There is a really, really interesting story developing out there in the world of the Protestant mainline, over on the right side of Lutheran Land. Here is the top of the feature story on this that ran today in the ongoing Wall Street Journal feature called "Houses of Worship."
Usually radio hosts have to offend sacred moral sensibilities to be thrown off the air. Opie and Anthony were fired after they encouraged a couple to have sex in St. Patrick's Cathedral. Don Imus lost his job after using racist and sexist epithets against the Rutgers University women's basketball team.
But when the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod canceled its popular, nationally syndicated radio program "Issues, Etc.," listeners were baffled. Billed as "talk radio for the thinking Christian," the show was known for its lively discussions analyzing cultural influences on the American church. It seemed like precisely the thing that the Missouri Synod, a 2.4-million-member denomination whose system of belief is firmly grounded in Scripture and an intellectually rigorous theology, would enthusiastically support.
Broadcast from the nation's oldest continuously run religious radio station, KFUO-AM in St. Louis, and syndicated throughout the country, "Issues, Etc." had an even larger audience world-wide, thanks to its podcast's devoted following. With 14 hours of fresh programming each week, the show was on the leading edge of what's happening in culture, politics and broader church life. The Rev. Todd Wilken interviewed the brightest lights from across the theological spectrum on news of the day. Guests included Oxford University's Dr. Alister McGrath, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's Albert Mohler and more postmodern types, like Tony Jones, national coordinator for a church network called Emergent Village.
On its last show, on March 17, listeners learned about the life and faith of St. Patrick; scientific and philosophical arguments in defense of the human embryo; the excommunication of two Roman Catholic women who claimed ordination; and the controversy surrounding the sermons of Barack Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright.
Despite the show's popularity, low cost and loyal donor base, Mr. Wilken and Jeff Schwarz, the producer of "Issues, Etc.," were dismissed without explanation on Tuesday of Holy Week.
In the age of the WWW, you can imagine what happened next -- especially when all signs that the show ever existed, including the online archives -- completely vanished. There was an intense digital firestorm out there among the listeners and other supporters in the pews.
This is especially interesting to me, since this was one of the only radio shows that I used to agree to appear on (for free) to talk about trends in religion news. It offered intelligent hosts and very fine listeners with good questions. It was worth the time and effort to hook up with them. It was not a shouting show.
What in the heck happened? The story continues:
The program was in all likelihood a pawn in a larger battle for the soul of the Missouri Synod. The church is divided between, on the one hand, traditional Lutherans known for their emphasis on sacraments, liturgical worship and the church's historic confessions and, on the other, those who have embraced pop-culture Christianity and a market-driven approach to church growth. The divide is well known to all confessional Christian denominations struggling to retain their traditional identity.
The Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, the synod's current president, has pushed church marketing over the Lutherans' historic confession of faith by repeatedly telling the laity, "This is not your grandfather's church."
Welcome to the worship wars and the post-denominational age. This is the kind of conflict that is quietly developing on the right, while the left draws more headlines battling over the creeds, salvation and, of course, sex.
Now, normally you would expect this kind of article to draw the attention of the Divine Mrs. MZ Hemingway, our resident GetReligionista expert on all things Lutheran. However, it would be awkward for MZ to blog about this article, since she wrote it.
Check it out. Something is happening over there on the right side of the Lutheran aisle.