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Outspoken theologian ousted from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

Photo of Matthew Becker
Matthew Becker is a pastor and professor of theology at Valparaiso University. He was recently ousted from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Photo courtesy Dell Schomburg
Photo of Matthew Becker

Matthew Becker is a pastor and professor of theology at Valparaiso University. He was recently ousted from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Photo courtesy Dell Schomburg

ST. LOUIS – The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod recently carried out what various members consider the equivalent of a modern-day heresy conviction.

The case pitted two-term denomination President Matthew Harrison — who is known for his bushy mustache and conservative views — against Matthew Becker, an outspoken pastor and professor of theology.

Becker teaches at Valparaiso University, an independent Lutheran institution in Valparaiso, Ind., about an hour’s drive from Chicago.

Becker had raised questions about the denomination’s stance against the ordination of women, as well as its teaching of creationism, or the literal reading of the story of creation in the book of Genesis.


READ: Biblical text, the oldest find since the Dead Sea Scrolls, revealed in digital image of a charred scroll


Becker’s insistence on talking about such issues has led certain members of the church to file charges against him, triggering several investigations.

The Rev. Matthew Harrison was elected July 13 as the new president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. RNS photo courtesy LCMS

The Rev. Matthew Harrison was elected July 13 as the new president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. RNS photo courtesy LCMS

To the disappointment of some, including Harrison, church panels handling the investigations have consistently cleared Becker, allowing him to remain in the church.

Yet, Becker, 52, was officially ousted last week from the 2.3 million-member denomination in which he was raised; he remains on the faculty at Valparaiso University.

“I happen to be right now the most infamous person in the synod,” Becker said recently, while noting the long lineage of family members active in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, including his grandfather.

Becker’s ouster has led some to raise questions about the direction of the Missouri Synod, as well as leaders such as Harrison, who is up for re-election next summer.

Although Harrison could not be reached for comment, he has spoken publicly about Becker, including on a widely circulated Facebook post.

“I am saying that if my synod does not change its inability to call such a person to repentance and remove such a teacher where there is no repentance, then we are liars and our confession is meaningless,” Harrison wrote in January.

While many agreed with Harrison, others argued that as a member, Becker had the right to question church teachings on women’s ordination.

“It seems now we can’t even talk about it,” said said Robert Hartwell, senior pastor at Village Lutheran Church in Bronxville, N.Y., who referring to women’s ordination. “That’s what makes this so scary.”

More moderate members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod have clashed with conservatives before. In 1974, conservative Lutherans accused John Tietjen, then president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis of failing to insist on a literal teaching of the Bible, especially the Old Testament.

The controversy led the majority of Concordia’s faculty and students to walk out of the school in protest. Many eventually formed Seminex, a “seminary in exile,” at St. Louis University and Eden Theological Seminary. Seminex has since disbanded.

Tietjen helped organize a collection of congregations that opted to leave the Missouri Synod. In 1987, the group merged with the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church. That merger created the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S.

Some argue the 1970s schism left the church bereft of more moderate members, setting the stage for leaders such as Harrison.

Harrison’s 2010 election represented a conservative ideological shift for the denomination, which has come with its set of challenges.

In 2013, for example, Harrison made headlines when in the wake of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., he asked a church pastor to apologize for participating in an interfaith vigil.

The church’s constitution prohibits members from taking part in worship services that blend the beliefs and practices of Lutherans with those of other faiths and Christian denominations.

READ: Newtown ‘debacle’ reopens old wounds for Missouri Synod


More recently, members have questioned Harrison’s treatment of Becker. In February, numerous pastors and members signed an open letter, noting that, with regard to Becker, they were “extremely offended” by Harrison’s action.

Becker grew up in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Oregon. He had doubts about remaining in the church but said he hoped that as a member he could help reform the synod.

But by the late ’90s, he was attracting attention by publicly speaking about the ordination of women.

“There’s nothing in Scripture that clearly prohibits women from serving,” Becker said. “You don’t need a certain body part to share the love of God.”

In a blog post, Becker went even further, comparing the exclusion of women leaders from the church to “the institution of slavery and the subordination of people of color to whites.”

Becker has endured years-long investigations as a result. Then in April, the Rev. Terry Forke, a district president in Montana, filed a charge against him for failing to maintain that Genesis represents a historical record.

Soon after, he was asked to resign.

“I feel like many people who are my opponents are making an idol out of the LCMS,” Becker said. “It’s almost as if the church cannot make mistakes. “I’ve always taken the view that nothing should be off the table,” Becker said.

Others, however, argue that Becker and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are better off parting ways.

“It really doesn’t make sense for him to continue in our synod at this point,” said Eric Andersen, a pastor in suburban Chicago and associate editor of the conservative Lutheran blog The Brothers of John the Steadfast. “He doesn’t believe what we believe, so it’s best not to pretend.”

(Lilly Fowler is the religion reporter at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  She can be reached on Twitter @LillyAFowler.)


