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WILL LINCOLN AREA LUTHERANS BECOME APRIL FOOLED
Posted on Saturday, March 31 @ 06:56:26 CDT by van

Religion
It is first important for my readers to note that April 1, often called "April Fools Day" is a special day for me for many reasons. Five years ago, on that date, the first story on vansopinion.com was aired in cyber space. Several years before that, on the same date, my five-foot two, eyes of blue Mom passed away, a lady who was never afraid to express her opinions. This year, on that date two similar, yet very different things will occur, one involving one of the best Lutheran Pastors I have ever had the pleasure of knowing will celebrate his tenth anniversary as pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, the other involving a former Lutheran Pastor who violated the code of conduct the Bible prescribes for ministers. The latter was allowed to resign his pastoral office rather than possibly being "defrocked." Now, he is trying to start up a new church in Lincoln called the "River of Life Christian Community Church advertised to be holding its first meeting on April 1st. The purpose of this article is to put a few cards face up on the table so that good people who might be inclined to join that church may be fully informed so they can make up their own as to whether or not Dan Cloeter should ever again be called "Pastor."



A week ago, there appeared an article in the Lincoln Journal Star newspaper entitled "New church to hold first service at SourthPoint Cinema. The article pointed out that the new church was being started by a "Rev" Dan Cloeter and his wife Marji and that it was affiliated with an association of a number of congregations which had left the "ELCA" for reasons for doctrinal differences to start up an entity known as Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LC-MC). The article went on to say that the Cloeters had mailed out 50,000 cards to "area residents inviting them to the new church." The article claimed Dan Cloeter was pastor of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Omaha, until 2002. Apparently reporter Bob Reeves must have surmised that Cloeter was still a Lutheran Pastor in that Cloeter and Marji were both graduates of Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska, an Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LC-MS) facility.

I am a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Pastor Clint Poppe is senior pastor of that church, and hence my pastor. Clint Poppe is a man who, in my opinion, ranks among the very best spiritual leaders I have ever know in my fifty-three years of being a confirmed Lutheran Christian. Clint Poppe is a man’s man and at the same time an outstanding minister who is in every respect totally trustworthy! Poppe is also First Vice-President of the Nebraska District of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Put another way, he, like another minister I will mention later for an important reason, are examples worthy of the emulation of all young men called by God to serve in His Holy Ministry.

I called Pastor Poppe and asked if he know anything about this "Rev" Dan Cloeter. He said he knew plenty but had been barred by Russell Sommerfeld, President of the Nebraska District of the LC-MS from discussing the matter and that I should "call District" for any information. Since I have called for Sommerfeld to resign his office and since I wouldn’t trust the districts "Attorney" Kermit Brashear (former speaker of the Nebraska Legislature) to be likely to pass on any information to me, I looked to other sources for answers.

That, coupled with the fact that the LC-MS and the ELCA don’t share pastors back and forth gave rise to me investigating the matter in depth. Since Sommerfeld had been involved in covering up several sex related scandals withing the LC-MS in Nebraska, it did not surprise me to later find this was jest one more in a series of such. This turned out, as you will see, to be the second time Sommerfeld has allowed a Nebraska congregation to dump its pastoral garbage in the yard of another congregation several states away.

When the Cloeters’ post cards started arriving at the homes of both LC-MS and ELCA members and when Cloeter and his gang placed yard signs in the vicinity of other Lutheran churches as part of his scheme to proselytize members for existing congregations, I went to work calling around to investigate the guy’s background. What I found out was amazing, to say the least.

It is important to note at this juncture, I served in the Boards of Directors of Tabitha Home, Tabitha New Community (now Autumn Wood) and Tabitha Village Apartments all of which were at the time a part of the Lutheran Church of America (LCA). The LCA subsequently became the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).

I have no animosity toward the ELCA, notwithstanding the fact there a several things that religious body has done in recent years with which I do not agree. The same can be said, however, of my own branch of Lutheranism, the LC-MS. For the record, there are some positions being taken by the LC-MC with which I strongly agree. The LC-MC according to the web site of that organization states, "We affirm that God created us male and female, and that it is God’s will and intention that human sexual expression and fulfillment take place only within the boundaries of marriage between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24-25; Matthew 19; 4-6 and Mark 10;2-9)." As you will learn, DAN CLOETER DOES NOT PRACTICE WHAT HE PROFESSES AND PREACHES!

So to the honest and sincere folks who have and are moving their church affiliation to a congregation of the LC-MC, I can only say, God Bless you and your new religions adventure.

There are unquestionably men and women who have more "conservative" religious views than those currently subscribed to by the main line of the ELCA and are making a choice to worship elsewhere. It should, however, be made perfectly clear I am not trying to sabotage the cranking up of a new church in a new Lutheran denomination, but rather presenting information which has come into my personal possession by way of written documents containing information which Dan Cloeter has, I believe, carefully withheld for what appears to be a very questionable agenda.

