Newtown, CT Controversy Quelled
There has been a simmering controversy over an LCMS pastor praying at a public event in Newtown, CT following the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. At this event, local clergy prayed and President Barack Obama spoke to the mourning community who were just trying to make sense of such a senseless and evil act.
Upon seeing Rev. Robert Morris offering the closing benediction, questions were raised as to whether or not Pastor Morris was theologically correct in joining in what was billed as a “ecumenical service” and a “vigil.”
LCMS President Matthew Harrison did what a Synodical President is supposed to do when clergy people do something that may go against the theological foundations of the LCMS – he talked to those involved. In speaking with Pastor Morris and his New England District President, something remarkable happened: President Harrison acted as a Pastor. Here is the link to the Witness, Mercy, Life Together blog so you can read the entire letter.
The closing paragraph really spoke to me and shows why is is wonderful to have a man serving as LCMS President who has a true pastor’s heart:
By the mercies of Christ, I earnestly request of any who are contemplating action against Pastor Morris in the Synod’s reconciliation system that you do not do so. He has apologized. I shall continue the conversation with him. He is certainly willing to continue to talk with me. Coming to greater consensus on the issues will not be aided by a legally defined bylaw process, dealing with a highly emotional case, with an outcome guaranteed to divide. I also strongly urge that we all continue to support Pastor Rob Morris, his wife and his young family, and his congregation (all of whom have suffered much in this) in prayer and love, especially in providing funding for Christ the King as it continues to care for victims. Their grief is deep and lasting and can be assuaged only in the cross and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. You may send gifts to the LCMS: LCMS Disaster Response, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166–6861, and indicate “For Newtown.”
I am not Jesus. I’m not omniscient. I’m not infallible. I simply ask the best for the Synod that we may be about our chief task. I covet your prayers.
Former LCMS President, Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, who was in the middle of a more deeper controversy after the September 11, 2001 attacks when Atlantic District President Rev. David Benke prayed at a Yankee Stadium memorial service, wrote this morning about this controversy in his email newsletter “Perspectives:”
Praying in PublicA horrible act of violence occurs in America, snuffing out the lives of innocent people. The incident receives worldwide media coverage. Healthy people with a sense of conscience from across the nation and around the world grieve the needless and senseless loss of life.The people of the community most directly affected earnestly desire and need something or someone who can help grief stricken individuals and families find elusive peace at a time of unimaginable trauma. Someone in the community suggests a gathering in a public location. The community is invited. Civic and religious leaders offer words of hope and consolation to grieving people. Some of the leaders are Christian. Others are not.One of the religious leaders is a pastor of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Most people who attend in person or watch the event electronically thank God that one who believes what the Bible says about good and evil, sin and grace, life and death is at that gathering. A vast majority of people in the LCMS agree and also thank God for the public presence and faithful prayers of one of our own.Some do not believe an LCMS pastor should take part in such an event. Most of those are fellow LCMS clergymen, some of whom openly criticize the pastor who participated. Cries of unionism and charges of syncretism are spoken and written. The pastor who proclaimed words from Holy Scripture and gave public witness to the only true God is chastised and vilified by fellow pastors for praying in public on the same platform as other Christian and non-Christian leaders.
Opinions and decisions of national LCMS leaders are divided. Some support the pastor’s actions. Others call for the pastor’s apology or removal from membership in the LCMS. Those contrasting decisions and opinions are widely publicized and come to the attention of many in the church and beyond.
The overwhelming majority of people both in and beyond the LCMS who hear the request for apology and/or removal shake their heads in disgust and dismay. For them the image of our church becomes one of isolationism, sectarianism and legalism. That image is further fostered in the minds of people for whom perception becomes reality.
Neither Christian nor non-Christian people understand what could possibly be wrong for a pastor called by God to speak on behalf of God at a perplexing time in the lives of people created by God and redeemed by the Son of God. Those in the LCMS who see the pastor’s participation as inappropriate fear the unknowing public might get the impression that our pastor agrees theologically with all the other Christian and non-Christian participants. In my humble but not uninformed opinion, nothing could be farther from reality.
Some who read this article may know what I mean when I say this sounds like Yankee Stadium in Newtown, Connecticut. In both cases, the pastor in question was simply responding in a pastoral way to people in need of healing and hope. He did so without in any way compromising the truth of what we believe, teach and confess.
I say now what I said over 11 years ago. If a Lutheran pastor is invited to pray in a public gathering and declines that invitation, he yields the platform, the microphone and the message to those whose witness to Christ and his redeeming love may, in some cases very possibly and in other cases undoubtedly, not be nearly as clear as our pastor’s would have been.
Elijah prayed in the presence of hundreds of prophets of false gods. Paul preached in synagogues and taught in temples in the presence of people who rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah. So did Jesus himself.
Our witness to the truth needs to be given to people who know not the truth. For that to happen, we must speak that witness in places where people who need to hear the truth are present. That may very well include other speakers who are present in those places.
To the question whether it is OK for a Lutheran pastor to pray publicly in circumstances such as just described, my perspective is: Absolutely! Anytime! Anywhere! In the presence of anyone! Like Peter and John in Acts 4, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard, even if it means persecution or imprisonment!May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always!