Robert J. Marshall

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Robert James Marshall (c. 1918 – December 22, 2008) was an American clergyman and religious leader who was president of the Lutheran Church in America in the 1970s, at the time the largest Lutheran church in the United States. During his leadership, he played a pivotal role in the merger of his Lutheran Church in America with the American Lutheran Church and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Early life and education[edit]

Marshall was born and raised in Burlington, Iowa. He grew up in a poor family, which helped him become more attuned to the concerns of those who were disadvantaged.[1] Marshall graduated from Wittenberg University in 1941 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and from the Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary in 1944. Kauffman was awarded Doctor of Divinity degrees from both Carthage College and Wittenberg University, in addition to other graduate study at the University of Chicago[2]

Ministerial and academic career[edit]

He spent three years as the pastor of a California church.[1] He became a professor of Old Testament Interpretation at the Chicago Lutheran School of Theology (now the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.[2] Marshall was hired by Muhlenberg College, where he was later appointed as head of the school's religion department. He served as president of the Lutheran Illinois Synod until 1968.[1]

In balloting at the Lutheran Church in America's biannual convention held in June 1966 in Kansas City, Missouri, Marshall received 70 of the 615 votes cast for president, behind Rev. Franklin Clark Fry, who was re-elected to another four-year term with 489 votes.[3]

Marshall was elected in June 1968 to serve as president of the Lutheran Church in America, succeeding Franklin Clark Fry, who had died earlier that month.[2] Marshall was installed in ceremonies held at Riverside Church in October 1968, with clergymen from around the world in attendance.[4] Marshall was elected to a full four-year term at the biannual convention held in Minneapolis in June 1970, receiving 545 votes out of the 593 cast.[5]

On March 31, 1978, Marshall announced that he would not seek re-election to another term as president, and would instead take a position with the Lutheran World Ministries. In an interview with The New York Times, Marshall pointed to successful fundraising, adoption of a new book of worship and ecumenical outreach to the Episcopal, Roman Catholic and evangelical movements as among his achievements. He stated that the reasons for his decision were not based on health but reflected his desire for "some new vision to come in".[6]


During his ten years in the office, Marshall led the 3 million-member group and restructured the church's ministries in the United States and around the world.[1]

In 1976 in Philadelphia, at the 41st International Eucharistic Congress, an interfaith ecumenical gathering of scholars and church leaders, Marshall received a lengthy standing ovation after opening his remarks with the two words "Fellow Christians".[1] He continued his remarks by noting that "we should not exalt our differences, we should work on them".[7]

In 1988, building on the outreach and dialogue that Marshall had worked on, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was formed by the merger of the relatively liberal Lutheran Church in America with the more conservative American Lutheran Church and Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. The combined body had 10,500 congregations and 4.8 million members in the United States and the Caribbean by the time of Marshall's death.[1]


Marshall died at age 90 on December 22, 2008 of heart failure in Allentown, Pennsylvania.[1] He was buried in Burlington, Iowa.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Weber, Bruce. "Robert Marshall, Church Leader, 90, Dies ", The New York Times, December 23, 2008. Accessed December 24, 2008.
  2. ^ a b c Dugan, George. "LUTHERANS ELECT A NEW PRESIDENT; Head of Illinois Synod Will Lead Church in America", The New York Times, June 21, 1968. Accessed December 24, 2008.
  3. ^ Staff. "LUTHERANS RENAME NEW YORKER AS HEAD", The New York Times, June 23, 1966. Accessed December 25, 2008.
  4. ^ Staff. "Clerics From 4 Continents Help Install Chief of Lutheran Church", The New York Times, October 21, 1968. Accessed December 25, 2008.
  5. ^ Dugan, George. "LUTHERAN CHURCH ELECTS PRESIDENT; Rev. Dr. Robert J. Marshall Is Chosen for 4-Year Term", The New York Times, June 28, 1970. Accessed December 25, 2008.
  6. ^ Staff. "Lutheran Chief Views Future In New Mission; 'Energy Crisis Not Just Oil'", The New York Times, April 9, 1978. Accessed December 25, 2008.
  7. ^ Briggs, Kenneth A. "Ecumenical Group Cites Progress on Communion", The New York Times, August 6, 1976. Accessed December 25, 2008.