Friday, April 24, 2020

Mark's thoughts: New evidence of Illinois religious discrimination

Evidence shared by the Rev. Timothy Scharr, President of the Southern Illinois District of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod demonstrates that Gov. Pritzker’s decision not to include church services among “essential activities” was an intentional act of discrimination.  President Scharr, along with the presidents of the Central Illinois District (the Rev. Mark Miller) and Northern Illinois District (the Rev. Dr. Allan Buss) of the LCMS sent the following letter to Gov. Pritzker in April arguing that churches should be included among “essential activities.” Their reasonable and well stated request was ignored.

17 April 2020

The Honorable J.B. Pritzker, Governor
207 State House
Springfield, IL  62706

Dear Governor Pritzker,

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, the crucified, risen and returning Lord!

The nearly 500 congregations of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod within Illinois pray for you and all magistrates regularly. We pray that the Lord may grant you good health, wisdom and discernment especially as you guide our state in this time of COVID-19. We further pray for all medical personnel, researchers and first responders who serve unselfishly.

Recognizing the danger we face, and the need to mitigate the spread of this virus, our churches, schools and people are following the guidelines issued by the State of Illinois. We have abided by these recommendations even during the most sacred week of the Christian Church Year. What troubled us from the very beginning was the exclusion of the Church and her ministry from the list of essential activities. We are more than a food pantry or transient assistance service. We prepare people to live now and for the life of the world to come.

Christians are among the best citizens in any jurisdiction. We are eager to do what is right and contribute our energies, resources and labor for the common good. Lutherans are unique in that we recognize what is called, the “Two Kingdoms.” We believe that God has established two “kingdoms” here on earth. One is the “kingdom of the left” and the creation of earthly government and good order. This allows us to live in peace and safety. The second is the “kingdom of the right” and the establishment of the Church. This “kingdom” exists alongside the earthly government. Its concerns, however, are eternal and include such things as proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation through Jesus Christ. Both kingdoms coexist and carry out their God-given responsibilities.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution recognizes the importance of religion and its free exercise within our nation. Indeed the first European settlers came to our shores seeking freedom to worship as their conscience dictated. Our German forefathers came nearly two centuries ago seeking the same freedom of religion. We cherish this freedom and are seeking to be able to worship as we believe is true and proper. We are asking you to declare religious services as “essential” within the State of Illinois. Christians have a two thousand year history of caring for their neighbor and responding positively in times of plague and pestilence. It was Christians who were responsible for the establishment of hospitals in Western Civilization. This connection remains to the present day as the names of many hospitals bear witness.

People are fearful, hurting and living in isolation. The Church brings comfort and strength in Jesus Christ through God’s Word and Sacraments. As unemployment rises the stress of making ends meet becomes a heavy burden. Stimulus packages help but they are not a substitute for paychecks. People need assurance that the Lord will see them through this present time. Hope is one of the major benefits derived from public worship. It reinforces the sense of community and neighbor helping neighbor.

Our pastors are eager to serve their communities. They are willing to follow social distancing and other guidelines established by the State and Center for Disease Control. We are concerned about the elderly and those with underlying illnesses that may compound  by the Corona virus should they contract it. We believe it is healthier to isolate the most vulnerable among us and allow the vast majority of healthy, lower risk individuals to live as normal of lives as possible.

We pray that you will favorably receive our petition and declare religious services as essential in the State of Illinois. Thank you for your consideration. Our prayers remain with you.


Rev. Dr. Allan Buss, President
Northern Illinois District - LCMS

Rev. Mark Miller, President
Central Illinois District - LCMS

Rev. Timothy Scharr, President
Southern Illinois District - LCMS


  1. Pastors Buss, Miller, and Scharr,
    In the name of Jesus Christ, the crucified, risen and returning Lord, are you out of your minds? I was born, baptized, educated K-8, confirmed, married, baptized my daughter and buried my parents all in the LCMS. While I don't by a long shot approve of your misogynistic refusal to allow women to serve as pastors, this desire to open churches and claim that you are being discriminated against is more than misguided. It is dangerous and ignorant. I don't know what else to say to convey my astonishment at this letter. In my childhood congregation, a member had hand foot and mouth disease. He attempted to take communion using a common cup. He was refused. I suppose you would have allowed that? Your lack of consideration for your parishioners as well as all the people of Illinois is reprehensible. You should seriously consider resigning in favor of someone with a kinder heart.

  2. You probably won't post my previous post, but I thought I try again. I talked to a pastor friend in another state and she suggested I might have responded in the following way:

    Pastors, here is your golden opportunity to try to share the Gospel in new and relevant ways. Do pastoral care through lots of phone calls, using FaceTime when possible. Have church meetings and Bible studies on Zoom. Live-stream your worship services. Imagine that God is inviting you out of YOUR comfort zone to reach both your congregation and others in less familiar ways. God makes all things new!

    Me again. I also want you to know that in the midst of the pandemic I will very soon be a grandmother. My daughter is a nurse. A pregnant nurse. She worries about going into a hospital to deliver. She worrries that the baby will be exposed. I worry about both of them. I know it is for the best that I will not be able to snuggle my precious granddaughter. I wonder when I will. I wonder if she will know who I am. And now, when I'm just trying to hope and pray for things to get better, I see the suggestion that people do the exact opposite of what is best for them and their families. I'm sorry if I was too confrontational in my previous post, I wish I was as wise as my friend, but this is just wrong.

  3. What an incredibly silly and irresponsible post!

    The issue is simply that religious services are gatherings of people in the midst of the pandemic that have a strong likelihood of spreading a disease that is transmitted more easily than any at least in Dr. Fauci's experience (or so he himself says). It is a virus which leaves as many as sixty percent of contagious people infected by it totally without symptoms. NONE of us knows for sure that we don't have it.

    To conduct in-person religious services under these circumstances is not merely incredibly irresponsible. It is an egregious violation of the Fifth Commandment. My congregation and LCMS congregations all over the nation are recording worship services and posting them on YouTube or streaming them. In-person services are non-essential not least because there are other ways of sharing the Word with congregations.


  4. Life long member of the Lutheran Church, I do not agree with this letter. In person services are not "essential". The church is not a building, it's a people. I've been told that my entire life. Churches offer live streams and other worship opportunities. There's no need to hold in-person services at this time.