October 29, 2020

Ridiculous Religiosity

Meeting House Newtown

Meeting House, Newtown, CT

I am going to go on record here: that this pastor was compelled to apologize represents his denomination’s ridiculous religiosity and their complete failure to understand and practice love of neighbor.

From Reuters:

“Pastor apologizes for role in prayer vigil after Connecticut massacre”

A Connecticut Lutheran pastor has apologized for participating in an interfaith prayer vigil for the 26 children and adults killed at a Newtown elementary school in December because his church bars its clergy from worshiping with other faiths.

The December prayer vigil was attended by President Barack Obama, leaders from Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths, and relatives of the 20 first graders who were gunned down in their classrooms two days earlier after a gunman entered their school.

The December 14 shooting shook the nation and led to calls for improved school security, gun control and better mental health care.

The pastor, Rob Morris of Newtown’s Christ the King Lutheran Church, provided the closing benediction at the interfaith event.

Earlier this month, the president of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Pastor Matthew Harrison, wrote a letter to church members saying he had requested an apology from Morris for his participation in “joint worship with other religions.”

“There is sometimes a real tension between wanting to bear witness to Christ and at the same time avoiding situations which may give the impression that our differences with respect to who God is, who Jesus is, how he deals with us, and how we get to heaven, really don’t matter in the end,” Harrison wrote.

“There will be times in this crazy world when, for what we believe are all the right reasons, we may step over the scriptural line,” he wrote.

Harrison said he had accepted Morris’ apology.

This is not the first time a Lutheran leader has been chastised for participating in a community service in the wake of a local tragedy.

David Benke, a Lutheran pastor in New York, was suspended for praying at an interfaith vigil in 2001, 12 days after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Benke, who had refused to apologize for the incident, was reinstated in 2003.

In his own letter to his church, Morris wrote it was not his intent to endorse “false teaching” and apologized to those who believed he had.

“I did not believe my participation to be an act of joint worship, but one of mercy and care to a community shocked and grieving an unspeakably horrific event,” he wrote. “I apologize where I have caused offense by pushing Christian freedom too far, and I request you charitably receive my apology.”

(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Jim Loney)


  1. The Boiler Guy says

    That was a solid apology. Good to hear that he took that seriously even if having been prodded from the higher-ups, which is one of the services they provide as it is a serious role.

    • Huh? I don’t understand why he needed to apologize in the first place. If anything, it would have been more “solid” had he stood up against the higher ups because he did nothing wrong.

      And people wonder why Christianity has such a bad rep…

      • The LCMS has a lot of “weaker brothers” (like every church) and while I think Pastor Morris was right to do what he did, there is nothing wrong with apologizing to weaker brothers for offending them. I think Pastor Morris and Harrison handled this well.

        • I agree with Huol. As an LCMS member, I was really dismayed by this story. The focus at the prayer vigil was on mourning with the victims. How could ANY pastor refuse to minister to the parents of the 20 precious children (as well as the families of the teachers) who lost their lives in such brutal fashion? I echo those commenters who muse that Jesus would never have rejected those families in their hour of need. Did he ever turn away someone who asked for His help? I don’t believe He did–regardless of whether that person was Jewish or not.

          So sad that this even happened.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            The focus at the prayer vigil was on mourning with the victims. How could ANY pastor refuse to minister to the parents of the 20 precious children (as well as the families of the teachers) who lost their lives in such brutal fashion?

            Purity of Ideology, no matter what Reality says.

          • This is what happens when orthodoxy and orthopraxis are out of balance. Both always have to be present. After reading both letters, I wonder what other aspects of the Beatitudes Pastor Harrison might dispute.

        • Weaker brothers are not those who are “offended”. Weaker brothers are those who are tempted to violate their own conscience because of someone exercising their freedom in Christ. These people had their own sense of righteousness offended and were in no doubt that Pastor Morris had stepped over the line.

      • So let me make sure I understand you. Chrisitianity that actually stands for something gets a bad rap for…actually standing for something. Gotcha.

        I know this won’t be popular on this site, but I applaud the LCMS for having the courage to call a false religion a false religion. To take the stage with Muslims, Rabbis, Bahai, Hindus, atheists, etc. in these types of inter “faith” deals is to say what the world believes. ie – all faiths are equal, all dogs go to heaven.

        But that aside, I think that many who are upset about the apology are making an implicit assumption that is not true. I believe the assumption is that the LCMS church would rather not doing anything to help people in CT. They would rather just sit back and not be involved. And that naive, simplistic belief is simply not true. Rather, they wish to minister to people and help them but just not do it in a manner that denies what they believe.

        Again, kuddos to them for actually standing for something.

        • I’m all for standing for something. Its just that this was a poor place and time to choose that over a public demonstration of concern and solidarity with the suffering.

          I certainly am not saying they were not otherwise involved.

          • Mike, there’s been much written on this post and in the comments along the lines of “what would Jesus do?”

            It’s funny, when you used the term “public demonstration” I couldn’t help but suspect that rather than do the public show for the networks, that likely we would have found Jesus quietly ministering to people.

            • I agree! Did you read my response to Miguel? But there are occasions when public demonstrations are warranted. Don’t tell me Jesus never did that. In fact, that’s what got him in trouble.

  2. Sometimes their concern for ‘pure doctrine’ (no such a thing exists) overrides their sense of graciousness and love, and freedom.

    Not all the time. But it rears it’s ugly head now and then.

    • No such thing as “pure doctrine” exists? What, then, would the difference be between “pure doctrine” and “correct” or “true doctrine?”

      • There is a very BIG difference between correct and pure! You can have a right answer without having a complete answer. Think E = MC2, that’s actually not the complete formula but for most purposes it’s correct even in its over simplicity.

        The idea that a finite man can posses the pure and complete knowledge of infinite Truth is just hubris… or at the very least, ignorance.

        • This doesn’t mean we can’t distinguish right from wrong, or true from false. Of course we can! And we must! But the idea that confessional lutheranism has the complete pure doctrine and the BOC contains no errors for it only teaches what scripture teaches… again, hubris.

          • Not nearly compared to the idea that scripture cannot be rightly understood and codified. We all disagree, therefore we are all wrong? Yeah, that’s logical. It is not hubris to read scripture and believe you understand what it is saying. You do the exact same thing, you simply haven’t taken the time to write it down and come to agreement with thousands of others. Lutheran’s aren’t the only ones doing it either: there are confessional Baptists, Presbyterians, Reformed, even Anglicans. Doctrinal unity is a strength that is sadly lacking and a source of constant woes in Evangelicalism.

            Let me ask: do you think it is possible to write a book that faithfully summarizes any of the teaching of scripture? At all?

