The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod wins, hands down, the title of Intolerant Religious Organization of the Month.
An article in today's Times reports that the president of the Synod's Atlantic District, the Rev. David Benke, has been suspended from his post because, according to his church, he 'offended God, the Bible and all Christians..."dragged" his faith...to the level of Islam, committed heresy and violated two of the Ten Commandments.'
All of these offenses stemmed from Rev. Benke's attendance at an interfaith prayer service at Yankee Stadium last September, 12 days after the World Trade Center was destroyed. His elders claim he broke the First Commandment ('I am the Lord thy God') by 'worshiping together with "pagans,"' and the Second by 'putting other gods before him.'
To his immense credit--and with my incredible admiration--Rev. Benke has refused to apologize, as the leaders of the church have demanded in exchange for lifting their ruling against him, and has appealed that ruling. He's hired lawyers and has a solid team of backers. According to the article, the Reverend says he is 'waging war against religious intolerance, and an insular view of faith that not only prevents unity among peoples but promotes violence.' While his aims are inspiring, it's more than a bit maddening to realize that once again, the voices within organized religion calling for change, tolerance, and inclusion are almost never voices from the top, and those who are in high leadership roles almost always seem to do their best to silence the murmurings from below.
It's true that change always needs to start somewhere, and that that somewhere is almost never in the seat of power, religious or governmental or corporate. And it's gratifying that there are, relatively speaking, so many people willing to risk censure from their higher-ups in order to at least make some noise. But here's hoping that this noise--which is of particular importance in a society, like the US, that makes such lofty claims for itself--doesn't get drowned out or, worse yet, ignored altogether by those with their hands pressed over their ears.