My View from the Outside

A brother directed me to this endorsement of Rev. Matt Harrison after I had noted that one of Rev. Harrison’s first acts was to appoint a woman as one of his assistants.That woman was Barbara Below.  Here is her endorsement of her then and now again boss.  From my view from the outside it speaks volumes.

What Others are Saying … My View from the Inside

June 2nd, 2010

By Barbara Below

Director of Social Ministry Organizations

LCMS World Relief and Human Care

I work in St. Louis at a place many call, “The Purple Palace.” Officially, it is the International Center of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Specifically, I work as Director of Social Ministry Organizations in the department of LCMS World Relief and Human Care, the mercy arm of the Synod, and with Rev. Matthew Harrison as Executive Director.

Before my first visit to the building, I pictured it as a large office building made of purple glass. It is a large, glass, office building, but disappointedly it isn’t purple. I work in a cubicle that looks out a glass wall over a large pond with cars moving along the freeway. The large glass windows make for a very impressive view on a sunny, St. Louis, spring day.

I must admit I was very uncertain about coming to work in this building and for Rev. Matt Harrison six years ago. As a professional woman, I was sensitive to the fact that over the years women have occupied an increasingly greater number of management and leadership positions than in my mother’s generation, but I was uncertain how exactly a woman would fit into the bureaucracy of the church. I recall growing up and hearing the term “glass ceiling” and learning about how women were moving into leadership positions of companies. Later in school I learned there were also “glass walls” for women that limited their opportunities for learning or experience. Like starting other new jobs I wondered what my opportunities for growth within the organization would be. As a pastor’s wife, I understand from Scripture that women are not given the Office of the Ministry or its tasks, but I knew that God does bless women with skills and abilities to serve in many other valuable ways in the church. I was anxious and excited to serve in my new role and prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide and fill me with wisdom and strength and that there would be plenty of opportunities and doors opened for me.

However, any uncertainties that I had about these doors and walls quickly disappeared. I was able to see that under the leadership of Rev. Matt Harrison, he had brought on board several women in significant leadership positions and has actually led “The Purple Palace” in gender diversity among his leadership team. Two other women, Marie Kienker and Maggie Karner, were also placed by Matt in leadership positions in LCMS World Relief and Human Care—Marie as the Associate Executive Director for WR-HC (and now the Executive Director of the Lutheran Housing Support Corporation) and Maggie as the Director of Life Ministries. Other women were either in management positions prior to Matt coming to WR-HC and have stayed on, or have been promoted from entry-level positions and ultimately into manager positions in the department. In fact, to my surprise it seems to me that Matt has had more women in leadership positions on his team than many other areas in the Synod bureaucracy.

After six years of employment as a woman in a leadership position on the mercy team of the LCMS and my experience working for Rev. Matt Harrison, I have come to see that the WR-HC a place where women are respected, treated fairly and equally, encouraged to pursue their personal and professional goals, sought after for their intelligence and talent, and valued for their unique gifts.

Frequently, Matt likes to use his favorite, blue Sharpie marker and write thank you notes to donors and staff to express his gratitude for their support in mercy efforts. In one such note I received he wrote, “Barb, I’m honored, delighted to work with you.” In another, he wrote: “I am thankful for you and your incredible and unique gifts.”

Through the years, Matt has demonstrated time after time that he takes joy in diversity and sees the special gifts of each person. As a leader, Rev. Matt Harrison has shown that he seeks out the best talent, regardless of gender, and not only values but seeks out the perspectives of others, including women.

In one of Matt’s Sharpie-penned thank you notes I received in 2009, he wrote: “It is a delight to work with you. I especially appreciate your perceptivity and ability to step back from a situation and analyze what’s really going on.”