        • Ok, “pure and complete knowledge of infinite Truth” is certainly not possible for finite beings. However, just as E = MC2 is correct, so then E = MC3 is incorrect. The idea behind “pure doctrine” is believing what can be known because it is revealed. For example: the teaching of the Apostle’s creed is generally considered correct doctrine by most Christians. Change any of the lines to mean their exact opposite, then what you have introduced is an err, and the doctrine would no longer be “pure.” The issue here isn’t full comprehension of the infinite, but merely refutation of known err. Steve seems to imply this isn’t possible/necessary, or that it is somehow at odds with good works. I believe that doctrine is precisely how good works are defined, or stated inversely, your definition of good works IS a doctrine you hold.

    • “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. ” (Titus 2:1)
      Or don’t bother, because such a thing doesn’t exist.

  3. There’s a difference between being compelled and being asked to do something. The actual letters from the President of the LCMS and the apology from the pastor are here. I suggest people read them before casting judgment:



    This is a messy issue in the LCMS, and while I’d tend to agree more with Pr. Morris’s position, that given the context, this was not worship, some people in fact did take offense, and there’s nothing wrong with apologizing for causing it. In our fallen world, often we cause offense no matter what we do and we should apologize.

    That being said, the general doctrine is a good one. Christians do not worship with non-christians, and it should cause offense to worship Jesus and Allah or another false god at the same time. Anybody familiar with the OT should know that.

    • Also, here is a very long discussion started by the LCMS district president involved in the 9/11 prayer service, Pr. Benke, discussing with other LCMS pastors (and other Lutherans) the role of pastors in the community and the purpose of the rules against unionism and syncretism. I think it’s a very fruitful discussion for anybody actually interested in learning, and not just throwing stones.


      • Yes, it is a fruitful conversation. And I particularly appreciate the contribution of Mike Gelhausen who explained the separatist position very clearly. I think, however, that he and his friends are barking up the wrong pastoral tree.

        But as far as stone throwing, when a public apology was publicly demanded, the public stone tossing was invited. The only people who care about the distinctions being drawn by the separatists are *not* the hurting and suffering ones. All those people know is that this pastor prayed with them and for them.

        so.. I guess they threw first. If someone telling them to put their own damnfool stone down and quit being such knobs is the same as throwing stones, well there it is.

        • The apology wasn’t publicly demanded. It was part of private discussions between the president and the pastor. Read the letters from the pastor and the LCMS president.

          • Boaz, thank you much for providing these links. They shed VERY important light on this conversation. It is necessary that we assume the best intentions on all parties and I read good intentions here from every side.

            The letter from President Harrison does state that he asked for an apology. Perhaps it was initially a private request, but the request was for a public apology and the request was subsequently made public by the letter to which you linked.

            I appreciate Pastor Morris’s humble approach. I do not believe that such an apology was due – in fact I think that it may actually be counter-productive in some ways. Nevertheless he judged it pastorally appropriate and he approached it with great integrity. May the peace of Christ dwell in him and with his congregation and bless them in this difficulty.

    • Are my links to the letters from Prs. Morris and Harrison showing up? My replies are, but the main comment appears to be waiting moderation?

      I think it’s important to link to the letters being discussed, so any criticism is based on the positions and words actually taken by the actors involved.

    • It can also be a sin to be offended out of self-righteousness.

      • I don’t see any self-righteousness in Pastor Harrison’s letter.

      • Mike, I’m surprised by your quasi statement and that you would hide behind something like that. Are you speaking hypothetically? If not, then have the courage to make an outright accusation.

        • I’ve been involved in battles like this many times, Alan. I’ve fought with the gatekeepers who are quick to be offended and to complain to the authorities.

          Its an old story in fundamentalism.

          No matter how well this pastor prepared — and indications are that he acted carefully and with great discernment — the scorekeepers were poised to cry foul when he stepped over the line.

    • From President Harrison’s letter:

      I asked Pastor Morris to apologize for taking part in this service. I did this for several reasons:

      1. I believe his participation violated the limits set by Scripture regarding joint worship, particularly with those who reject Jesus (Romans 16:17), and was thus a violation of Article VI of the LCMS Constitution.

      How President Harrison can use Romans 16:17 to refer to unbelievers and persons who are outside the faith and outside the church (“those who reject Jesus”), rather than to troublemakers within the church, seems to me like a bad example of proof texting rather than a valid application of Scripture.

    • While not worshiping with other faiths has been the centerpiece of Christian faiths since the beginning, I think it is important to note that in this case, an inter-faith prayer vigil is not a congregational worship service. I think this is an important distinction, because all that we do can be an act of worship. Tease this line of reasoning out past the formal, Sunday morning service, and you end up with some kind of weird isolationism.

    • Read the letters and am very much in agreement with our synod’s stance. What an indescribably tough calling to be a pastor. Make one person happy only to inadvertently step on someone else’s toes. They have to be pretty thick skinned even when we ourselves can be so thin skinned.

  4. Didn’t Jesus reserve his greatest criticism for the Pharisees & other religious leaders because they cared more about the observation of the law instead of the spirit of the law? I have no doubt that Jesus would have been on the front lines of that interfaith prayer service caring for every person in need of healing. I don’t know what Jesus these pastors claim to follow. The Jesus I follow was criticized for healing on the Sabbath, but I don’t remember him apologizing for doing it. Rather He showed how his action fulfilled the very laws he was criticized for breaking.

    • If Jesus were on earth today, and had shown up at Newtown, and if he had raised the dead, the LCMS would have demanded an apology.

    • The LCMS is, in many quarters, in love with its soterianism- it’s “grace-through-faith-ism” for the purpose of being in the right religion, and going to heaven when you die. That’s why it’s possible to require an apology from a pastor who prays for suffering people. It’s a perfect illustration of why justification-centered gospels can’t possibly remain Christ-centered for long.

      I know it’s not always the case in this denomination, but it was when I was growing up in it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The LCMS is, in many quarters, in love with its soterianism- it’s “grace-through-faith-ism” for the purpose of being in the right religion, and going to heaven when you die.

        How does that differ from Calvinism and TULIP?
        Or Communism and The Inevitable Dialectic of History?

  5. The LCMS looks the other way when its clergy bring Ken Ham, Rick Warren, and the worship circus into their churches, but brutalize a pastor for reaching out in love to his neighbors. The denomination has such promise, but in the end is such a disappointment. Add to this Issues, Etc trying to fix the Episcopal Church this week on their broadcast. Apparently, they have given up on trying to fix their own denomination. No wonder!

    • Read the letters from Pastors Harrison and Morris. Nobody was brutalized.

      My link to them is awaiting moderation, but they are on the wmltblog . org

      • That’s fine, but I never observed the slightest censoring of LCMS pastors for bringing in teachings that are blatantly in contradiction to the confessions and articles that an LCMS pastor vows to uphold during ordination. This seems absolutely ridiculous in comparison. It’s like fretting over changing a light bulb in the den when there is a grease fire raging in the kitchen.

        • I agree with that. I do think part of Pastor Harrison’s problem was the hardliners who wanted to start processes against Pastor Morris, (note his request to let the issue be dropped), which would really be a scandal, and this was the best way to resolve it and let Pastor Morris go back to his church without further issue. I think there will be more discussion and better guidelines for pastors, hopefully letting these prayer events go forward without issue in the future.

