Shameless plug for a teammate

radio towerThere 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.

FSLO 1179611990 111990What 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.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • frunkis69

    Why always bring up O&A & if the catholic church can forget about it, and play nice why cant you??


  • Liz B.

    I assume this is meant to be an opinion piece? I wasn’t sure. (That’s an honest question, I don’t read the WSJ.) Otherwise Molly’s bias is pretty blatant in the article. ;) In fact I’d say the characterization of Kieschnick & Co. here is about as even-handed as the portrayal of more traditional Christians typically is in the media… :)

    Sounds like a fascinating show, though, I wish I’d caught it before it was canceled!

  • Jordan

    Um, yes, Liz, it’s an opinion piece. That’s why it’s in the “Houses of worship” section instead of the front page.

  • Liz B.

    Well, as I explicitly said, I don’t read the WSJ, so “Houses of Worship” could be a reporting section on religion for all I know. Some newspapers do include non-opinion pieces on pages other than A1. (Sheesh.) I even briefly clicked around the website to see if I could figure it out but couldn’t find a section with that name. Anyway…. the multiple smiley faces were meant to indicate that obviously I did assume it was a column of some sort, and therefore the tone appropriate. :) I think it’s pretty cool to have someone who actually knows one synod from another writing about these things in the national press, opinion or otherwise. God knows I could never keep them straight even as a practicing Lutheran for many years (something in my brain insists on transposing Wisconsin and Missouri), I don’t know how non-religion-specific reporters would be able to… :)

  • Jerry

    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.

    I expect that from the Chinese when dealing with people objecting to their occupation of Tibet but I did not expect it to happen here.

  • Mollie

    Liz B.,

    As noted, the Houses of Worship column runs as an editorial. However, the WSJ is known for running opinion pieces in that section that emphasize original reporting over punditry.

    While I am a confessional Lutheran and have never disguised that fact, I did my best to use facts — and recent ones, at that — to fairly characterize the methods and arguments of all those in my church body who are affected by this surprising move.

    In fact, even though I gave the Synod well over a week to explain their reasoning to me, and gave them full information on my deadlines, they waited until a few hours after I had filed the story to release their expanded explanation. And what’s more — they didn’t even tell me they had released this expanded explanation.

    While I was deeply disappointed in their lack of professionalism, I managed to completely change my piece around (which had a major focus on their lack of response) to include their explanation.

    There is much, much, much more I could have put in the piece — and while I was trying to paint an accurate picture of what’s going on in my church body right now, I did my best to restrain myself to the relevant facts.

    For instance, rather than cherry pick the worst example of the Ablaze program, I merely took their most recent example they had posted on their own web site (the waitress conversation). I quoted Kieschnick from his most recent article (March 2008) in Synodical publications, etc. I didn’t go digging for some of the more egregious stuff.

    Anyway, please feel free to let me know if you have a specific complaint about the piece rather than a general charge of bias.

    Of course, as I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, I am a proud confessional Lutheran and was trying to defend confessional Lutherans against the current systematic attack we are under.

  • williex2

    oh, my goodness…… the lcms coming under the control of the looney-left? i left the lcms, the church of my childhood and formative years, when it come under attack from the looney-right…….tsk…..tsk…….tsk…..what can i say??

  • Marc

    Molly, God bless you for bringing this huge story to the broader public. Who would have thought that the LCMS would follow the cruel tactics of the ECUSA into apostacy? Kyrie Eleison!

  • Julia

    As an opinion piece this was fine. It was informative and also obvious which side the writer was on. But she wasn’t pretending to be otherwise. It’s when a writer is falsely pretending to be neutral that there’s a problem.

    Alerted to this story, a reader can now go and find what the other guys are saying.

    Slightly off topic:
    As a loyal listener of KFUO FM, I’d like to give kudos to the #1 Classical Radio Station in the entire US of A. I hope there won’t be a change in programming there as well. Even if marketing is uppermost now, please no change from Beethoven’s 9th to a 24/7 praise band format to attract seekers!!! Are they going to cancel Bach at the Sem?

  • Jimmy Mac

    The leadership of the LCMS has delusions of being the Roman Curia.

  • Bob Hunter

    That was a fantastic article, Molly, and clearly outlined the real problem that is plaguing the LCMS, namely the infiltration of the seeker-sensitive/pop-culture philosophy. I joined the LCMS partly to escape that nonsense and now it’s trying to make its way in, with the LCMS president’s blessing.

