Requiescat in Pace

This post is to the glory of God, and the shame of men.

He was politically a liability. Had he been certified for ministry, it’s not certain he would have stayed that way. He would likely have been removed under some pretext and his congregation kicked out of synod. Or, perhaps he would have enjoyed a quiet ministry, not have become so twisted in the end.

The twisting was entirely of man’s design. His fellow “churchmen” in fact. By the time I went through college, it was all old news. The battles he fought were pretty much over. A few final skirmishes remained in which Ralph Bohlman would take down Robert Preus, but himself be dethroned. But the Battle for the Bible had been won. He was left in the dust. The man who had sounded the alarm for those in the pew more clearly and consistently than any other, was gas-lighted to a degree that would do the CIA proud. Recently there was an article about “mobbing” in the church. Whether it still happens, it certainly happened to him:

A faculty that revoked certification for ministry against the bylaws of synod. Synod officials that ignored their own doctrine, changed bylaws ex post facto,  refused to acknowledge or honor their own process when it ruled in his favor, and then refused to even commune a pastor of their fellowship because he was an undesirable – it was enough to push any pastor over the edge.

Herman Otten poured his energies into publishing. His goal was to bring down those who were changing the doctrine. Not for revenge, but because he loved Christ’s church, and they were bent on its destruction. That his methods were beyond the pale was not entirely his fault. He had been defrauded first by those who should have protected him and rallied to his cause. But his demeanor worked against him. And his methods grew ever more into the image of those who opposed him. What they did in secret, he did in the light.

He was successful in saving the church. But  would remain a casualty of war for the rest of his life. Never certified, never called pastor, never allowed to commune with fellow pastors, he would pay the penalty for standing for the truth.

In later years it became a joke – he used file photos that were 40 years old, re-ran stories from the battle for the bible that had no relationship to current events, and sent provocative questionnaires to synod officials that asked if seminex sympathizers should remain on the roster – after most of them had retired. But it could never be a joke to him. Because he was still gaslighted and persecuted. Eventually, even many of his friends and those that admired him would be afraid to talk to him. I was never courageous enough to do so – and he did call a few times. I allowed him to re-post articles from my blog without complaint. But I will confess to timidity when it came to engaging him. I knew his brother well for a time, and consider him a friend. I know of those who talked to him. But Herman would always remain just outside of my circle. It was my fear, more than anything. What would I do in similar circumstances? Would I have the courage to endure? Would I become even more bitter to those who rejected me? And would I say something to embarrass myself that might end up on the front page?

That was perhaps his greatest crime – he was indiscreet, and since he had nothing to lose, he did it in grand fashion.

But make no mistake. We owe him a debt of gratitude. Because he was one of the first to sound the alarm – back in the days when things were calm in the synod, and there could be no thought of false teaching, no worry of idol altars in our midst. Without his clarion call, the synod might have slumbered through it’s transformation into the ELCA. Without his indelicacy, we might have missed our own funeral.

He was a kingmaker. No President since 1969 was elected against his wishes. And, in extreme conditions, he could take one down, and had the ability to veto the replacement. Barry and Harrison made the pilgrimage to New Haven. Wenthe did not. Bohlmann fired Preus. It could be said without too much hyperbole that Otten fired Harms and Bohlmann.

A couple of weeks ago, he endorsed Maier – Maier filled out the questionaire, Harrison didn’t. It doesn’t matter that Maier would allow and encourage much of what Otten spent his life opposing. In the end, I think the strain got to him. The family name of Old Missouri, and a candidate willing to admit he existed was too strong a pull. For that was also to our shame – those who would court him in advance of an election always memory-holed him after. It was wrong. I admit my own weakness in this regard – but I never sought high office. I never sought him out. I just didn’t have the courage to speak to him, and I wanted to stay off the front page. Also, the questions he asked implied an influence I have never possessed. I have rarely spoken with rulers and counselors in the church. I don’t have their ear. I don’t know the players in the game, and I don’t have a desire to. The messages he left would have been answered with “I don’t know”. I am a pastor of a small church in a rural area, and it is sufficient for me.

But I have something he never had: The bureaucrats admit I am such. Herman never got that courtesy. When I wrote about him – which I did a few times – I called him Pastor. Because he was. Oddly, the men who refused him the same courtesy I often refer to as mister. For they are not pastors. They have been promoted above that pay grade. And they could call him mister all the live-long day. Christ called him as a pastor, and their refusal to recognize that changed nothing.

We owe him a debt we could never repay. And yet, the honors skipped in this life can not be made up for after the fact. Robert Preus’s grave has already been whitewashed by many in the synod. Whether Herman’s will be remains to be seen. But it doesn’t matter. The crown of life given in the new kingdom is what matters. Herman saw that clearly, and in the end he knew it was all he would ever receive.

Cleansed for the sin that so easily entangles, and healed of scars of years of abuse by those who were supposed to minister to him, I look forward to seeing him the new kingdom. I suppose I should start with an apology. But in the new kingdom, there will be no need. All offenses are washed away. He knows that better than anyone. And his slow, 60 year matyrdom is finally over. I pray he finds the peace that was denied him in this life. Rest in Peace, faithful soldier of the cross.

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4 Responses to Requiescat in Pace

  1. helen j. says:

    Thank you for this!
    I thought Harrison might be different, but he begged help before and ignored after, too.
    To his shame!
    And now, apparently, it’s over. The bureaucrats can relax; the little people with no voice see their injustice with you, but what do they matter!?

  2. Steven W Bohler says:

    A fair and accurate summary of Rev. Otten’s impact, I would say. Thank you.

  3. Pastor,

    “We owe him a debt we could never repay.”


    Thanks for writing this. You have shown him some of that honor that was his due.


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