St. Louis, Feb. 13 (RNS)--The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's board of directors has ordered all participants and even its own press to stop disseminating any information related to the case against LCMS Atlantic District President David Benke. Benke took part in the Sept. 23 "A Prayer for America" event at Yankee Stadium in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attack on the United States.

The event was an ecumenical service and included non-Lutheran and non-Christian religious leaders who gathered to pray for the victims of the attacks. After Benke prayed at the event, 17 pastors and one congregation, all within the Missouri Synod, filed charges against him, accusing him of syncretism--worshipping with non-Christians. If convicted, Benke faces removal from the LCMS clergy roster.

The LCMS board also instructed the Synod's newspaper, The Reporter, to publish a statement from it on the front page of the paper and on its Web site. In its statement the board said it was taking the action because a specific bylaw prohibited "publicity from being given to a dispute by any party involved while a decision in the matter is pending or while an appeal is contemplated."

The board said publicity in the case "has been divisive and unfair, has undermined the objectives of the Synod, and has brought shame upon the Synod." While the decision silences Benke and LCMS President Gerald Kieschnick because he approved Benke's actions, the editor of The Reporter said he did not at first believe the gag order would extend to official publications of the church. The board, however, made it clear its decision covered the publications. "It remains to be seen what the board of directors' resolution means for reporting the decisions in the case as the process moves forward.

Until then, the board has directed us not to report anything on the case against Dr. Benke," said David Mahsman, director of news and information and editor of official periodicals for the LCMS.

In an article in The Reporter about the board's resolution, Martin Schramm, chairman of the Board for LCMS Communication Services, said he feared the action would "contribute to misinformation and rumor." Mahsman said he agreed with his chairman. "As well-meaning as this resolution might be, it serves to cut off the only source of information accountable to the church body," Mahsman said. "But it does not cut off less reliable, more partisan sources of information in the church," he said.

The Benke case is in the hands of Second Vice President Wallace Schulz after church leaders recused both President Kieschnick and First Vice President Daniel Preus from deciding the case.

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