  6. Our Lord spent time in the company of people very different from Himself . . . have we learned nothing in 2000 years?

    that prayer service wasn’t about the Lutheran Church . . . it was about those children and their families and the community that was hurting . . . those who came to pray were of that community . . . I imagine the Lutheran pastor knew that and responded as a Christian minister should . . . as Christ would have done . . . for the sake of others

    • I don’t see Christ participating in prayer to anybody who is not the one true God. I’m sure he’d do his part to comfort people, but without lies.

      • So we should just isolate ourselves from people undegoing horrible grief? Because they are not of our persuasion or faith? Would not the true God hear their prayers even if it was incorrectly addressed? Did j
        Jesus care about his image or what people would say – he went to Zacheus’ house, and on many occasions upset the Pharisees because he went with the questionable crowd and the theologically challenged Samaritans.

        • Is it really down to praying to multiple gods OR isolate ourself from those who suffer? False dichotomy. I do no think, nor has Christianity taught, that God hears prayers of all religions and answers them by merit of their good intentions (though there is a religion that does teach that). This is not a matter of associating with sinners. Let’s be honest: anybody who cared about their image went to this. Jesus did associate with the theologically incorrect, but he also had no problem correcting theological error. Read the Gospels more carefully: he doesn’t always make it his business to resolve long standing debate, but he certainly did side with the Pharisees against the Sadducees on one issue.

          • Well said, Miguel. it is a false dichotomy.
            The situation was difficult and American civil religion didn’t help anything.

          • Ben, call it American civil religion all you want. I call it standing publicly with my neighbors as a religious leader in my community. In doing so I am not endorsing anything but solidarity with my fellow human beings in their pain.

          • Can we not stand with our neighbors publicly without engaging in worship?
            I understand the very real difficulties that Pastor Morris dealt with and pray for him as he continues to do so.

            One of the major problems we have today is the false understanding that all religions lead to heaven or all religions have some truth. Unfortunately, these kinds of events reinforce such an understanding.

            • It wasn’t worship and the pastor checked that out and was satisfied his beliefs would not be compromised before he agreed to participate. Even Pastor Harrison admitted that in his letter.

        • What makes you think the LCMS church in Newtown isolated themselves from people undegoing [sic] horrible grief?

          They simply refused to take part in a service in which false gods were prayed to.

  7. It could be the LCMS is undergoing a bit of schizophrenia in the transition in leadership from Kieschnick’s openness to church growth and his “aflame” project to the more conservative musings of Harrison. Time will tell.

  8. Here is Pr. Morris’s contribution to the service, which I thought was quite good. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Pn-hkOkRmo&feature=player_detailpage&list=PLReRzRQyywIiQ5R8JB8crliGuDVL0-TfH#t=285s

    I think watching the whole service does show the potential for problems with these interfaith services. There is a sort of civic Law that swoops in to push people to do their mourning publicly, as a sort of public spectacle for the country to feel good that it can overcome religious differences. If you believe in your religion, you don’t want to “overcome” your differences with nonbelievers, you want them to come to your faith. So these interfaith services sort of take on the competitive aspects of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Who’s God is best? Which tradition will comfort the most?

    It’s all a little tacky, especially with the added media schlock.

    • I agree. It’s seems like a group therapy session with religious pretext. It has very little to do with the nature of the gods being prayed to, or for that matter, whether the prayer even “works.” These services are more for the purpose of emotional healing of the survivors, to help them process and express their grief. This is a good thing to do, but I just can’t help but wonder if there would be more effective ways of doing it without the guise of religion. There’s plenty of pastoral care that goes on off camera, but if you don’t make a cameo here, then you’re a schmuck that doesn’t give a rip. Does that seem honest or fair? I suppose if it were my child I might attend the service to commiserate with fellow victims, but I don’t think I would want the counsel of every cleric in town. It’s like it’s become a rite of holy obligation that nobody signed up for. It just reminds me of when the Passion of the Christ came out and the evangelical mega-church we were attending at the time bought out the entire theatre. There was this unspoken pressure that if you didn’t cry in that movie, you weren’t really spiritual and didn’t love Jesus. The pressure to cry or be considered a jerk practically made genuine emotional response impossible (for some of us, at least). I would hate to think that these interfaith services put families of the victims in the same scenario. I think at the end of the day I would much prefer a service with my own congregation, people I know and worship with, who will be a continual part of walking with me through the aftermath, rather than with members of other religions with whom I am not holding hands and singing kumbaya after the cameras leave. But that’s just a guess. Either way, I hope these people find the comfort and support they need.

      • I think it’s driven by the media and politics, and the need to “come together” in some fashion, but the coming together would be better done in a way that doesn’t emphasize division and vague sentimentality. Most of these pastors didn’t have anything interesting to say. It’s like, there’s a recognition we need to find a greater meaning, so let’s get some religious guys. Poor atheists. Nobody wanted to hear Nietzsche at a time like this.

        Instead, it would be better to come together on the basis of the unity that actually exists. That’s not religious. The common bond is the love for these kids. So do the candle thing, let the president talk, have some of the teachers talk, the people who knew these kids best. Have a prayer. Let the pastors do their jobs with the congregations and with the community in a way that doesn’t emphasize false unity and media-generated piety.

        • Disagree strongly. It is a statement that I am a member of my community, a fellow human being and fellow sufferer with my neighbors. I can hold my beliefs and express trust in the true God while wrapping my arms around a friend in a public service. To separate myself from this can only be interpreted as self-righteousness.

          • I’m not so sure. There may a difference between showing up for a few hugs and participating in the leadership of the service. There are other ways to expression compassion and concern for the well being of one’s neighbor besides joining them in prayer to Allah. What the suffering masses need most is Christ, and to the extent that we are able to console them we can be his hands and feet, but I’m not entirely certain the best way to do so is through a service that explicitly denies Christ. In our culture, nothing is more self-righteousness than to proclaim in the exclusivity of Christ. Sometimes what other people may think is not the strongest foundation on which to make our decisions. The question ultimately is, what is the best way to bring Christ to these people? Perhaps the answer is just a hug and silence, skip the proselytizing. But the premise of an interfaith service has more than a subtle hint of a universalist agenda. Perhaps our neighbor is better off with the hug and silence, skipping the smorgasbord of spirituality?

            • I look at it differently. I think we’re the only ones who “care how it looks.” Like it or not a pastor is a religious leader in the community and this was a community event. They weren’t getting together to say we all worship the same god. They were gathering to say, no matter what our religious traditions, we stand with you as members of this community. I prefer to think that a pastor could open all kinds of doors for future witness by saying a prayer at such an event, whereas by declining he looks like his religion is designed primarily to separate him from his neighbors in need.

              When in doubt, engagement rather than separation. Err on the side of love. If people misunderstand, it’s much easier to explain.

