There’s a scene in the film Michael Clayton where the titular character (played by George Clooney) tells his mentally ill law partner who has committed an act of indecent exposure that he’s “making it easy for” their firm to take away all the things that he’s worked for. Those are words I think about when I consider the actions of the LCMS Minnesota South to sell the property where the University Lutheran Chapel worships on the campus of the University of Minnesota. Whether it’s good or not, the district’s action to dismiss the congregation entirely is going to make it easy for some already disgruntled LCMS members to walk out the door.
For the record, I’m a sensitive to this issue. I know many people who left the LCMS, because they don’t feel it’s right to baptize their kids or feel like they’ve mastered the church’s doctrine. I know there will be people who leave this church body, and tell the story of a greedy district selling the property of a vibrant congregation as a catalyst.
To be fair, I’ve only heard one side of this story, but only because MN South District President Lane Seitz has hidden behind a veil of silence. He and his colleagues claim legalities have mandated their silence, but I wonder if the real reason is shame. Let’s say selling ULC is good for the district. Why are they not bringing the congregation into the discussion and have their meetings behind closed doors? As district officials, I know they must have been involved in overseeing a number of congregational fights, and congregations that have closed. They should know the kind of pain they’re causing these people.
Then there are the differences in theology and practice between the two parties. Minnesota South praises full-blown church growth tactics, and ULC uses rigorous traditional liturgy. Nobody wants to talk about stuff like this, but one can’t have a discussion about a progressive district selling the property of a traditional congregation without talking about it. If the progressive district has a conservative campus ministry teaching college students the value of liturgy above mainstream worship, it looks bad for the district. What are they supposed to say, that ULC sets its own agenda?
I wonder if President Seitz and his colleagues grew up loving the traditional liturgy themselves. Then they got into a congregation, and, in the face of dwindling numbers, decided to change styles to attract a greater number of people. While that may have been the choice they made then, who are these men to look at ULC and take away their building, when ULC has a vibrant, active congregation that is full every Sunday and isn’t a financial burden on the district? Are they secretly ashamed because ULC committed to teaching and maintaining the liturgy among its members, and they didn’t? I can’t believe that doesn’t play a factor. Jesus told the disciples not to stop a man who was casting out demons in his name because he just wasn’t one of them; I think that scripture also applies here.
But again, this just goes back to the laity. The laity will see this as another church fight and wonder how the district can just callously close a healthy congregation. They walk out the door, and we get the church body we deserve.