Before the late 1960s, housing programs in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) focused on orphanages and homes for the elderly and disabled. By 1967, however, church leaders sought to direct the church’s attention toward the problems of homelessness and inadequate affordable housing without rejecting past housing projects.
Three resolutions, proposed in the LCMS’ 1967 Convention, addressed these two new directions. The first of the resolutions, titled “To Express Concern for Fair Housing,” began by drawing attention to the fact that, “large cities [of the United States] [were] faced with problems of housing adequately their masses, and non-whites [were] especially oppressed by reason of racial discrimination, which [assigned] them to ghetto areas and effectually [excluded] them from all-white neighborhoods….” The resolution called for the LCMS to create a broad program that would “reach every congregation and member in synod,” and inform these members of their “Christian responsibility to help.” In addition, the resolution also charged this new program with the task of collecting donations and pledges to fund additional programs that would address needs in affordable housing. The synod was required by the resolution to financially support the program’s administrative budget.
The second and third resolutions, “To Inaugurate Action on Fair Housing” and “To Provide Guidelines for the Elimination of Discrimination in Housing,” called upon the synod to honor its anti-discrimination stance laid out in the 1956 Convention by supporting the creation of fair housing. All three of these resolutions passed the convention and served as the basis for the synod’s new fundraising and informational program on fair housing entitled “Keys for Christ.”
Unlike past housing programs, where each program was driven by individual congregations and local needs, the resolutions passed in the 1967 Convention provided a synod-wide, national program to answer a national need. This was a major shift in organizational policy.
The three housing resolutions passed at the 1967 Convention set down broad goals for the LCMS to accomplish in the field of low-income housing over the following three years. Overall, the synod was tasked to “undertake a program of education and action” to be directed towards every church in the entire synod. This program was to collect and distribute monetary contributions as well as advocate that individual members participate in fair housing programs across the country. Furthermore, it was, in keeping with Lutheran teachings on mercy, supposed to minister to the whole person, body and soul. With these goals in mind, the Convention, through Resolution 9-08, directed the LCMS Board of Social Ministry to “engage immediately in planning and developing the means and procedures that contribute to the advancement of the cause of open housing consistent with the Synod’s financial management policies in other matters.” The convention’s resolutions provided broad goals and directions as to where the money was to come from and how it was to be spent. However, it would be left up to the discretion of the LCMS’ Board of Social Ministry as to how these details would be implemented.
Just one week after the New York Convention ended, the Board of Social Ministry went to work. A special financial account was immediately created to receive contributions for the open housing program. The special account kept these funds from becoming mingled with the synod’s overall operating budget. Three weeks later, the board formed a “special committee on housing matters” to explore the various avenues that it could take to address the convention’s goals.
Within six months of the 1967 convention, the new housing program of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod was beginning to take shape. During these months, a committee on housing matters was appointed through the synod’s Board of Social Ministry. This committee consulted with numerous LCMS pastors, housing experts, and laymen to gauge both the need that existed for fair housing and the new program’s plan of action. In addition, the Board of Social Welfare began to receive requests from congregations asking for information about how they could assist in the new “open housing” programs of the LCMS. Donations began coming in, and the LCMS Board of Directors also approved funding for a “staff member to promote [the] program.” Furthermore, individual districts began to request information and guidance on how they could carry out the synod’s goal.
At the seven month mark, the committee on housing matters took the official name of “Committee on Housing Concerns.” This committee developed a program that rested on four goals:
“ We [the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod] must provide assistance to and encourage our congregations to become involved in providing appropriate housing for minority groups imprisoned in ghetto areas.  Recognizing that there are 14 million people not in inner city areas who also are the victims of inadequate housing, that we therefore encourage our congregations to become involved in housing programs for these.  We see our responsibility to encourage our congregations to engage in programs that will bring stability to integrated neighborhoods.  Finally, we believe that we must encourage our congregations to assist people to enjoy the freedom to live where they desire and where they can afford to live.”
Upon consultation with other executives in synod, the committee also decided to approach the synod’s Board of Directors with the proposal of creating a program to raise $1,000,000 in support of fair housing. It was with the suggestion of this massive fundraising program that “Keys for Christ” was effectively born.
To read the second part of this three-part story on “Keys for Christ,” please click here.
The preceding story is the first article in our three-part series on the “Keys for Christ” fundraising program. It is excerpted from the academic thesis “Homes Built on Mercy: A History of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s Involvement in Affordable Housing” (James Kienker, Westminster College, 2008). All sources and citations have been removed to ensure proper formatting for the web.