          • I agree with you, but I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as you make it out to be.

            “To separate myself from this can only be interpreted as self-righteousness.” No, it can also be interpreted as an honest attempt to follow Christ’s and the Apostles teachings on how to deal with false teachers. Christ said his coming would cause division. It is a false doctrine to try to avoid division at all costs. Though, again, I think Pastor Morris handled it well.

            • Pastor Harrison wrote: “How do we as citizens express love and social unity with fellow citizens of good will (be they Christians or not), and support our communities in times of horrid duress, while trying not to violate our biblical commitments and convictions (Heb. 12:14)?”

              In my view, genuine love simply deletes the last clause of that sentence. Love doesnt give a hoot about whether or not I’m violating my convictions. Love cares only to benefit my neighbor, and if my precious white clothes get soiled in the process, then so be it.

          • “Our biblical commitments and convictions” are to teach Christ alone as the way the truth and the life. It’s an exclusive claim. It is not loving to suggest Jesus is just another manifestation of some mysterious God that is equally found in all religions. Joint worship tends to suggest that.

            Again, I’m agreeing with Pastor Morris, but I disagree that the issue is so cut and dried or that there is a basis for the outraged tone being expressed. Pastor Morris certainly hasn’t expressed outrage, and hasn’t asked for any on his behalf.

            It would be interesting to get Pastor Morris’s take on the matter. I bet he would write a guest column on the issue if you asked him. He’s been posting on other Lutheran blogs and has been quite effective at bringing even some hardliners to appreciate his position.

            • I actually admire Pastor Morris’s behavior throughout this situation. He has displayed wisdom, humility, and love beyond his years.

              I also understand that Pastor Harrison was in a tough spot. I don’t think his compromise solution was ideal but may have been the best he could do, given the theological and political box in which he found himself.

              In the final analysis, I can only criticize a denominational position and mentality that continues to insist that man was made for the Sabbath.

          • Syncretism is discouraged in the LCMS not in order to keep our own noses clean, but for the sake of our neighbor, in order that we might bear witness to the truth. Your caricature of the sanctimonious in white robes is a straw man: You just drove a wedge between biblical convictions and love for neighbor. Genuine love cares not for biblical commitments and convictions? I understand the frustration of doctrinal minutia interfering with compassionate outreach. At some point, a doctrine that gets in the way of good works needs to be reconsidered: it may be “biblical” at all if the result is less Christ to the neighbor. But the “Biblical convictions” in this case are not about making sure we don’t sin: It’s about making sure we love our neighbor as Christ would. That IS a Biblical conviction.

            In once sentence you say “we’re the only ones who care how it looks,” but in another “by declining he looks like his religion is design primarily to separate him from his neighbor in need.” Which is it?

            I agree it is better to err on the side of love, with engagement rather than separation. But I question the necessity of engagement through this event.

            It really seems to me that the issue here is what communicates the Gospel more clearly: the words that are spoken in the service, or the presence of simply being there. Those dealing with grief tend to prefer the latter. But if this service is all they are offered, we’ve given them precious little help and done a grave dis-service. Christian churches ought to do much more than this cameo, and I can’t help but think whatever the “much more” is would be sufficient.

            • But Miguel, surely you understand that there are occasions on which to take principled stands and other occasions where doing so can do more harm than good. Pastor Harrison himself acknowledged in his letter that Pastor Morris had taken prudent steps to guarantee that his actions would not be construed as violating his beliefs as a Christian. In fact, Pastor Harrison basically could find no fault other than the technical breaking of a rule and the fact that some constituents were ostensibly offended. Now if I am going to weigh those facts against whether I should accept an invitation from my community to participate in a service of this sort — designed to show support and solidarity with my neighbors, then I don’t see that there’s any question what I should do. Love overrules rules and critics 100% of the time.

          • Mike, I find your argument very compelling. It may be the LCMS needs to update/nuance our position. I’m not even certain I understand it fully. My parents are Baptists, but surely my church body would not say I should not pray with them. I need to find where the line is drawn before I defend or critique it.

            I agree that principled stands are not always called for. I also agree that love overrules red tape. But remember, love IS the summary of the law. The debate here is not whether to love: the debate is, what is more loving? I insist that genuine compassion is shown through covert acts of kindness more than through public appearance (Matthew 6:1-6). Is an interfaith service really what victims of great tragedy need, or do they need a regular community to continue walking through the aftermath with them, like Smokey in Jeff’s post? I wonder if anybody would have heard of this if the Morris had simply decided to participate as an attender and not a representative. I wonder if events like these ever facilitate those in need of support finding it by plugging into a local congregation. Personally, I think this form of expressing grief does little more than numb the wound enough to cope. There is a long road yet ahead of those who suffer, and the Christian faith has so much more to offer, imo.

            • I am in full agreement that daily acts of kindness are the most effective and should be promoted exponentially more than special efforts.

              What I really regret in this case is that the LCMS chose to take this stand with regard to such a high profile incident (as they did with 9/11) and failed to see that on such an occasion sacrificing a bit of pure practice (if that’s how you see it) for the sake of standing with the suffering was the wiser choice. I think they could have gained a great deal of credibility in the community. Now look what they have.

              I hope Pastor Harrison follows up on his statements about reexamining the policies.

          • So in other words Mike, what I believe doesn’t have to effect what I do? I can say that I believe in the true God, but then go to a service (a sign of affirmation) where false gods are prayed to.

            I would argue that the hip and cool thing to do in Newtown was to go along with the crowd. Show up for the big event that the networks came to televise.

            The more difficult work is actually ministering to people in the town and standing for some sort of actual belief. Again, depsite your (false) claims of self righteousness, I’ve seen nothing to suggest that the LCMS church hasn’t actually been ministering to people in the town.

        • I absolutely agree. You don’t have to be in the limelight to demonstrate concern and compassion.
          The point is we don’t want to present a confusing witness by praying with those who are not praying to the God we believe in. Some see this as stand-offish. In the land of anything goes, I find it refreshing and comforting that we are consistent in our witness.

          • What “confusing witness”? Does Missouri seriously think that if one of its pastor prays at the same event as does a Rabbi, that people will think, “Ah, now I get it: this little synod is Jewish”? Thanks to CM for drawing attention to this sad religiosity.

          • There are many people who believe all religions teach basically the same thing, and at the end of the day, are compatible. Events like this kind of do demonstrate that belief. Kinda. Just how important are the irreconcilable differences between faiths? Just how important is the Gospel? Or is that not what really separates Christianity from Islam, Judaism, and Baha’i? Are we really on the same page and working towards the same things? Yes and no. Comforting grieving neighbors is the business of all Christians, and indeed, of all humans. It can be done without events like these: the name of Christ needs to be attached to more comforting actions than those of civil religion, imo.

    • “If you believe in your religion, you don’t want to “overcome” your differences with nonbelievers, you want them to come to your faith.”