  • Shane Rosenthal

    FYI, Michael Horton recently spoke with Mollie Hemingway about her WSJ article concerning the Issues, Etc. cancellation, and you can listen to the interview at:

    Shane Rosenthal
    Producer, The White Horse Inn

  • Liz B.


    Bias was not the right word– maybe “point of view” is more fair. (I did intend my comment to be light-hearted, but I suppose a couple smiley faces is not enough when potentially talking about actual bias.) I didn’t mean to imply that you were twisting or misrepresenting the situation (that would be bias), I just thought it was really, really clear which side you sympathized with as you described both sides. Which is absolutely fair, it just made me laugh a little because it was so obvious, which was all my comment was meant to express.

    Since you asked about what I meant specifically, it was mostly things like your description of one side of the divide as “those enamored with the latest religious fads”– I think that to start makes it pretty obvious which side you sympathize with! I could easily imagine an article written by a different author that described the conflict as one between, I don’t know, “those wedded to outdated approaches and traditions” versus “those who choose to proactively reach out beyond the narrow boundaries of tradition to the diverse population of postmodern America”, or some nonsense like that. :) At any rate, it would sound quite different.

    Other concrete examples might be your description of the other side’s actions as “accomodating” postmodern culture rather than “engaging” it (common word of choice in some of those circles). I also think your description of the Purpose Driven Church movement (“[it] reorients the church’s message toward self-help and self-improvement”) is one perspective on that movement but not necessarily the way they would self-describe; Rick Warren explictly says his book is “not a self-help book”. Not arguing about whether that’s accurate here, of course!

    (In fact I think it was the contrast between your description of these folks and how they’d probably self-describe that made me joke that it reminded me of how outsiders sometimes describe/treat more wacky conservative Christians. You know, they might describe some homeschooling mother as wanting to isolate her kids from evil modern society and she might describe herself as parenting her children appropriately so they will be able to eventually impact that society… or whatever, that’s not really the best example, but maybe you know what I mean.)

    At any rate, I assume your descriptive choices were intentional, since this was in fact an opinion piece. All I was really saying was that it was in fact opinionated. :)

  • Mollie

    Thanks, Liz B.

    You’re not the first reader to wonder whether my piece was opinion or not. I think part of the problem is that many opinion pieces don’t include much original reporting, so it’s hard to identify whether a reported piece is opinion or not.

    I’m writing a post now about an article a reader pointed out to me and the slant is clear from the get go. I was thinking, “I wouldn’t even write this way in an opinion piece!”

    So I can see where it can be confusing to distinguish between the two.

  • Liz B.

    Right, that was exactly what I was thinking– gosh, this sounds like an opinion piece, and I pretty much assume that’s the context, but there’s so much actual information here too! :)

  • MJBubba

    Ms. Mollie Z.H.!
    Thank you very much, and many thanks to the Wall Street Journal for the article. I am another unhappy LCMS fan of the cancelled Issues, Etc., and I live a five-hour drive from their broadcast area. I was delighted to see your piece in the WSJ.
    Interestingly, right above Mollie’s article, the WSJ ran a piece celebrating ten years of the page that focuses on cultural issues, including their “Houses of Worship” series. I really enjoy the series and read it most weeks, and many of those articles mix opinion and reporting, since it is very common for the author to need to explain some background for the benefit of nonmembers of the denomination being discussed. Mollie’s article was the first press coverage of this event I have seen, but I had heard about it via e-mail from church friends.
    The Issues, Etc. website had a rich trove of editorials, articles, and Bible studies posted. There is no good reason for KFUO to take all of those helpful resources down, and it betrays their motives that they did so.

  • Emergent Theology

    Thanks for this post! I found it helpful.

  • M. Pape

    As an LCMS Lutheran who generally sympathizes with both sides in this political fight (yes, it’s possible), I’m constantly amazed by our attempts to forcibly remove the miles and miles of common ground we have. This sudden and seemingly arbitrary decision to cancel Issues, Etc., and the ridiculous statements made in the wake of the decision by LCMS leadership reek of posturing and politics. I guess the debate is over, and whoever wins the offices gets to spend the money in whatever manner they want.

    This is a war that does not need to be. But I get the feeling that both sides think that if they lay down their weapons, the other side will win. This makes me sad.

