April 1, 2008

Silence of the Synod

Two weeks ago, someone fired--against Synod rules, without cause, without notifying the governing board, or the Synod's treasurer--Rev. Todd Wilken and Jeff Schwarz, host and producer of popular radio show Issues, Etc. During that time, I have written to Mr. Strand and the president's office three times asking for clarification, specifically why this action was taken.

I have only received a single response - a brief email, with text identical to that received by many others. (I also received the standard auto-reply from the president's office, telling me how important my email was. But only on one of my emails. Perhaps the last one wasn't that important after all.)

As the Synod changes its explanations, using outdated figures and incomplete data that omits the most relevant statistics, there are rumors of larger "issues." Instead of responding, putting these rumors to rest, we are met with ...



I admit to being upset, disappointed, angry, confused when news of this broke. But as time grows on, I grow more and more suspicious. What is being hidden? Why the silence? As the scandal grows, why not respond clearly, unequivocally, honestly?

The show itself is now just a small part of some much larger issues and questions:

  • Who made the decision to cancel the show and summarily fire, without cause, two Synod employees?
  • When was this decision made?
  • Why was the Board for Communications Services not consulted?
  • Why was the Foundation keeping 40% of the money raised for Issues, Etc.?
  • Why was the head of said Foundation reportedly supportive of Joel Osteen's teaching?
  • Why were supporters of the program not given an opportunity to give additional funds to keep the program alive?
  • What were the "programmatic reasons" for the show's cancellation? Was it too "Christ-centered, cross-focused"? How was the program evaluated? Were those evaluations shared with the board? Can the members of Synod see them?
  • Why are inaccurate or incomplete numbers being used to create an appearance of a small listener base?
  • What are the "stewardship reasons" for canceling effective Bible teaching and Gospel outreach?
While I have my suspicions, they are just that: suspicions. I really don't know the truth. Wouldn't it be better if Mr. Strand would answer my emails - or better, just issue a clear, unequivocal statement answering the who, what, where, and why of this tragic case? Or is it as Rev. Brondos suspects - that someone else is pulling Mr. Strand's strings, and he is innocent of the great transgression? Without our synodical leadership being open and transparent, I am left only with my own speculations. That is no way to run a church.


Mollie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mollie said...


I have sent a number of questions -- as in a few dozen over the course of a few emails -- to the Synod's Press office and they have flat out refused to respond.

Why the lack of transparency? Why the secrecy? What are they hiding?

Here are the latest round of questions that they refused to answer. I explained I needed the answers for stories I'm working on:

1) In David's "update" regarding the cancellation of Issues, Etc., he included statistics for the 2004-2005 listening audience in the St. Louis area. He also included statistics for an antiquated way of
listening -- live streaming over the internet. Many of the over 5,585 (and counting) petition signers claim they listened to the show either by downloading MP3 files from the KFUO web site or, alternatively, through podcasting or other on-demand methods. Does the executive director of the BCS understand the difference between live streaming over the internet and more modern forms of technology?
1b) If so, why weren't those other forms of listening mentioned in his update?
1c) Why weren't the Arbitron ratings for Issues, Etc.'s national
partners included in his update?
2) What are the numbers of downloads for Issues, Etc.?
3) What portion of the radio station's audience do these downloaded figures represent?
4) What are the numbers for podcast listeners?
5) How did the BCS calculate actual listening audience for Issues,
Etc.? For instance, some congregations, pastors and lay leaders download or podcast episodes of Issue, Etc., for use in Bible studies. What is the average number of listeners per download and podcast? I have interviewed people in NYC, California, and points inbetween who say that they used Issues, Etc., in just this way.
6) What remaining nationally broadcast programs does the BCS oversee, if any?
7) What podcasting options does the BCS provide other than archived episodes of IE?
8) What was the size of the listening audience for the nationally broadcast program? In other words, what are the Arbitron ratings for the syndicated partners?
9) The online petition asking the BCS to bring back the program has
been signed by people in Burkina Faso, Spain, Venezuela, Argentina, Sarajevo, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany, Canada, Australia, South Africa and other countries throughout the world. What services does the BCS provide that individuals in these countries may access?
10) If you do not know the answers to these questions, please let me know a little bit about why.
11) If you do not know the answers to these questions, please help me understand how the show could be canceled without understanding the size of the audience.
12) Why was the Synodical President notified of the impending action but the Board for Communication Services was not?
13) Could you provide access to how the BCS calculated the income and expenses of Issues, Etc. and put them in context of other AM and FM programs?
14) Originally the BCS claimed that the program was cancelled for
"business" and "programmatic" reasons. That was then updated to
"stewardship" and "programmatic" reasons. When do you plan to release the "programmatic" reasons for the cancellation of Issues, Etc.?

VirginiaLutherans said...

This is why I have deep concerns with the Synod. They put money before souls, which is never a good choice.

Christopher Esget said...


Those are important questions. I hope that they see the wisdom in responding soon.

Christopher Esget said...

VirginiaLutherans: I am confident that they would deny that assertion, and I would have to agree with them. I believe that Kieschnick, for example, is extremely concerned about souls, and wants to use funds to save souls. The concern is about the appropriate way to do that. It's a theological question, that also touches on questions of the propriety or their actions in removing obstacles to that vision. But I have not heard even the strongest detractors of synod leadership argue that they put money before souls.

VirginiaLutherans said...

Given they made a business decision on something "losing" money that was obviously reaching a significant number of people (not knowing those numbers would be bad stewardship) with doctrinally sound programming, what else can we say? If you don't provide pure doctrine, what are you providing?

Christopher Esget said...

VirginiaLutherans: You are making a theological argument that Issues, Etc. was effective - probably more effective than whatever else they'll probably use the money for (although, see http://revcwirla.blogspot.com for an interesting take on that question). I agree that Issues, Etc. was effective. However, your statement was that they put money before saving souls. I disagree. I think they are very concerned about saving souls. In this discussion, it is important not to impugn motives, but to stick to the facts.

VirginiaLutherans said...

I do not dare attempt to read their minds. But the best intentions pave the road to hell. Let's review two facts, ones you mention yourself. Why are they spending over $5 million on a questionable program (Ablaze) and cancel a $650k loss doctrinally sound program? Why are they taking 40% of the money earmarked for the program instead of the normal 10%? In a legal and logical sense their effect is undeniable. They might have the best of intentions, but their actions are directly affecting distribution of proper, orthodox teaching. Can you give life-giving Word by using anything but?

Richard Townes said...

I called Mr. Strand's office last week announcing myself as a college student who wished to speak to Mr. Strand. I was received enthusiastically by his very pleasant secretary. When asked about the purpose of my call, I explained to her that I was calling to advise Mr. Strand that using data from 3 to 4 years ago is not adequate. I also mentioned that he ought to issue another statement using up-to-date data. She politely told me that Mr. Strand was not available to take my call. This was no surprise. Perhaps if those involved in this fiasco close their eyes, plug their ears, and hum to themselves we will all disappear.

As a side note, I do feel sorry for his secretary. I am sure tension is high in that office right now. I hope that no callers are rude with her or any other secretaries for that matter.

Christopher Esget said...

Richard: Exactly right. It is important to be polite, especially when we are upset. We need to keep reminding each other of that. Well said.

Everyone: Ad hominem attacks, attributing motives that are the opposite of another's stated position, and mixing arguments is never helpful.