      I don’t really think this needs to be the driving motive in why we do or do not do things in public. Expressing the compassion of Jesus IS a way of standing firm in your faith. If there’s an explicity compromise in what your saying, that’s one thing. But the Christian witness is not rooted in “our religion is better than the other ones and you should change your affiliation.” It’s rooted in the incarnate compassion and love of the crucified savior.

    • “If you believe in your religion, you don’t want to “overcome” your differences with nonbelievers, you want them to come to your faith.”

      I think this is only true of religions that proselytize. Judaism, for example, is a non-proselytizing religion so we don’t really care if people come to our faith. We rejoice if they do, and adopt them into our heritage but that’s about it.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      We can attempt to excuse and explain Harrison’s motives all day long, but in the end, it still comes down to someone trying to control a pastor’s behavior because his sense of compassion was greater than his need to show the world what a good Lutheran he was.

      A similar situation happened with me on the one-year anniversary of 9/11. I was with a Seventh-Day Adventist church in Texas, and the pastor wanted to help spearhead a community-wide memorial service. It was a hot day in September 2002, so one of the pastors from another church brought Cokes. This incensed one of the elders, who was a strict no-caffeine, no-sugar vegan. Another elder laid out a table filled with pamphlets on SDA doctrine and practice. Then the pastor, in his speech, digressed from the 3,000 dead to tout the SDA church as “true doctrine.” Needless to say, the memorial service never happened again, and I left the church completely shortly after that.

      Maybe we should be less worried about whether people are coming to our faith, and more worried about whether people are coming to Jesus.

  9. Being somewhat new to the LCMS, there are terms and teachings I am still discovering. Prior to this event, I had never heard the terms “unionism” or “syncretism,” at least, not applied to these sorts of church matters. I think unionism is joint religious services with members of Christian churches with whom we are not in fellowship, and syncretism is joint religious services with other religions. I believe the LCMS has had long standing reasons for drawing a hard line against both. However, the face of interfaith civil religion has grown considerably stronger in today’s climate of multi-cultural pluralism. It will be interesting to observe how these issues continue to play out.

    Oh, and FYI, Benke is not just a Lutheran pastor. He is the “presiding bishop” (aka district president) of the Atlantic District of the LCMS (where I serve). He’s the one that did the rap video.

  10. Be careful judging this situation. President Harrison inherited a deeply divided church body, and has been working diligently to restore unity among us. I am sure this fact played a part in this whole thing.

    Also, the LCMS has a long tradition of being very clear where we stand in regards to other denominations, and for better or worse this tradition has helped us avoid the troubles suffered by many other church bodies.

    Some find this offensive in and of itself. To be sure, there have been many abuses and mis-applications of our teachings in this area, not to mention a lack of understanding of our position by some outside the LCMS. Hopefully, this incident and the previous one with Pastor Benke will help us refine and clarify our stance and enable us to bear a better witness to the victims of tragedy

  11. From this side of the fence (and the Tiber) this sure looks like a tempest in a teapot.

    The POPE prays with Imans and Orthodox Rabbis……and a prayer vigil for dead children leads to THIS???

  12. Richard Hershberger says

    This phenomenon has its roots in early 19th century American Lutheranism. Recall that three broad strands of thought came out of the Reformation: Lutheran, Reformed (a/k/a, not entirely accurately, “Calvinist”), and Mennonite. The Reformed tradition was by far the most influential in Britain, and as a result most English-language forms of Protestant derive, however indirectly, from the Reformed tradition.

    American Lutheranism was an immigrant tradition. Various waves of German and Scandinavians settling across the country from the 17th century onward. Cultural assimilation became a raging issue in the early 19th century. Look at the northeastern cities and you will find the first German Lutheran churches worshiping in English around that time, and that it was a traumatic process. Baltimore still has a “First English Lutheran Church”, which I think nicely sums up what happened.

    The assimilation discussion was not merely about language. It was also about how much, if at all, to assimilate into the broad stream of American culture, meaning its mainline churches. We today think “Lutheran=mainline” is unremarkable and banal, but within my lifetime I have heard discussions within the Lutheran church over whether it really is a mainline. Such a discussion seems odd today because if the options are mainline or Evangelical, it is clearly mainline. But if the discussion is between broad strands of Protestant thought, the the “mainlines” are, directly or indirectly, Reformed while Lutherans are, well, Lutheran.

    So back to the 19th century discussion. At one end of the spectrum were churches that wanted to fully assimilate. At the other were churches that wanted to throw up walls around themselves to protect themselves from assimilation. Between the two extremes were churches that wanted to balance their distinctive Lutheranism with varying degrees of engagement.

    The full assimilationists are no longer Lutheran. The very first American Lutheran churches were built by Swedes in the Delaware River valley in the 17th century. This group assimilated so fully that these churches are now Episcopalian.

    So every church calling itself “Lutheran” today was on the other side of that line in the assimilation debate. The remaining question is the degree of engagement with other churches. The modern Lutheran church bodies are the end result of a long process of regional synods coming together, and with occasional splits and purges, so any brief history is grossly oversimplified. But the grossly oversimplified version is that the modern ELCA is the descendant of the Lutherans more open to engagement. The LCMS is of those less willing. WELS (the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) even less willing yet. There is also a tiny Lutheran church body further beyond WELS, which broke fellowship with WELS during a period when WELS was in fellowship with LCMS. Not coincidentally, each step in that chain moves you to a smaller church body.

    So as an ELCA member, I look at this story and know halfway through the first paragraph that this is an LCMS story. It is built into the DNA of the LCMS, and any chance of change within my lifetime blew up forty years ago. It is what it is. It is also a pretty good example of why, despite there being many fine LCMS congregations and pastors, the LCMS holds little attraction to me.

    • The LCMS was born out of a rejection of Prussia’s attempt to force Lutheran union with the Reformed. The groups that founded the LCMS left Germany because of it.

      So it’s less of an assimilation issue than the LCMS having a tradition of stricter adherence to the Lutheran Confessions. That led to less assimilation, but it also preserved confessional doctrine against the heavy-handed moralism of the revivalists and the rationalism of the mainlines.

      • Except that Wisconsin says that it has a tradition of even stricter adherence. If you want to see American Lutheranism at its most repellent, delve into why these two synods won’t even pray publicly at the same event.

        • Doesn’t every denomination have beliefs and traditions unique to themselves? Otherwise there wouldn’t be differences in opinions and endless debate. This will continue until Jesus returns. The pastor in question chooses to be LCMS. And I am quite sure he understands the ramifications of that decision. For him, his belief system most closely aligns as LCMS. Is our synod perfect? Of course not, whose is? We try to demonstrate to others our belief system by our actions. I certainly don’t think that rises to the level of repellent.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          Then there is the Church of the Lutheran Confession. This is the church body I mentioned in my previous post, but I couldn’t recall their name and didn’t have time to look it up. They split off from the WELS around 1960 because WELS was in communion with those beaniks in the LCMS. WELS is no longer in communion with LCMS, and hasn’t been for decades. One might think that this would provide a basis for WELS and CLC to rejoin, or at least to enter into communion with one another. One would be naive and wrong. I have no idea what vital doctrine not subject to compromise is keeping them apart, but it is always possible to find something or other. I don’t know of any group splitting off from CLC and condemning them as free love hippies, but I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised to learn of one, holed up in a bunker somewhere in the upper Midwest.

