Matthew Becker: Victim of Dispute Resolution
On July 1,2015, The Rev. Dr. Matthew Becker announced via his blog that he had been suspended from the clergy roster of the LCMS by his District President and would not be appealing that suspension – the upshot being that Dr. Becker was removed from the LCMS clergy roster on or about July 15, 2015. You can read his blog post by clicking here.
As I read Dr. Becker’s post I could not help but sympathize with my former professor. His frustration with the situation was palpable. And frankly, his frustration is understandable. Dr. Becker wrote:
“Since my ordination into the ministry twenty-six years ago this month, I have had to address several informal and formal accusations of ‘teaching false doctrine’ or ‘teaching doctrine inconsistent with the public teaching of the LCMS.’ … Prior to April, 2015, I have endured four formal charges of false teaching. … The process for each of those three cases took between four and five years, lots of energy, lots of money, and reams of paper. … Having suffered through those three previous heresy trials – which burdened nearly 17 of the past 26 years of my ministry – my family and I have come to the point of saying, ‘Enough! No more!’”
I get it. I cannot imagine trying to tend to my God-given vocations while constantly wondering when the next ‘dispute’ would land on my desk, when I would have to drop everything and attend to yet another lengthy and time-consuming process.
Dr. Becker is a victim. He is a victim of the LCMS’s ill-begotten “Dispute Resolution Process.” Every time a member of the Synod disagreed with Dr. Becker’s teaching and took the initiative to enter officially into the dispute resolution process, Dr. Becker’s life was turned upside down.
The problem is the Dispute Resolution Process itself. Why? Because the goal of the Dispute Resolution Process is – well, to resolve disputes. It is designed around a paradigm of mediation/moderation of disputes between individual persons and personalities. This process is open-ended and case-by-case. One of the main problems with the Dispute Resolution Process is that there is no final resolution to it. It is never really complete. Resolving one dispute between two parties does nothing to prevent future disputes between two different parties (even if one of the parties is the same.)
Now, because the actual process of the Dispute Resolution Process as it is carried out is covered in a shroud of secrecy (of course the bylaws which govern it are public; but the process is hidden; and maybe for good reason), we don’t know exactly how the disputes were resolved in any case.
But after 17 years of burden (Dr. Becker’s words), it certainly seems that both Dr. Becker and the LCMS at large would have been better served by something more akin to the old adjudication system. Again, the difference is in the name. The purpose of adjudication is – well, to adjudicate, to judge between right and wrong, truth and error.
Had the first of his “heresy trials” (as Dr. Becker calls them) been designed to judge between truth and error rather than to resolve a dispute between two personalities, then the result could have been something similar to: “This is what we believe, teach, and confess. This is what we have believed, taught, and confessed. This is what we will continue to believe, teach, and confess because this is what is true according to what God’s Word teaches through Holy Scripture. This is truth; contrary teachings are error. If your conscience can abide this doctrine, you are more than welcome to continue with us in our mission to bring the comfort of God’s saving Word to the world. But if your conscience cannot abide this doctrine, you are free to seek fellowship within a group whose doctrine your conscience can abide; but you are not free to remain a pastor in our fellowship and teach what has been judged to be error.” The outcome (Dr. Becker joining the clergy roster of the ELCA) might have been the same. Who is to say? But think of all the time and energy Dr. Becker would have been saved if that clarion-clear message had been given the first time. He never would have needed to worry that yet another dispute was coming across his desk because he would have known without doubt what is and is not expected of a clergyman in the LCMS.
Our Dispute Resolution Process is broken. Dr. Becker suffered because of it. Others have also. For a more in-depth look at the LCMS’ Dispute Resolution Process, its history, its practice, and possible solutions to its brokenness, please join the ACELC for their Sixth Annual Free Conference in Nashville, TN, April 26-28, which will have this topic as our focus.
The Rev. Dan Freeman
Pastor, Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church