Matt has welcomed professional women as leaders in the army of mercy warriors. He has been one of the strongest advocates of deaconesses in leadership positions and continually pushed me to advocate for deaconesses to be considered for leadership positions in RSOs. He has hired deaconesses and given many internship opportunities in the department, trying his utmost to care for these budding, professional church workers

As a woman on the LCMS Mercy Team, under the leadership of Rev. Matt Harrison, I have experienced open opportunities, appreciation for my gifts and talents, and encouragement to do more, try anything, and believe in myself as much as he has believed in me. He has done much to promote the service of women in their God- given, biblically appropriate vocations within the church bureaucracy.

This point was driven home even more firmly for me the day he bounced into my cubicle like a young boy who had just been given a great prize. He had a big, warm smile on his face, handed me a piece of paper and said “Read this. I think you’ll like it.”

He had handed me a copy of page 826 of At Home in the House of My Fathers with the article, “Strength is Feminine.” In this brief, little speech by Theodore Brohm are these words:

Purity, love, trust, prudence, wisdom, devoutness, sympathy—these are woman’s signant [sic] qualities. Take them from woman, and you have unsexed the sex. But if this is true, it is equally true that power makes these virtues greater. Power makes purity more lustrous. Power makes love stronger. Power gives energy to prudence, gives largess to wisdom, gives firmness to devoutness, and takes nothing from sympathy.

Later Matt and I talked about this little piece and how his pastoral heart takes joy in watching both men and women embrace all that God has created them to be.

The building where I have worked for the last six years may be made of glass, but my experience as a woman and part of the LCMS Mercy Team, has been of a department with open doors and encouragement. My experience has been one of opportunities, not limits; promotion, not marginalization; inclusion, not separation; and value rather than disregard. Thank you, Rev. Matt Harrison, for setting the example of leadership in the church and giving women the opportunity and encouragement to pursue our God-given vocations within the church.(

As the current President’s selection of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff and the former President’s selection of Dick Cheney as vice-president indicated their intended directions so does the selections being made by newly elected Rev. Matthew Harrison.  Next week will take a look at another one of his selections which will get us singing right along with Johnny Nash.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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5 Responses to My View from the Outside

  1. Bart Goddard says:

    Two things really frost me in that letter. The first is that she twice refers to the World Relief department as “the mercy arm of synod.” Certainly charity is mercy, but it pales in comparison to the mercy granted in forgiveness and the subsequent eternal life. Where does she get off appropriating “mercy” to her department, when that sort of mercy is the tiniest drop in God’s mercy bucket? Does she ever have it backward.

    The other backward thing is her little quote about “power”. How she revels in the power she was unexpectedly given. Power this; power that. Until and unless she can adopt a more servant attitude, she belongs in no church leadership positions.
    Does power indeed “make love stronger”? Or does it corrupt?

  2. John Gerhard says:

    Nothing alarming there unless one is looking to be inflammatory. Ms. Below clearly knows the limits of her role as a woman in the church. Marie Kienker and Maggie Karner, whom she mentions in her statement as fellow women leaders in administrative positions, are also pastor’s wives, I think. They probably have a good understanding of the gender boundaries of the pastoral office that scripture gives. You have to really be reading this statement with an eye toward being intentionally critical to infer that Ms. Below thinks that World Relief and Human Care is the only (or even the most important) way that mercy is given by the LCMS, too. Likewise, where does she say she “revels in the power”, Bart? You’re reading that in without any evidence or justification except maybe an unstated agenda. Whatever happened to not doing anything to hurt the neighbor’s reputation, but defending, speaking well of, and explaining everything in the kindest way? Oh, maybe because Luther wrote that with “him” and “his” as the pronouns, you think it doesn’t apply to our sisters in Christ?

  3. Bart Goddard says:

    Falsely accusing someone of a sin which you are committing by the very act of the accusation should have a special name. “Double blind hypocrisy” or some such.
    Mr. Gehard accuses me of not following the “best construction” principle, and then fails to put the best construction on my post by accusing me of having a hidden agenda (I don’t), accusing me of making an argument from Luther’s use of pronouns (which I never made), and accusing me of speaking without evidence (also not true.)