          • I had a CLC pastor as a patient. He would not let me pray for him because his denomination did not consider my ordination valid. To have one like me pray for him was improper compromise.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            As in “Wrong Kind of Lutheran”?

            IMonk used to cite an “A.W.Pink” as a type example of where perfectly-parsed theology and separationism could end up.

    • Very well stated Richard and good history. In your last sentence, substitute ELCA for LCMS and I could have written the entire thing.

  13. David Cornwell says

    The true Church is characterized by a spirit of catholicity rather than the spirit of sectarianism. Narrowly defining the true doctrine ends up as pharisaic legalism with the lawyers arguing one point against the other. Who’s in? Who’s out? Nonsense.

  14. I don’t really think this will matter much as far as the witness of this church body. In my neck of the woods (near Chicagoland), the LCMS church does not evangelize much anyway.

    But I do agree with Chaplain Mike that participating in this kind of communal prayer service is about standing in solidarity with our suffering neighbors, yes, even those with whom we don’t agree theologically. No one raises an eyebrow when a Rabbi prays with Christians at such an event, yet clearly the vast majority of Jews aren’t in agreement on the matter of Jesus.

    For that matter, my temple is part of a multi-religious institution shelter system (each relig inst hosts the shelter on a different night and provides dinner, breakfast and a bagged lunch). Other relig insts in my local iteration of this shelter are the Catholics, the ELCA, the Episcopalians, an independent Lutheran bunch (honestly if you can figure out what synod Unity Lutheran in Berwyn is, you’re better at google than I am) and the Methodists. All of these religious institutions (as well as my temple, Oak Park Temple) put aside our theological differences in order to serve the vulnerable in our community.

    I’d like to see an institution be formed for those who are of no religious persuasion, because I think a lot of them would get something out of giving back to the community in ways such as these and because if religious institutions like these can put their differences behind them when it comes to doing service, I don’t think they’d have a problem working with the non-religious, too.

  15. Chuck Congram says

    For over 25 years I conducted chapel services for the Toronto Blue Jays and the team which was in town that day. On one occasion the Detroit Tigers were the visiting team and as I was making arrangements for the service I passed by the office of then manager Sparky Anderson. He called me back and introduced me to a well-known former player turned broadcaster and then suggested to him he should show up at chaqpel to hear me speak. Later I encountered that individual in another part of the stadium and he apologized that he would not be attending because he belonged to a Lutheran denomination which did not believe in sharing services with Catholics. To this day I continue to grieve the loss of support he might have been to others who gathered on Sunday mornings in stadiums to honour the name of Christ.

  16. Marcus Johnson says

    Ironically enough, the article which Jeff Dunn wrote, which follows this one, is right on point. The president seemed so concerned that by participating in an interfaith prayer, this pastor would confuse some unknown “weaker believers” (I don’t see any evidence in the links provided on this post that anyone was confused about where Morris stood during this event). However, didn’t Jesus say that it is by how we love each other, not by our doctrinal ties, that the world will know that we are His? Harrison was so worried about doctrine that he forgot about love. I think a weaker believer did get confused, but I suspect that weak-minded believer was Pastor Harrison.

    Personally, I would be more concerned about people confusing me with Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and anyone of a number of other hate-mongering demagogues who claim to be Christian yet speak hateful words in a time of tragedy, than with a group of people from different faiths who simply come together in a time of tragedy to find support in their respective faiths.

    And let’s not play dumb here. When anyone in a supervising role within an institution sends a formal written request to a subordinate to do or cease something, that request is usually never a “request”; it’s more of an order with the word “Please” in front of it.

    • +1
      And this also tends to reinforce the idea that came out in Jeff’s article (and the comments) that we evangelicals are best known for what we’re against than what we’re for. Here again we Christians are shown as being AGAINST interfaith support, love and compassion, just because other faiths are present. So much for showing God and Jesus’ love and support for those who need to be shown compassion.

      • Rick, I realize that the line about “being known best for what we’re against” is all hip and trendy these days. But I have to ask you, what’s at the other end of the spectrum? What’s there are “Christians” who will affirm any and all in whatever sin they choose to live and remain in. NOTE: there is nothing self righteous (sorry CM) about pointing out to people that failing to repent will lead to eternal death. Yes, we’re all sinners. But there is a difference in repenting of your sin, and asking everyone else to affirm you in your sin. Sadly, many on this site belong to a denomination that wants to do the later.

        • You are getting off point here. Let’s stick with the situation we are discussing.

        • I see what you’re saying, Alan F. And there was a time in my walk I probably would’ve agreed with you. Here’s my thinking these days: After having just led an adult Sunday school class through the gospels of Matthew and Mark (a four year journey!), we concluded that the primary thing Jesus was shown being AGAINST was the people who put on a good show in being Godly (i.e. the Pharisees) but whose hearts were far from God. Over and over and over, he drills these people on their false religion and loveless hearts. The other thing we saw clearly was Jesus compassion for people, over and over and over again. There is hardly a time in either gospel where we saw someone in need who ran into Jesus in which he didn’t respond with compassion. Oh, unless they were one of those Pharisees whose heart wasn’t near God.

          So these days I’ll err on the side of compassion, and try to avoid being against anything except bad religion.

          • I hear what you’re saying Rick. But I must say that I’m opposed to you’re line of thinking and I see so much of it these days. It’s a line that wants to read one book of the Bible and ignore the rest. In the OT, we don’t see a God who just overlooks Isreal’s repeated idolatry. Everyone loves the story of the woman at the well. Yes, Jesus didn’t condemn her, but everyone seems to somehow forget the last line that Jesus told her. What was that line again???

            But since you mentioned the gospels…Jesus Himself said “if you love me you will keep my commandments.” I’m sorry Rick, but I can’t just throw that out the window on the grounds that Jesus is just all about compassion. Are we to disregard the Pauline epistles and the book of James which have a ton to say about Christian living? Again, I’m not out to tell everyone what their sin is. But when the Bible is clear on certian sin issues, and when we have people who want to continue on in those sins and be affirmed by their “churches” in that sin and fail to repent, we’ve officially jumped the shark. You’re right, Jesus was against false religion and was against love-lessness. BUT, that doesn’t mean He was for a free for all in which I claim to love Him, but live however I please.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            Wow, so many misinterpretations of Scripture. Let’s get down to it, shall we?

            1. You’re confusing two different stories. The story of the woman at the well was John 4. Condemnation is never mentioned in that story, and the last words Jesus spoke to her were, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (v. 26).

