The Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church (LCMS) is at a crossroads, and not for the reasons most might think. Conservatives and liberals within the 2.6-million-member synod have bickered and postured over their presidential election, held during the 61st synodical convention in July. But another issue of equal significance was not even scheduled for discussion—one that may serve as a sign of the times for the synod known as a bastion of confessional conservatism among Lutherans worldwide.

Lutheran Brotherhood (LB), a Fortune 500 company with $3.2 billion in revenue for the year 2000, is a “fraternal benefit society of 1.2 million Lutheran members joined together for financial security, charitable outreach and volunteer service.” LB provides mutual-fund investment opportunities, insurance, and financial planning and distributes its wealth chiefly through funding the building of new Lutheran churches in the United States and abroad. The LCMS is a patron and beneficiary, as is the ELCA, the largest American Lutheran synodical body. Many of the ELCA’s members take active roles in LB’s corporate leadership. The ELCA officially tolerates abortion, flirts with homosexuals, ordains women, and has entered into union or “pulpit and altar fellowship” with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Episcopal Church in America, both of which deny the Lutheran formulation of the doctrine of the “Real Presence,” a hallmark of Lutheran dogma since the 16th century.

For these and other reasons, the LCMS does not engage in pulpit and altar fellowship with the ELCA. And yet, it seems, financial fellowship is acceptable, provided LB’s kindness is doled out for “charitable outreach and volunteer service” upon which all can agree.

Enter LB’s annual adolescent essay writing contest, “RespecTeen.” Winners from each state attend an all-expenses paid National Youth Forum in Washington, D.C., where they are trained to be future lobbyists by learning, according to the Seattle Times, “how to better [sic] communicate their messages to U.S. senators and representatives.”

The 2001 winner from the state of Washington, an eighth-grader named James Humphrey, wrote his congressman, Jennifer Dunn (R-WA), an impassioned essay/letter on the topic of abortion. That might not seem so strange, except that he begs her to lobby for its permanent legalization. Why? Because that way, bewildered parents who fear they might be about to give birth to, say, a retarded child, a cripple, or someone who needs expensive “therapy and medication and attention” might eliminate all of that future grief by killing him in utero. Nice—especially when we recall that Martin Luther considered contraception a form of sodomy.

Why such a brutal perspective from a 15-year-old? Apparently, James Humphrey’s 12-year-old brother, Stephen, has a severe form of autism and must communicate by pointing. He also requires constant supervision. Beaming mother Karen Humphrey adds that Stephen’s care amounts to $35,000 each year, but luckily, Jim Senior “is a doctor, and he works long hours to make enough money for all of it.” (I’m no economist, but what’s the going rate for a D&E, compared to 35 grand each year? And how can you even begin to calculate the cost of round-the-clock supervision?)

“I don’t mean my brother never should have been born,” Humphrey assured the local press. “He’s a great kid.” Still, according to Mrs. Humphrey, “we can’t take many trips” due to “the difficulty of [Stephen’s autism].”

In awe of the blatant eugenicist bent of this award-winning letter, I telephoned Lutheran Brotherhood to try to find out what sort of insanity lay behind the choice of this boy’s essay (out of 10,000 submitted). “We pick the winner based on clarity of thought, sincerity, and originality, not based on content,” the p.r. lady told me.

“I just don’t believe that,” I responded. “Let’s say the piece had been about pedophilia, instead of abortion. Would you even consider it—even if it were lucid, sincere, and original?”

“I see your point,” she said.

I went on to ask her for a list of the judges, which she would not give me. I told her that, as a Missouri Synod Lutheran (the LCMS is officially pro-life), I was offended that my synod is affiliated with an organization that is pouring fuel on the fire of the culture of death. She reminded me that “the Missouri Synod does not control Lutheran Brotherhood—they’re just a patron.” “Exactly,” I responded. “And our synod has a good deal of money at stake that might give it pause about taking a public stand against you.”

The nice lady at the LCMS information Center sounded shocked and dismayed when I called and asked for an official response from the synod. After checking around, she informed me that, while the synod does not approve of the selection, it did not plan to sanction or suspend relations with the organization. “No motion that will go before the delegates at the convention?” I asked. “No,” she said, dejected.

Maybe the LCMS should stipulate that each church built with LB money be named Aceldama Lutheran Church, after a certain potter’s field purchased with 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 27: 7-9).