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  • The ordination of women can be pretty subjective, but rejecting Creationism is just being intelligent and honest.

    Demanding acceptance of creationism is essentially using coercion to encourage lying. Religious belief is not supposed to be taking leave of established knowledge.

  • Where did life come from?

    Honest and intelligent person: lets see what is the prevailing scientific theories accepted in the field.

    Christian Fundamentalist: lets take a Bronze Age myth/metaphor and pretend it’s a fact. We will support it with ridiculous, ignorant and dishonest arguments. We will also lie about our faith in public all the while.

    Creationists are liars by nature.

  • Mr. Becker has been talking about and teaching his false doctrine for many years. There are numerous denominations that believe what he believes and he has now joined one namely the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

    It’s simply about time that he has moved one. The Missouri Synod has talked about these issues for the last eighty years or so. It has not changed it’s mind. It believes it is correct. If its members do not believe it is correct they can bring those issues to convention (every 3 years). If they Synod in convention decides the issue is settled and those who bring it up are wrong, they can a. change their minds to be in line with Synod or b. leave the Synod.

    Having old family ties is no reason for continuing in a Church body you believe is teaching adamantly falsely and vice versa.

  • And none of them have produced work which has met the standards of acceptance in the relevant scientific fields. No professional scientific organization considers Creationism as anything but a joke. Having an advanced degree is no insulation from accepting stupid, dishonest things.

    Micro/macro evolution are terms creationist liars use to mitigate constant advances in knowledge which render their ideas more and more silly. A way to concede what they could no longer deny with a straight face and maintain their nonsense position.

  • Having an advanced degree is no insulation from accepting ridiculous and dishonest ideas.

    Not a single creationist scientist has produced work which passes muster under the standards accepted in the relevant fields.

    Macro/micro evolution are terms used by creationist liars to mitigate advances which render their ideas silly. A way to concede what they could no longer deny without looking silly.

    BTW putting theory in quotes means someone is ignorant of the scientific definition of the term. Typical of someone who wants to replace credibly obtained knowledge with voodoo.

  • There is absolutely nothing science has to offer that can prove either, the big bang & evolution, or creation. To believe in the big bang & evolution requires faith in something that cannot be proven scientifically; belief in creation, as well, requires Faith. What we will find out at the end of our earthly lives is that God Almighty developed this whole thing in a way that is very understandable. But we in this life simply do not have the intellectual capacity, nor the extant proofs, to determine how it all occurred. Genesis, by the way, is poetic imagery which which shows emphatically that God created everything out of nothing, and that at some point during the development of man, God infused one man, and one woman with immortal souls, and that all of humanity descended from those two. How it all occurred, or how long it all took, is an unanswerable question. Genesis does imply that there was an order to it, but I don’t believe God expects us to read Genesis literally.

  • “Pssst….Don’t tell the creationists, but scientists don’t have a clue how life began.”

    — John Horgan, Scientific American science writer and blogger.

    Go figure, Larry.

  • Rubbish. Prof. Becker has been an articulate spokesman for bridging the hypothetical “gap” between science and religion. He has rigorously followed the Nicene Creed in all respects. The LCMS should feel blessed to have a mind such as his both in the pulpit and the lecture hall.
    More than fifteen centuries ago St. Augustine warned about false dichotomies stimulated by our arrogant interpretations of Scripture. How little we learn or want to learn. The ruling hierarchy of the LCMS has recalled the Circular Firing Squad to do their dirty work. Will the survivors now turn to interrogating each other as to the purity of their faith?

  • For several years, I have had an acquaintance with Dr. Matt Becker: He is a wonderful human being, Christian pastor and professor. Period.
    Our redoubtable LCMS has far too many folks who believe that, in Eternity, we shall appear before Our Lord–Who will immediately pepper us with a “Lutheran Confessions” theology exam—and you’d better get a perfect score!
    The LCMS has done enormous good since its inception in the middle of the 19th century, but is also a diva-like brand of Lutheranism very adept at shooting itself in the foot. I am sad for its leadership: They know not what they do.

  • How sad to see assumedly intelligent people still debating biblical creation vs. evolution in 2015. Who woulda thunk it?

  • For issues like the origin of life, it seems there are no alternatives to science. What possible alternative could there be? Surely you would not go to the Bible for technical details about biology.

    In science, there is nothing bad about saying “I don’t know”.

  • You are making valid points, Larry. However, the LCMS leadership (their “magisterium”) is blind to that. They cannot see that the opening chapters of Scripture were written in literary-poetic style meant the answer the “why” questions about Creation, not the “how” ones. Applying the criteria of modern scientific writing to them is anachronistic and highly misleading. But they do not care. Their triumphal interpretation is sacrosanct and binding. They are willfully repeating the Galileo fiasco —with the same disastrous consequences for organized Christianity. That will be their legacy. God help them.