            2. In John 8, Jesus removed the threat of physical condemnation from a woman facing stoning. There was no well involved. And yes, he did say, “Go, and sin no more.” However, he didn’t wait to rescue her or forgive her until she had made a full confession, vowed to be a good Jew from then on, etc. Hence, Paul would write later, “While we were yet sinners”…meh, you finish the rest.

            3. If you looked two verses above John 15:14, which you referenced in your post, you would see that Jesus’ command was not a rehashing of the Ten Commandments, or to affirm the doctrine of one particular Christian denomination, but to love one another. You’ll also see that command repeated in verse 17, and in 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, the Pauline epistles, the other Gospels.

            4. Also, in 1 John, John explains that the world will know that we belong to Jesus by the love we show for each other. Jesus is all about compassion, and until you can get that down, Christian living is nothing but shallow legalism. Learning to love comes first. Doctrine comes later.

    • “let’s not play dumb here … that request is usually never a “request””

      No pastor in the LCMS follows orders from synod or anybody else. If Pastor Morris felt strongly about this he’d be perfectly free to say whatever he wanted to, as Pastor Benke did after 2001. Everybody in the LCMS knows the synod can’t really do much to enforce anything it says, and its requests are often ignored.

      • Marcus Johnson says

        So, your defense of Harrison’s request to Morris was that Harrison was impotent as president, the synod has no authority, and Morris was only honoring Harrison’s whims?

        I’m thinking my critique of Harrison was much nicer.

  17. The outrage and aggressive tone shown by Non-LCMS members against the LCMS in this article and in the comments, about what is an internal matter that has been amicably handled by all parties involved, which is only being publicized by the media and Non-lutheran websites, is also an example of ridiculous religiosity.

    Pastors Morris and Harrison aren’t in the papers attacking each other; they seem perfectly happy to let the matter end, but non-LCMS members want to hold this up and use it to attack the LCMS. That is the religiosity of mainline liberalism, an insistence on tolerance and eliminating divisions. This religiosity goes about attacking other communities who don’t share their fervor for “standing in solidarity” (whatever that means) with non-Christians.

    This is really the key distinction between the LCMS and the ELCA. One errs towards Scripture says, even if it means being mocked by the culture, and the other errs towards culture, even if it means ignoring Scripture.

    Again, I agree more with Pastor Morris here, but Pastor Harrison is a devout, humble servant of Christ doing his best to preserve unity in his Christian community, and doesn’t deserve to have his motives questioned as being self-righteous or controlling. That’s decidedly unChristian.

    Instead, do what we in the LCMS do, criticize the doctrine using Scripture. But, that’s our religiosity, not the religiosity of culture with its use of shaming and personal attacks on those deemed intolerant.

    • Strong comeback, Boaz. I’ll answer later.

    • boaz,
      As an Episcopalian, and one who doesn’t fall to the conservative side on every issue, I agree with you; church bodies have the right and responsibility, as a matter of faithfulness to Jesus Christ, to set boundaries around the activity of clergy in the public sphere, boundaries that necessarily depend on the particular church body’s understanding of faithful discipline. Whether or not to endorse and support clergy involvement in certain ecumenical activities, including this prayer vigil, is something that each church body must decide for itself; there are legitimate arguments for and against such involvement depending on the church body’s particular self-understanding. But no denomination should be excoriated for its conscientious and theologically informed decision in such a decision. No one seeking prayerful support was turned away from any LCMS parish in this instance; neither did the church leadership suggest that anyone should be. The leadership of the LCMS were simply affirming that prayer in the name of Jesus Christ should not take place alongside what they perceived to be the invocation of a pantheon of differently named deities, as if Jesus is simply one among many equal gods; one may argue that their analysis of the situation was incorrect, but one may not legitimately argue that their decision was an unfaithful one given the understanding that they have.

    • Just last Sunday we read Corinthians 13 in church.

      “If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

      Doesn’t Paul say that love is greater than faith? I would assume that he also meant that love trumps doctrinal purity.

      • Should Elijah have prayed with the priests of Baal?

        • Marcus Johnson says

          That Biblical story has nothing to do with this story, but okay, I’ll bite…

          No, Elijah should not have prayed with the priests of Baal. Maybe because they practiced ritualistic child sacrifice. Maybe because Jezebel, who supported the priests of Baal, had just massacred the prophets of God a few years earlier. Maybe because, after a public display of their god’s nonexistence, Elijah was planning on taking them down to the river and slaughtering all of them.

          However, I don’t think that the non-Christian religious figures who attended were engaged in child sacrifice, or supported the killing of LCMS pastors, and I don’t think that Morris was planning on killing them for their idolatry. More importantly, no one has yet been able to demonstrate that folks were confused about the faith tradition with which Morris identified, whereas the people of Israel needed a public display of the power of God to demonstrate in their minds who the real God was.

          A better comparison might have been in the New Testament epistles, in which Paul had to address whether believers should eat food offered to idols. Because the brand of Christianity was so new, the early church (Acts 15) had asked believers to abstain from food offered to idols. However, Paul relaxed that standard, with the exception that believers should beware that their actions didn’t lead weaker believers to sin.

          So, again, the question must be asked: Is there any evidence that weaker believers were influenced to sin?

          • Not suggesting there is a direct parallel. I am suggesting that it’s up to each Christian body to establish a boundary. And I think it is not a loving service to the world when Christians act in public in a way that suggests that Jesus Christ is a name that can be exchanged with other names when referring to or addressing God, as if we are part of one great big happy family of believers all really serving the same God under different names. That position is in fact indistinguishable from idolatry, hence the Elijah/Baal reference.

            • Robert, there may be instances where what you are saying is true: Christians acting “in public in a way that suggests that Jesus Christ is a name that can be exchanged with other names when referring to or addressing God, as if we are part of one great big happy family of believers all really serving the same God under different names.”

              I honestly don’t think this was one of those occasions. To repeat what I said earlier, this was a cross-section of religious and other leaders in a community coming together and saying, “Regardless of our religious or other differences, we are your neighbors and we stand with you, our suffering friends. As fellow human beings we also stand against the horrific violence you have suffered and will support efforts to make sure it never happens again.”

              This was an extraordinary situation, IMO, and called for extraordinary grace. It was not an appropriate situation out of which to make a test case on theological purity.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            Can you identify anyone who walked away from seeing that prayer thinking, “Jesus, he’s a name just like all the other names”?

            Or someone who now thinks that the God of Lutherans is the same as the God of Islam?

            Or is all of this crying out for doctrinal purity our projection of our own insecurities in our own faith?

