyone’s just freaking out. If they would actually just read the context and read the essay….” Wait a second. You’re telling me that the world and the devil is jamming all this crazy stuff down our throats 24/7, you know, in a whole host of avenues, and you’re telling me that I’m not allowed – or it’s disrespectful – or bad to actually say, “Hey, uh, this don’t smell right.”
Not exactly. Where there is true error, we should face it. But in the LCMS we face it as sisters and brothers — together. Mobbing can never be commended among Christians.
The LLCACA is an LCMS project which should be judged by our agreed norms – God’s Word and our Lutheran Confessions – and not the passions and angry voices of the mob. That’s what our LCMS Constitution and Bylaws require. And that’s what all of our pastors promised to use as their rule and norm in their ordination vows.
Our doctrine should not be subject to the misguided reactions of a mob to sentences taken out of context and interpreted with the filter of “this might / maybe / could somehow be read by someone who could possibly twist it to mean…” – and then have applied the worst possible construction on the conclusion.
And a level-headed review of a book should never lead to calls to remove John Pless from the Fort Wayne faculty. But that’s how mobs work, not Christ’s Church.
We Need a Level-Headed Leader
What level-headed pastors and layfolk across the Synod are saying is simple. We need a leader who doesn’t bow to mob pressure.
We have a clear bylaw process in the LCMS to deal with doctrinal objections to a published book (Bylaw 22.214.171.124.2). That’s not what happened here.
A mob was whipped up by extremist fears and then targeted the LLCACA using accusations of anti-whitism and support for LGBTQ+ theology, Marxist and Communist ideology, and CRT.
That it was mob action is reported by Ramirez in the same podcast mentioned above. He said he personally knew “dozens and dozens” of pastors who wrote to President Harrison, most never having read the LLCACA. They followed the lead of others based on false reports. You can read more about this in the article “The Mobbing of a President.”
Let’s Bless Pless and the CTCR
When will the reputations of John Pless and the CTCR members be restored? When will the perpetrators of rumor be confronted by our leaders and their ecclesiastical supervisors? When will the apologies for offending the message of Christ and leading layfolk astray begin to flow?
Our Congregations – Our Synod commends the Synodical President for finally heeding the wise counsel of cooler heads after earlier he gave in to extremists and suspended the LLCACA.
Admittedly, not everyone agrees with everything the CTCR produced in the past years. But don’t let those concerns stand in the way of doing the right, godly, and churchmanly thing.
Perhaps all of us should take a step back, get out notecards, and personally thank John Pless, the other authors and editors, and the CTCR for withstanding this unfounded attack on their integrity. We may not be in a position to restore their reputations officially. However, we can reach out to them in Christ’s love.
The actions of this mob harmed these brothers and sisters in Christ — and the LCMS.
It wasn’t just criticism. It wasn’t just opposing commentary. This was a mob targeting our fellow believers because they could. They tried to use mob power to influence and control. And our Synod leadership’s reaction gave them more power to control.
The Right Kind of Deflation
So let’s deflate the mobber’s puffed-up actions…with Jesus love, gentle confrontation, and the example of our own good conversation.
As Proverbs 25:21-22 teaches, perhaps doing so will “heap burning coals of shame on their head” and they will repent of their misguided words and actions – and be restored.
God’s Word and “speaking the truth in love” has a funny way of changing hearts.