Through an unprecedented, executive decision by LCMS Synod President Harrison, the newly-published “Luther’s Large Catechism with Annotations and Contemporary Applications” (LLCACA) was abruptly withdrawn from the market just days after its publication.
Harrison acted unilaterally in response to severe criticisms by the extreme right of the LCMS and “mobbing” negative reviews by pastors and laymen on Amazon.com, Gottesdiest.com, and other sites. They cited “Anti-whitism,” “Woke” theology, and support for Critical Race Theory in the LLCACA.
Harrison’s Facebook post reads in part, “…In light of the concerns raised, I have asked CPH to cease distribution of the new annotated Large Catechism. This will allow us time to evaluate the comments and critiques received and revisit our doctrinal review process, which is my responsibility….”
The publication has already vanished from CPH’s website, Amazon.com, and other retailers.
Full Doctrinal Review Responsibility
Surprisingly, these complaints came despite the full volume passing “doctrinal review” by Harrison as well as his glowing support in the Foreword of the volume.
LCMS Bylaws 1.9.2.a and Constitution Article XI B 1 state, “the primary responsibility for doctrinal supervision and review lies with the President of Synod.” All appointments to serve as a “Doctrinal Reviewer” are made by the President of Synod (Bylaw 1.9.2.a.2).
That means the Synod President appoints all pastors who serve as doctrinal reviewers. Harrison’s Facebook post acknowledges this reality. This is a problem he created and his problem to solve.
However, Harrison has more than a doctrinal problem to face. His decision will have financial consequences for a book that has already been published. Whose budget line item will pay for the expenses his decision creates? The President’s office? The CTCR? CPH?
Ultimately, no matter whose budget line item is charged, we all will pay.
Others Support the Doctrinal Review
While Harrison has responsibility for the doctrinal review of the Large Catechism, he is not alone in having done so. In addition, Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), which was given responsibility for producing the volume by Harrison, reviewed the full text of the book and gave their approval.
Does Harrison’s decision mean we can no longer trust the CTCR to publish a doctrinally sound, annotated Large Catechism? What about other documents they’ve produced?
Harrison’s decision casts a shadow on the good work of the CTCR and its members and staff.
Our Congregations — Our Synod is not alone in this opinion. Dr. John Pless of our Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, one of the editors of the volume, stated in comments on the ALPB website:
“The names of good people are being slandered by self-appointed watch dogs. Biggest lie being circulated is that the book did not go through doctrinal review. As a matter of fact it passed through three separate doctrinal review processes: (1) the whole CTCR; (2) the President’s Office; and (3) the standard doctrinal review process.” [Emphasis Added]
What could be the reason for such a well-supervised book to be pulled from publication? This doesn’t make sense, right?
And does President Harrison no longer believe his own remarks about this book in his Foreword?
“If we had but this volume alone, in addition to our precious inerrant Scriptures and the Book of Concord, we’d have reason to fall on our faces before God and sing a grateful Te Deum.”
It is enough to make everyone in the LCMS wonder what is behind this strange decision. Don’t we have bylaws that cover this situation?
Harrison Ignored Our Bylaws
There is a process outlined in LCMS Bylaws for doctrinal concerns voiced by members of the Synod to doctrinally approved materials. In fact, the bylaw is specific — and inflexible.
Bylaw 1.9.3 requires that all objections be “handled according to the procedure and criteria specified in Bylaw 188.8.131.52.2.” This bylaw requires the appointment of a three-member review committee, a 14-day response period, and a maximum of 45 days for a decision.
The bylaw procedure does not allow for a Synod President’s unilateral decision to withdraw publication period. Not based on Amazon.com reviews. And certainly, not based on wild assertions on Gottestdienst.com and other websites and videos.
We all must ask ourselves, why did President Harrison make this decision now? What could have caused him to change his mind from his glowing endorsement? Why did he ignore our Bylaws? Why cause a potential financial loss for Synod?
And why allow a fringe, far-right group claiming “anti-Whitism” and seeing CRT support in merely including the word “gender” in the text to sully the names of all the editors and authors, the CTCR, and doctrinal reviews?
Top-Down, Unilateral Decisions Hurt Everyone
President Harrison’s unilateral decision to halt the distribution of an annotated Large Catechism which has passed its doctrinal review hurts the LCMS. It shows that a vocal minority can influence the Synod President to bypass our Bylaws, the CTCR’s work, and that of trusted seminary professors who train our pastors.
Complaints of “anti-Whitism” by pastors and laymen of the LCMS will now become the news that colors all LCMS congregations. It harms our witness to the world of Christ Jesus’ love and Him crucified for all people.
The complaints against the LLCACA feature strained accusations of “woke-ism” in our confession, a denial of 2nd amendment rights, mobbing-style comments, and fear-mongering from some. Just read the comments and reviews on Twitter, FaceBook, and just about every article written about LLCACA.
Is that how Jesus commands us to act when He says, “love one another”?
We encourage President Harrison to stand up to these accusations, support the CTCR and his doctrinal reviewers, and follow our bylaws. That would be standing as the President for all of us in the LCMS. Harrison’s unilateral decision proves rumors, poor theological thinking, fear-mongering, and just plain bad acting can influence his office.
We need better leadership decisions from the Synod President’s office.
It’s Our Congregations. It’s Our Synod. We can’t allow an unfettered, extremist minority run the President’s office and control his decisions.