I think you will see why when you read the contents of a letter dated 15 December 2004 written to all of the members of St. Luke Lutheran Church (LC-MS) of Ann Arbor, Michigan TELLING THE TRUTH ABOUT WHY DAN CLOETER WAS TERMINATED AS PASTOR OF THAT CONGREGATION. The letter written by Richard Sheridan, then president of the St. Luke congregation is reproduced verbatim with the possible exception of a typographical error or two resulting from my having received a copy electronically.

December 15, 2004


Dear brothers and sisters of St. Luke:

It has been over seven Months since the suspension of Dan Cloeter was announced to the congregation. It is very clear some of you still have important lingering questions about this situation. This letter is intended to answer those questions and, falling that, describe to you a path for further consider ion and consultation.

The most common questions heard are

1. What exactly happened and did Dan Cloeter's wrongdoings warrant the resulting actions by the St. Luke Church Council?

2. What has happened to the Cloeter family since their departure from St. Luke?


3. Will we ever have the closure of some form public confession from Dan?

Early on and up until now, the Church Council took the approach of sharing only the information necessary to explain our actions, while holding back a substantial amount of information In order to provide the entire Cloeter family the dignity of privacy during a very difficult time as well as to provide on-going protection for the victim involved in this situation.

It would be, easy now to simply assume that wounds will heal over time and no more information needs to be shared, However, all advice we are receiving says that this approach, while apparently easier now, prolongs the pain for many additional years beyond what may actually be necessary to property heal the wounds of our congregation.

Therefore, significantly more information is being shared now so that those remaining members of the congregation who are still struggling with the pain of this situation may use this information in order to accomplish their own assessment and healing process.

What exactly happened'?

Here's the sequence of events, with some historical reflection:

1. During the week of April 19', 2004, during normal servicing of a computer problern of Dan Cloeter's office computer, an e-mail message appeared on his screen that immediately presented substantial evidence of an inappropriate relationship between Dan Cloeter and an adult female member of our congregation (not a staff member).

2. This concern was brought forth to a set of leaders of the congregation (President Richard Sheridan, Elder Chairman Frank Murdock, Member-At-Large Chas Moeller, Attorney James Fink and senior staff member Lloyd Stuhr) who requested the review of all a-mails between Dan and this individual, This review revealed the worst fears of the leaders our senior pastor was quite obviously involved in a substantial and intimate relationship lasting many months with an adult woman who was not his wife. Worse, it was a member of our congregation, Even worse, and more serious for our body, it was a women Dan was counseling. For those who understand the professional code of ethics for any type of counselor, this is one of the worst offenses for professional counselors, whether lay professionals or clergy. Anyone who is familiar with seminary training knows this type of offense is specifically warned against, It is for this reason, (i.e., that this was someone Dan was counseling) that we refer to the woman involved as a "victim" in this situation. Anyone who is being counseled should be able to enter such a counseling relationship with no possibility of romantic involvement regardless of what is shared or how intimate the discussions become during the counseling. Many of our actions related to sharing minimal information were specifically for the protection of the victim

3. The e-mail evidence indicated that the level of written communication was substantial: typically daily and often several times per day. It also indicated there was substantial telephone and cell phone communication as well.

4. This came, as a great surprise to all of us In lay leadership as there had been no concerns expressed in any way to the leadership that there might have been a problem before this, Subsequent to these revelations, however, some staff have indicated there were things they were feeling uncomfortable about, but some felt the actions witnessed were not compelling enough to bring it to anyone else's attention, while others felt they may not have been believed It they brought tie information forward. 'This can often be a difficult situation, especially if the person involved is your supervisor. The lay leadership is sensitive to the fact that we must provide safe forums where concerned staff members can bring their concerns without fear of retribution, There will never be a simple, trivial answer to this and we should only assume we just always need to be watchful and provide opportunities for communication.

5. Two decisions were immediately obvious and two actions taken, Dan Cloeter had to be confronted immediately with this evidence and a plan must be put in place to suspend him while a deeper investigation was conducted. It was at this time that Pastor Zehnder was contacted to fill in for us during this difficult time. He accepted immediately and without question.

6. The very, next morning after receiving this evidence, President Sheridan and Eider Chairman Murdock visited the Michigan District office of the Missouri Synod in order to confirm the actions we were about to take and to provide a ?safe landing place" both for Dan Cloeter and the victim.

7. With these "safe landing places" assured, President Sheridan and Elder Chairman Murdock met with Dan Cloeter in his office and communicated that he was being suspended from his duties as senior pastor pending an Investigation of an inappropriate relationship wit; a female member of the congregation who he was counseling. Dan ultimately confessed to all of the information he was presented with and began to offer additional testimony to the two man regarding his wrongdoings.