  • Saying “we don’t know yet” is far more honest and more useful for the development of further knowledge than just throwing up your hands and saying, “God did it”. It makes religious believers look like lazy and ignorant. Not the impression you want for religious belief. “God in the Gaps” is a terrible argument for belief.

    You are correct, Genesis does not require any kind of literal reading to have any kind of resonance. Literature need not be factually true to have appeal through the ages. Just as long as it reaches the reader in some way.

  • Rev. Matthew Harrison earns my scorn for being such a d-bag about the Sandy Hook vigil. It was tasteless, insensitive and uncalled for.

    Essentially the perfect essence of sectarian bullcrap.

  • You try to condense too much into one response. The creation of the material we know and see that fabricates the universe is one thing; a specific literal sequential reading of Genesis is another. There was no ‘morning and evening’ on the north or south pole. The moon is not a ‘lesser light’, it’s reflected light. And so on. And Genesis has two different creation sequences – which do I believe?

    The “father, son, and holy spirit” is used only once in a section of the gospel missing from many of the earliest manuscripts.

    And 1 Cor 5 makes it clear that Christians should not worry about morality outside the church – yet we find Christian business owners trying to force non-Christians to comply with their views or be denied business services, contradicting Paul’s admonitions.

    My obvious reading of scripture and yours seem to be different. Is MoSynod no longer allowing someone to even raise the very question itself for discussion?

  • Larry,

    You’re a reprobate that many are coming to realize. Your fanatical anti-Christian mental illness makes your posts both painful and laughable to endure.

  • Here’s two more thumbs.

    If he were honest he would just leave and find some libs to interact with.


  • Earning your scorn means the Lutherans you despise are the good guys.

    It’s like Satan scorning Jesus. And as we can see, you’re not on the Jesus side.

    You need help Larry but obviously your screwed up secular world can’t hospitalized all of you nuts.


  • Many people believe Gen. 1 and 2 to be separate stories but they are really one (man has created the chapters and verses in our modern bibles) but the way the manuscripts were originally written without chapters and verses and our modern day punctuation.


  • the alternative to science is superstitious ignorance. Feel free to stop using your product of science and engineering skills and try carrying on this conversation through prayer and entreating icons of saints.

  • It bears repeating, Creationists are liars.

    There are several ways creationists lie.
    1. They can go through the false pretense that creation science and intelligent design has any scientific value or acceptance in the field.

    2 They pretend new ideas about evolution are somehow support for creationism

    3. They lie about their faith. Creationists believe based on faith, as all religious believers do. But creationists falsely claims their belief has objective proof and evidence. As they would never accept objective proof and evidence to disprove their belief, it obviously is not the basis they claim.

  • Anyone who can raise a stink over a vigil for murdered children can never be considered “the good guys”. Scorn on such petty, vile behavior is more than warranted.

  • Call to repentance? Since when is disagreeing with denominational doctrine within the bounds of theological orthodoxy a sin? Harrison must be one arrogant Pharisee.

  • I am seriously becoming embarrassed by my own LCMS; I’m sorry, but there’s no other way to put it. The planet’s age is not merely in the thousands of years. And this evolution-phobia that our church body has is based on nothing but literalism and legalism, and denies clear and obvious evidence. We constantly talk about how backward fundamentalists are theologically, but more and more, I am not seeing much of a difference between our theologians and them.

  • Bible-cultists are not Christian, they’re idolaters. The Gospel is far, far more than mere words in a book.

  • Why do Bible-cultists ignore both God’s creation, and the ability he gave us to observe and learn how it works? Vanity.

  • Homophobia correlates with denial of one’s own homosexuality. Check the science. And yes, we ARE laughing at you. GTFU and come out.

  • Bible-cultists are not Christians, they are idolaters. Very many are beginning to wake up to this ancient understanding, which the oldest churches have always known. The Gospel is far, far more than mere words in a book.

  • That’s the problem with Bible-cultists. You say “follow the Bible” then set yourselves up as the deciders of which parts are “Godly” or not, conveniently ignoring the bits condoning rape and sexual slavery, while upholding others that align with all your personal bigotries.

    Exodus 21:7-11

    Have some shame and look to the log in your own eye. Stop beating people with a book, and try practicing what Christ preached.

  • So many irritating flys buzzing in this website. This is all about faith – childlike faith, folks. Say, I as a creationist die and go to heaven. The Lord chides me that I was so gullible to believe just what the Bible said. But I counter to Him, “You, or this messenger of yours that wrote this for you, said that each day was 24 hours – day and night– and emphasized that each of the seven days was a day of 24 hours.” The Lord with parental absurdness smiles as to a confused little child and says that was for poetic effect and not really meant that I was to believe it as a “thus says the Lord” statement of scripture. A little perplexed I mention that Jesus said that at the beginning of creation God made Adam and Eve (Mark 10:5), not after long eons of time. “Well,” the Lord equivocates, “I guess I allowed my Son to use a little dramatic license to get across his point. He spoke in a way the unscientific peoples at the time would comprehend.” After this confusing…