20 March 2008

Letter to my congregation

Here's the letter that I have written to my congregation informing them of the Issues, Etc. fiasco. It will be inserted in the Sunday bulletin so that I will not have to detract from the joyous solemnities of celebrating our Lord's Resurrection.

Holy (Maundy) Thursday
20 March 2008

Pastoral Letter – Urgent Information

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Greetings as we celebrate the most sacred mysteries of our Lord’s Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. As I write this, we celebrate our Lord’s Passover of His Body and Blood and His command to love one another. As you read this, we celebrate our Lord’s glorious Resurrection from the dead and His victory over the grave. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

However, this pastoral letter really concerns something quite different. Many of you have listened to the radio program Issues, Etc., whether regularly or occasionally. Issues, Etc. has been a great blessing to many people because of its faithful and bold proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its consistent approach of looking at contemporary issues with a Christian worldview. Hope congregation itself has supported Issues, Etc. and has welcomed Pastor Todd Wilken (host) to preach on a few occasions. Not only have I had the privilege of being long-time friends with Pastor Wilken, but I have also been privileged to be a guest on the radio program on several occasions.

Sadly and regretfully, I must inform you that on Tuesday, 18 March 2008, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod cancelled Issues, Etc. and terminated the employment of Rev. Todd Wilken and Mr. Jeff Schwarz (producer). This is quite a shocking development, especially because Issues, Etc. has been such a strong voice of the Gospel over the radio and Internet airwaves. Actually, Issues, Etc. has developed a nationwide following of listeners and has been successful from a financial standpoint. So this decision is just plain sad and confusing!

On Wednesday, 19 March, KFUO-AM finally posted an explanation for this cancellation on their website. It reads:

For programmatic and business reasons, the decision was made this week to discontinue the “Issues, Etc.” program on KFUO-AM. We look forward to bringing you new programming in this time slot in the near future. Also, we thank “Issues” host Rev. Todd Wilken and producer Mr. Jeff Schwarz for their years of service on behalf of the station. Those interested may still download past “Issues, Etc.” programs from the “Issues” archive on this website. Thank you sincerely for your continued support of KFUO's radio ministry.

As you can see, the “official statement” does not give much of reason for canceling the most popular and successful program on KFUO-AM – a program that was doing exactly what the Church is called to do: proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I mention this for three reasons. First, because many of you have followed Issues, Etc., have supported it over the years, and have enjoyed listening and learning. I thought you should know what’s happening.

Second, I want to alert you to a need and an opportunity to give to that need. With this sudden and mostly unexplained cancellation of Issues, Etc. the lives and families of some dear brothers in Christ are being adversely affected. Now Pr. Wilken and Mr. Schwarz are without means – salary and benefits – to provide for their families. Not only that, but the Schwarz family has an especially unique need as Jeff’s wife, Beth, suffers from a nerve disorder, and is in the process of getting into the Mayo Clinic to see what can be done. A standard severance package has been offered to both Wilken and Schwarz, but it comes with the string of a “gag order” attached. (That is, they are being asked to sign a document stating that they will not discuss the conditions of their termination of employment.) The Issues, Etc. team is seeking legal counsel before they accept the conditional severance package.

So, I do encourage you to show compassion for and give support for two men who have given so much of themselves and, most importantly, of God’s Truth to us. If you would like to give some money to help both the Wilken and Schwarz families, here are two ways you can do that:

a. Send a contribution to “Wilken/Schwarz Fund”
St. Paul Lutheran Church
Box 247
Hamel IL 62046

b. If you’d like to give online, you can donate via “PayPal” at the website for “The Wittenberg Trail” (http://wittenbergtrail.ning.com/).

The third reason I mention this travesty of canceling Issues, Etc. is to encourage you to take some action, as I already have. Of course, please pray for Pr. Wilken, Mr. Schwarz, and all listeners of Issues, Etc. that God will bring good out of this sad situation. Also, as you are so inclined, please contact the folks at the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and tell them how disappointed you are over this decision. Also, ask that they reinstate Issues, Etc. Here’s some contact information:

LCMS: 888-843-5267 (or 314-996-1200)
KFUO: 314-725-0099

Email for David Strand
(head of LCMS communications office): David.Strand@lcms.org

Street address of the LCMS (for postal mail):
1333 S. Kirkwood Road
St. Louis, MO 63122-7295

LCMS Information Center: infocenter@lcms.org

If you are so inclined, you can also sign an online petition that seeks the reinstatement of Issues, Etc. to the airwaves and of Pr. Wilken and Mr. Schwarz to their positions. (As of about 12:00 noon on 3/20/08, there are 1224 signatures. And the petition just began on the evening of 3/19/08!) You can view and sign this petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/Issues/ .

Of course, please keep reading my personal “blog” at http://rasburrysres.blogspot.com and join the discussion of these and other matters.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Randy Asburry


  1. Good golly, I didn't think this could get any stinkier, but it has. A gag order? A GAG ORDER??

  2. Yes, indeed! That's the way corporations work, I guess (because it sure ain't the Church that works that way!)

  3. Not that WIlken or Schwarz would take that approach but this is a question I would like an answer to: If, say Jeff agrees to the gag order in order to get severance, and Todd does not, will the LCMS agree to give Jeff his package? Because certainly both have the same story regarding the conditions of their termination.

    Terminated 'with cause.' They cannot possibly agree to be silent. In a church organization, knowing that someone was terminated 'with cause' -- that makes you think there was some moral failing! They can't just let that stand without an answer.

    IN order to stop the 'discipline' process being brought on me because of the issues I raised with our ex pastor (he was actually the one accused and I was disciplined for doing so, along with my husband because of his association with me, in an egalitarian denomination!) I had to agree to a gag order as well. I said no. How would I ever get those 'issues' I raised dealt with if I could no longer speak of them?

  4. Pastor Asburry,
    I am interested to know where you received the information that Pastor Wilken and Mr Schwarz were offered a severance package. I would like to confirm this information in some manner.

  5. Chris,

    I received my information from Jeff Schwarz himself, when I spoke to him on the phone last Tuesday, right after this firestorm erupted.

    I also had it confirmed to me by Pr. Wilken's own pastor, Pr. Michael Kumm (who, of course, has very intimate involvement with this as he provides pastoral care for the Wilken family), when I spoke to him Wednesday evening.

    Hope that helps.

  6. Terriergal,

    That's exactly why, in my opinion, Wilken and Schwarz should never sign such a "gag order." I've also thought about the scenario you mention: Schwarz signing in order to support his family in a time of great need, but Wilken not signing in order to get the word out. I wonder, though, if that would put up any kind of roadblock to the two of them working together on some new incarnation of their radio program.

  7. First, the 'Powers-that-Be' fired two individuals, not a 'team.' I can think of no legal way in which they could make the decision of one to be consequential on the other.

    In other words, if Schwarz takes the package and Wilken does not, Wilken is absolutely free to speak. (Unless of course, Wilken and Schwarz actually were a 'team,' viz a legal corporation, or some kind of limited partnership, which I seriously doubt.)

    For this same reason, the P-t-B have no power to put any binding stipulations on any future relationship between Wilken & Schwarz.

    Second, who said anything about 'terminated with cause'?

    Third, I wonder, did the P-t-B actually bring them into a room together and fire them at the same moment? I don't know about Missouri, but back in the state of California (where I learned my HR legalese) that would have been illegal (violation of privacy).