8. The church leadership began a process of providing information to the congregation, the rest of the church council and the elders. This included nightly congregational forums at the church every evening for almost two weeks following the announcement. As the investigation continued and more discussions were held with Dan Cloeter It became clear that this relationship had progressed far beyond simple romantic e-mail exchanges. The relationship had progressed to the point of intimate physical contact including intimate sexual contact. Additional information was shared with the remainder of the church council so that a decision could be reached whether to severe our employment relationship with Dan Cloeter. During this most difficult time, the Michigan District office provided substantial assistance as to proper course of action. Pastor Zehnder also provided tremendous guidance based on his years of experience as an LCMS pastor.

9. During this process, a deeper investigation was launched into the entire e-mail record of Dan Cloeter's St. Luke correspondence. It was during this time that three other such "electronic relationships" were discovered indicating similar written romantic exchanges between Dan and women from his former congregations. Some of these exchanges were going on simultaneously with the exchange of e-mails with the female member of our congregation, We know little of these other women and whether they were involved in counseling relationships, or the extent to which these relationships ever developed beyond e-mail. We are working with the Michigan District to ensure that the proper action is taken.

10. Eventually, some leaders were also made aware of other e-mail contacts between Dan and other female members of our congregation, even after this entire process began. The women themselves provided this awareness. Many of these e-mails seemed quite innocent, but still inappropriately uncomfortable for communications between a senior pastor and the female members of his congregation. We raise this point as an alert to other female members of our congregation.

11. On the advice of legal counsel, a severance agreement was drawn up for Dan to review. This is typical in a situation like this in exchange for Dan's voluntary admission of wrong doing that warranted his resignation, an orderly termination and financial transition would be provided for the Cloeter family. Throughout all of this, the church leadership was sensitive to the fact that there were many victims of Dan's actions including members of his own family who would suffer the embarrassment of such a fall into sin and be threatened with financial ruin and having to uproot their lives in our area and make a life elsewhere.

12. The terms of Dan's severance agreement (worked out between Dan's attorney and St Luke's) provided for four months of full salary and benefits starting from the day of his suspension, Additionally, we would provide continuation of health insurance coverage, through the: end of October (six. full months of medical. coverage) with the, hope that the family would be able to transition to another plan by that time. Additionally, we assured Dan that we would not foreclose on the mortgage or, his house during this time. Many of you may not be aware that most staff mortgages are provided through CEF (the Church Extension Fund of the Michigan District) and St, Luke is the guarantor of the mortgage, Monthly mortgage payments are made through payroll deductions, which leaves us in a potentially vulnerable position if the staff member is no longer on the payroll.

13. Another very unfortunate experience during all of this was when it became obvious that Dan was seeking out many individual members for emotional and financial support and during these pleas for support would provide misleading information that would further confuse the congregation. While his severance agreement provided for a forfeiture of all financial benefits should Dan make disparaging remarks about St. Luke, its leaders or members, the church council specifically chose not bring the full force of legal action against Dan during this difficult time. We approached Dan directly, and repeatedly to implore him to stop these destructive actions and he eventually cut back on the volume of this activity It was this difficult time that proved to be the most draining on the lay leadership and staff of the congregation, Almost every day we were being challenged by members as to why we were doing this and whether it was justified. Prayer and faith sustained all of us during this process.

Simultaneously, offers of support were coming forth from committed members of our congregation for the Cloeters and the victim, St. Luke offered several times to pay for counseling sessions for the victim. The victim has chosen to remain very private in all of this and has sought her own avenues of counseling, The victim still chooses to remain private and we would ask that all of you respect that request. St. Luke offered to Dan and Marji a Restoration team and this offer was accepted, The Restoration team of Rich Luker, Chas Moeller and Ted Jungkuntz began meeting with Dan to counsel him and begin building a road back to a fully "forgiven" relationship with the body at St. Luke. It was anticipated that at a certain point, women would be added to this team to counsel Marji, but that did not occur prior to the Cloeter, a leaving for Texas, We never anticipated the work of this team would ever result in Dan returning to us as a pastor. These brothers have largely followed the teachings of a book called "Restoring the Fallen" which describes a similarly lengthy journey back from just such a transgression. ' The book describes a process that can take years to complete ' Other Advisors have suggested that such a proms of forgiveness can take up to 10 years to fully complete. Obviously, God can move at any pace, but He has continually shown us through the Bible that the timing of healing processes can take as long as 40 years to complete. God is never impotent.

What has happened to the Cloeters in the meantime?

1. Dan voluntarily resigned as an LCMS pastor.

2. Dan and Marji have sold their home and have moved to San Antonio, Texas with Anna.

3. Dan and Marji have jobs and they were able to successfully transition to new health Insurance with no interruption of coverage for the family.