    He accuses me of having a hidden agenda, but he’s the one with the hidden agenda. Look how sneaky it is to refer to Ms. Below as “Ms. Below”, but refers to me by my first name, like I’m a little kid. That’s playground nonsense, and I’m not playing.

    I have the evidence, and it’s in the original letter. Ms. Below calls her office “THE
    mercy arm of the LCMS.” She doesn’t say “A mercy arm” or any such. Just because Mr. Gerhard isn’t clever enough to spot the nuances, doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t. To put the best construction on things, he should have said, to himself at least, “Maybe Dr. Goddard is far more clever than I, and sees something in the letter which I am to simple to discern.” But he didn’t. Oh the arrogance.

    And yes, she’s reveling (wallowing, actually) in the “the power.” There’s nothing else her citation can mean. Besides running directly counter to “My strength is in your weakness”, (as I said, she has it exactly backwards) , just look how many times the word “power” appears in the paragraph. Change all the instances of “power” to “love”, and the paragraph almost reads like Scripture,. “Power strengthens love”??!! If it were any more blatantly the exact opposite of Scripture, it would be a 2 x 4 moving at high velocity.

    The best construction I can put on Mr. Gerhard’s post is “disingenuous.”

  4. Paul Siems says:


    My guess is that Pr. Harris perceived as you did and that is why he posted this. What you perceived are not nuances. They are the standard language of the LC-MS. Mrs. Below’s article actually says much more than what you have stated. Moreover, her manner of stating these things indicates that these do not originate with her, but are, in fact, the common perception within the Matt Harrison synodical understanding.

    This is not a new development. It has been growing since the early 1900’s, with rapid acceleration since the time of WWII.

    The history of the ELCA and the bodies that merged to create it demonstrates that the pattern in the LC-MS is the same.

    Mrs. Below is merely articulating what she observes daily. She is reflecting the reality of the communion in which she lives and breathes. Moreover, Harrison is not being deceptive. He is and has been stating forthrightly who he is and what he believes and practices. After all, he has been flourishing for the last decade in the Kieschnick
    administration. He not only survived it, but flourished in it.

    What John Gerhard is telling you, perhaps without full realization of this himself, is that you are living in denial. The LC-MS and its leadership and its congregations are what they are. It should not surprise anyone when what the LC-MS people say reflects who they are. The Lord Jesus plainly teaches that they will be known by their fruits.

    The Lord Jesus says that He is come to give the truth and that the truth sets free those who receive it. If you want this freedom instead of the bondage that you are decrying, you need to ask yourself how Jesus declares that the Truth sets His disciples free from their bondage.

  5. Bart Goddard says:

    I first re-re-iterate my protest: For years, laymen of my stripe have fought against the movement towards “Buddy Jesus” and “Buddy Pastor”, in part, by being vocal against people calling the pastor by his first name, even if they say “Pastor Steve.” At the voters assemblies at one of my previous churches, the pastor would refer to the congregational president and Mr. Smith, while Mr. Smith would call the pastor “Dave.” It took only 3 of us to put a stop to that. In that context, it strikes me as bizarre that the conservative clergy, the very ones who insist on being called “Pastor Lastname”, are the worst ones about using diminutives when they meet strangers. My students are “Mr.” and “Miss” until we’ve established a more familiar rapport. It’s simple and common courtesy, and the last people it should be lost on are the confessional, conservative Pastors who should be acutely aware of the implications. You reap the benefit of my efforts, so please return the favor.

    Second: Paul Siems: Of course we’re in denial, but not the way you suppose. We’re at war, and somehow the rules of engagement have been twisted so that one can’t call the enemy the enemy. The pastor at the LCMS congregation down the street, or a seminary professor or a district president could be publicly preaching and practicing sheer and blatant heresy, and the person who gets disciplined is the one who says so. (See above.) We all know who the evil ones are, but we all deny saying it. Luther could call the Pope “antichrist”, but we can’t even correct a sister congregation’s open communion policy without being unloving without failing to put the best construction on it, and without calling down the wrath of district.

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