I recently watched the Netflix series, The Keepers. For those, who, like myself, didn't know the subject matter, it is the investigative story of sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by a Catholic priest at an all-girl Catholic high school in Baltimore during the period of 1967-1975, and his possible connection to the still unsolved murder of one of the nuns who taught there.

The story is sobering, but what caught my attention most was the position of the diocese during it all. It is the story of ecclesiastical supervision failure. It is sobering to me because that is a part of the work which is given to district presidents, too. When pedophilia came to light in the Catholic Church some years ago, I was told there was a website which documented pedophilia cases in every Christian denomination. I clicked on the LCMS page and held my breath. Thankfully, there were not many, but even so, one is too many. Of course, when supervisors discover these, the fear on their part is the damage such "news" could create to the Church, the loss of confidence in (and enrollees at) their schools, and the overall embarrassment to the Christian faith. Nevertheless, as the Netflix series shows, those fears are nothing when compared to the damage which silence and denial caused. Had leadership responded after the first accusation, the lives of at least 40 women would have turned out differently.

I do appreciate a reasonable quandary in which we ecclesiastical supervisors find ourselves. What to do when only one incident exists? What to do when it is only a "he said/she said" matter with no corroboration? It is easy to look back on a situation and Monday morning quarterback. I believe we do well to have trained investigators at our disposal, for clergy are not normally trained for such inquiries. It would seem that the diocese involved acted dangerously after they had received the first report of pedophilia and then transferred the priest to teach at a nearby parochial high school!

If the allegation proves to be false, a professional's reputation and career is shot. If it proves to be true, a child's life is seriously damaged. No one wins in such situations. No monetary damage awarded can compensate in either case. But at least the Christian Church seems to have learned one lesson – covering up or glossing over such allegations is not the answer. We take these things seriously and are committed to following where the evidence leads. No matter the rationale, the source of all dishonesty and cover-up is, of course, the Father of Lies. Speaking less than the truth can never be the best policy in these matters.


"Pastor, that's just your opinion." Perhaps there is no more frustrating sentence to us pastors than that.  But before pastors become defensive or angry, we ought to take a short time out and reflect upon what we said that triggered that answer. It very well may be that what a pastor says is only his opinion. A good question to ask is, "Where is what I said found in Scripture?" If it is not found there, maybe what you said is just your opinion! A second question would be, "Is what I said just my interpretation of the Scripture?" Your interpretation may be correct, but in today's world, anyone can scour the internet to find interpretations of Scripture passages. You will have to explain why your interpretation makes more sense than others.

On the other hand, the parishioner's judgment may come from a different place. It may be a defensive comment meant to justify that person's belief or action taken on the strength of that belief. If you have said their idea or practice is wrong, most people, including yourself, will become defensive. For example, many of those who disagree with our position on homosexuality have family members who are homosexual. Sometimes questions to pastors come in innocent forms that cover a personal story. I found out years ago that sometimes the question, "What about infants who die before they are baptized?" was not just a question of doctrine. They had suffered a stillborn and were concerned. Needless to say, my rookie, doctrinal answer did not help! I learned to follow such a question with one myself, "Why do you ask?"

We can find ourselves in hot spots because our catechism instruction relies so much on what is called "proof texts." Sometimes they are fine, but in other cases, seeing the entire text in its context provides insights that correct misapplication. For instance, many popular passages quoted today ("I know the plans I have for you," etc.) were spoken to the nation Israel about its future and are not easily applied to us.

All of which is to say that pastoral practice is an art; the pastor's seminary training in this area is only a jumping off point. Much more will be learned through trial and error. Thanks be to God, we have Christ's Gospel promises to which we, too, can turn for forgiveness when it turns out that what we have said is only our opinion!


I'm writing these words from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, having been invited to be part of a team to teach marriage and family to three different geographical groups of Ethiopian pastors and church leaders.  It was humbling to hear pastors talk about the size of their congregations, and the size of their synods (districts). In contrast to our churches, the vast majority of their Sunday attendees are thirty years old and younger. New church starts are so numerous that in a few years they will go from some 29 synods to 34 or 35. But not all is well. Statistics reveal a surprising number of divorces, and, if what we heard is to be believed, divorce rate in the church is higher than the national average! The church leaders are crying out for resources to teach about marriage and the family, as well as an increased number of counselors to offer alternatives to divorce or separation. It was stunning to hear of church workers who had lived separated for many years find reconciliation. But resources are scarce. So our team, which included Dr. Ben Freudenburg from the Concordia Center for the Family in Ann Arbor, responded to the cry, “Come over here and help us.” While we don't know where this will lead specifically, we do know that an impact has been made that will lead to further partnerships.

We learned that family problems are not the only challenges they face. Islam presents a strong challenge in several of their northern synods. Tribal pagan religions are regaining popularity among those who do not wish to see their culture disappear. Problems arise where new families are living in extended family settings and feel pressure from in-laws. And yet the Mekane Yesus church continues to march forward, all the while making incredible sacrifices. The Gospel rain, which Luther talked about, is falling fresh on Ethiopia and other African areas, producing abundant fruit. Until the rains return to the Western world, doesn't it make sense to invest more heavily where the Spirit is working?