4. They have purchased a house in San Antonio.

6, The Cloeter have joined the Concordia Lutheran congregation and had their membership transferred there.

Do we anticipate some form of closure up to and including a formal Public confession from Dan?

The answer to this question is in the Lord's hands. It should be noted that Dan has voiced his desire to appear before the congregation and confess his sins from the very earliest days, of his release from office. However, the Restoration Team counseled Dan that he was in no way ready for that. Good fruit, the fruit of repentance can take a long time to ripen. The true fruit of repentance would not be characterized by cover-up, false speech misleading statements, manipulation or sowing seeds of discord, Furthermore, before the leadership would allow direct interaction with the congregation., the council and elders would first attempt to discern the honesty and integrity of the confession itself, obviously comparing the details to those we already have in our possession. Forgiveness unaccompanied by repentance provides little healing value to either side. The Restoration Team and other counsel that Dan has garnered will continue to work with Dan tow" this end.

We must pray for ultimate resolution of all of this and ask for God's guidance and strength in the months and years ahead. As we enter into the first phases of a process to call a new senior pastor, we must be mindful of the fingering impact this will have on the call process and the man who eventually comes to fill the role of senior pastor. God knows who this mar will be and we are confident that God will provide us a man with the right qualities to lead us to the next phase of growth for our loving, caring body of believers here at St, Luke.

We hope that this letter serves to provide closure for all those who are still hurting in our congregation. In the event there are still unanswered questions, I would ask that you contact any of the following people for a personal follow-up to answer any remaining concerns or questions that you may have:

Pastor Ron Zehnder:    734-483-7748
Frank Murdock:           734-761-6150
Richard Sheridan:        734-223-4303
Kathie Supiano:           734-663-8017
Marilyn Granner           734-996-4939 (note that Marilyn is away until January 9th)
Roger Varblow             734-604-0071
Jim Fink:                    734-994-1400 (daytime) 734-483-6785 (evening)
Lloyd Stuhr:                734-971-0550


We also ask that you honor the rest of our St. Luke staff by not calling them with additional questions regarding these matters. They now know as much as has been shared in this letter, but will not be able to offer anything more and very much need to be able to carry on with the work God has placed before them in leading our congregation forward. Please pray that God continues to pour out His blessings upon St. Luke. [END OF LETTER]

By an extremely rare coincidence, Pastor Ron Zehnder was my pastor when I lived in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio nearly forty years ago. He had been retired for a number of years when called from retirement by St. Luke’s to serve as interim pastor subsequent to the termination of Dan Cloeter. Pastor Zehnder and Pastor Poppe are men who truly adhere to and espouse the highest Biblical standards outlined for Ministers of the Gospel. I called Pastor Zehnder and in our conversation asked him if he would feel comfortable leaving a daughter of his alone with Dan Cloeter knowing what he now knows. His answer was "ABSOLUTELY NOT." Later I received an e-mail from him which stated, "I don’t know how thoroughly this consortium of former ELCA pastors check out credentials but in Cloeter’s case the letter from Richard Sheridan tells an absolutely true account of the Ann Arbor events. The very fact he is passing himself off as a "Rev" ignores reality. He resigned from the clergy roster of the LC-MS of his own volition. He is a laymen." Thus, one of the most respected ministers I have ever known corroborated the 15 December 2004 letter presented above.

I have called nearly all of the men and women listed on the bottom of the letter and have verified the authenticity of the letter and its contents. It is, I feel, important the men and women who are genuinely interested in starting a new LUTHERAN congregation, know that they are dealing with a man who has not told the whole truth about his past. I think, after reading the letter above you can see why.

Dan Cloeter, if he is sincere and repentant has likely already been forgiven by God for what he did. Dan Cloeter, as a man, has a duty and obligation to support his family. There are, however, many ways and means he could do just that and keep himself safely and discretely removed from the Holy Ministry. But no! Like an alcoholic who "falls off of the wagon", he appears to be headed for a new bar. Bad enough he hooked up with Thrivent, an insurance company which was created when the Aid Association for Lutherans and the Lutheran Brotherhood companies merged and as an agent of that company will potentially be exposed to numerous Lutheran women, many times alone in their homes. Even worse, in my opinion, he is attempting at the same time to start a new church. How can this man in good conscience take confessions, corporate or individual, and state "As a called and ordained servant of the Word, by and in the stead of Our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you of all you sins in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Ghost." How can he teach in his confirmation classes the meanings of the Ten Commandments without wondering how many might learn of his breaking one of them with a former parishoner. I certainly hope and pray that history does not repeat itself in the case of Dan Cloeter.

As the grand old man of radio, Paul Harvey might say to the good Lutheran Christians of the Lincoln area, "And now you know, THE REST OF HE STORY"!


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