  • Ken Humphrey

    Mollie- cudos on a great article. Are you going to respond to Kieschnick’s letter to the WSJ, where he, in so many words, called you a liar? Secondarily, did he try to contact you before writing this letter?

  • Mollie

    Thanks, Ken.

    I’m not sure much of a response is needed. It just repeated the same, already-discredited numbers issued by the Synod’s PR department.

    He did seem to be a bit upset with me as well as the listeners of Issues, Etc.

    If I were his adviser, I would have cautioned that he handle things differently.

    Anyway, he didn’t contact me before he wrote the letter. I wrote to him on Friday inviting him to let me know if he had any comments or questions. He didn’t take me up on it. However, I don’t feel responding in the way he did is wrong. I mean, what I wrote was public and he has every right to publicly respond. His facts are wrong, but that’s another issue entirely.

    Thanks for the kind words, however.

  • Mollie

    Here’s a good link that puts Pres. Kieschnick’s letter in context:

  • Mike Gridley

    Just want to echo the objections of others.

    It seems a bit hypocritical for a journalist who works for a blog which tries to show media bias in reporting on religion to assume that the cancellation of this excellent program was due to a growing anti-confessional current in the LC-MS.

    That there is such a current cannot be denied but there doesn’t appear to be any evidence to connect the dots here, just Mollie’s rather inflammatory say-so.

    It would be better, until it can be proven that this was the case, to accept the reasons given; i.e. the show didn’t have enough listeners, it was cost-inefficient.

    As for finding out if the Evil Dr. Kieschnick did in fact have the show quashed, Perhaps Mollie could oblige us by doing the investigation herself. Surely she has contacts in Kirkwood, and if nothing else, she could regale us with tales of being stonewalled, turned back, met with in dark parking structures by men with last names which rhyme with “Joyce”, etc.

    All kidding aside, even in an opinion piece it’s okay to not suggest conspiracy, especially, again, for someone who writes here.

  • Bob Hunter

    Mike, note that the article said “in all likelihood” it was a pawn, and as more information is emerging on various websites I think Mollie’s suspicions are being confirmed.

  • Ken Humphrey

    Hi Mollie- The reason I asked about whether you had been contacted directly was that I was curious if Synodical Resolution 8-01a had been followed by its champion. But, as someone at the Wittenberg Trail snarkily put it, “that’s for the little people to follow.” Thanks again for your work

  • BlackPhi

    The Issues, Etc archive is available now on the KFUO website, at

    There’s also an “An updated statement on Issues, Etc” on the LCMS website, which I can’t link to for some reason but is at This statement paints a substantially different picture from “the show’s popularity, low cost and loyal donor base” stated in the article: quoting a quarter of a million dollars a year deficit, a broadcast audience of around 1650, and a streaming Internet audience averaging 64.

    Presumably this is based on the letter referred to in Ken Humphrey’s post #19 above?

  • Mike Gridley

    Ooh, more information is coming in from the intarwebs?


    It must be true.

    Look, I am as confessional a Lutheran as anyone else but this constant assumption that there is a vast namby-pamby conspiracy afoot in synod is getting way out of hand.

    I’m an Occam’s Razor kind of guy, it is far more likely that the IE show was just too substantial and serious and dealt too directly with too many important issues to be taken seriously enough to survive in our culture.

    I am far more inclined to suspect a more general and increasing attrition among lay Lutherans to the constant grind of shallow “evangelicalism” than to any directed effort on the part of Pope K to shut IE down.

    It just didn’t sell. This is an indictment of American Lutheranism, but not necessarily of the President of the Synod however much he may be in ideological agreement with the culture that rendered IE “unviable”.

    I sincerely hope I am not wrong, there is far more at stake here than my opinion.

  • Mollie

    I think that disagreeing with me that there is disagreement is, on its face, a losing proposition.

  • MJBubba

    Mike Gridley (#22), you are probably right. A three-hour talk show with the level of vocabulary and assumed literacy in history and theology that was basic to “Issues, Etc.” is never going to attract a large audience in America.

  • Ken L.

    I would suggest looking at some of the posts at:

    Many people (Lutheran and otherwise) seemed to enjoy the program, a number of people became Christians as a result of this, so I don’t think the intellectual level was too high. Regarding costs, I thought Issues, Etc. was supposed to be an outreach effort, not turn a profit