          • Chaplain Mike,
            I say that we don’t get to make the call for what is a test case on theological purity for other church body’s; that’s up to them. I would draw the lines differently from the LCMS. But then, I don’t have the exact same theological commitments that they do. You are really questioning their theological commitments, and that’s different from whether this was an appropriate test case or not.
            At my Mother’s funeral mass, the priest, before the Eucharistic prayer, asked all those who were not Catholic’s in good standing, and/or in a state of grace, not take communion, because of the doctrinal beliefs of the RC church that it is wrong to share communion with non-Catholics. As an Episcopalian, I did not receive communion that day, nor did I feel offended or alienated by his words and attitude; rather, I felt spiritually fed by the firmness of faith that he embodied as a representative of a church that had strong beliefs about the holiness of the Eucharist, and I felt supported in my own faith, even though it is different with regard to Eucharistic openness.
            Can you identify anyone who walked away from that prayer thinking, “Jesus is a name to be lifted above all others, unlike any other, and I think I should follow him, even though it means I must separate myself from the plurality of other faiths and beliefs”?

            • I am not questioning their theological commitments but their practice in this one extraordinary instance. I’m doing so because this is an example of the kind of separatism that led me and many others away from more fundamentalist groups and it is, IMO, a lost opportunity to show grace and sacrificial love to a lost and hurting world. As another commenter said, I think it reflects on all Christians and further weakens our reputation.

              If they had simply dealt with this quietly and not asked for a public apology, they could have saved themselves and all Christians some embarassment.

          • Chaplain Mike,
            I do understand and take your point about the publicity of the rearguard action being unwise and creating unnecessary scandal beyond the necessary scandal of the the Cross. I think the concern that prompted my own comments is the result of sharing what I take to be the LCMS’s sincere concern (perhaps poorly expressed in this case) about adulterating the message of the gospel by placing it alongside other religious practices and worldviews as if they are all just so many equally acceptable alternatives for addressing the very real needs of a world full of pain and suffering and tragedy. Anytime a Christian pastor, as representative of a church body large or small, prays with the representatives of other religions in an inter-religious context, there is a very real danger of denying the absolute centrality of Jesus Christ, and of his name, for the sake of inter-religious sensitivity; I see this kind of compromise occurring within the boundaries of the Episcopal Church quite often. I did not see this prayer service on TV, so I don’t know if the minister involved soft-pedaled the name of Jesus Christ for the sake of inter-religious fellowship; but I have seen it done before in similar contexts. It should not be done. As a Christian, I firmly believe that there is really no love apart from the person of Jesus Christ, and there is no generic deity who may be addressed in prayer by innumerable names; and in fact, that any comfort from grief experienced in the context of the invocation of other names in prayer is in fact false comfort, grounded on “sinking sand.”
            Yes, the Isaiah reference was thoughtlessly incendiary. I apologize for that, and for the fact that it distracted from the gist of the discussion, but I don’t retract my main position as stated above.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      Pastor Harrison asked Morris to give a public apology. The “media and Non-Lutheran websites” were not the ones to publicize this incident; Harrison was.

      The fact that Morris and Harrison are amicable toward each other is immaterial. I don’t doubt that Harrison is a stressed administrator, trying to maintain unity within a troubled denomination, but his action here reflects upon the Lutheran church and, by extension, Christ-followers everywhere. In my experience, non-Christians don’t distinguish between Lutherans and Methodist and Episcopalians and Baptists. Every time Fred Phelps protests at another funeral, some nonbeliever wonders if that is a reflection on my pastor, or Chaplain Mike, all because of that common label of “Christian.” So, yes, boaz, non-LCMS folk are critical of Harrison’s request and Morris’ response, not because we like to harangue Lutherans, but because we are constantly trying to shake off the stigma that we are pretentious, unloving, bigoted, hypocritical, and legalistic.

    • Bravo Boaz!! Best comment in this entire thread. I’m glad that you pointed out the utter hypocrisy that’s on display in this thread. Those calling the LCMS all kinds of names are doing the very thing that they are complaining about. That’s just rich. You simply can’t make this stuff up.

  18. Love of neighbor does not mean praying with people who pray to false gods, which a Christian cannot do.

  19. Consider this comment from an atheist over at US News:

    As an atheist you might think I would side with every poster on this thread so far. But I don’t. Morris didn’t really apologize. It’s one of those fake apologies where you apologize if anyone was offended, rather than apologize for your wrong (in his church’s view) actions.

    Morris could have stood on principle if he thought he was right and leave the church. He didn’t. So either he agrees with the church’s principle, or he’s not of strong character. I’d bet it’s the former.

    The church wasn’t saying that Morris could not lend aid to those devastated in the days after the killings, but rather that he cannot worship with different faiths. Presumably Morris could speak with and give comfort to those in the community without offering prayer. To me this is a little silly–maybe a lot silly–but it’s HIS faith he violated, not mine.

    I struggle with the common modern idea that each of us not part of an organization should be able to decide for them how they should act, which is beyond the simple and fair idea that if you don’t like it, don’t join it. Too many people want to impose on others their own reality, whatever that is. Frankly, given the state of the nation I’m not sure you people are the kinds of people we should be trying to emulate, not if your version of right and wrong, or of morality, is the scale on which we should be judged.

    See, look at this another way…Say Morris had never participated in THAT service. Nothing was to prevent him from holding how own service. Nothing exists to prevent him from commemorating that tragic day, or from tending to those in need regardless of their faith. His offense, which to me makes no sense but to him does else he’d not have apologized, was simply to worship with other faiths.

    I do love (sarcasm) the posts above that are prideful over the fact that they, in their churches, have absolutely no standards for who can or cannot take part in communion. If organized religion has any value beyond its more secular uses (schools, charity, etc) then it must be in making an effort to help people get right with God. So the idea you wouldn’t care at all that someone is right with your God, and would casually offer thaty person communion with your God, bespeaks to me, almost, a disdain for your God himself. You have relegated God to a position of subjugation to you. How can this be?

    No thanks in any event for all of this. I’ll remain an atheist.”

    Food for thought.

  20. Where did the post from Miguel regarding the atheist’s comments disappear to?

  21. I saw the Newtown memorial service on television and as a layperson with LCMS roots, I can tell you that while watching the service, I never once considered than any of the clergy involved were sending a message that all religious faiths are the same. I never thought that the Jewish rabbi didn’t see any difference between himself and the Imam or the Priest. It never crossed my mind that the Lutheran pastors prayer was really code for “I think my God is the same as Allah, or Buddha, or Nature”. I don’t think most anyone else thought that either other than perhaps a few hair splitting clergy.

    What I saw were beautiful expressions of grief by different people of faith in response to a horrific tragedy. What I saw were people reaching out to others in that grief and expressing their common humanity. What I saw was love surviving in spite of an act of cruel hate, a love from God that can help and heal.

    I doubt that I am alone in this. Or maybe I watched a different service.

  22. Sorry being late to the discussion. Picked this up on Wonkette, which loves to make Christians look asinine. My question is, how does this differ from 1920’s fundamentalist separationism?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Because they don’t call it 1920s fundamentalist separationism?
      (paraphrase of a line from South Park: “Sexual Harassment Panda”)

  23. Here is one Lutheran voice on the matter, for what it’s worth:


    Also, for what it’s worth, the LCMS had already been ministering to those affected at Newtown, and as far I’m aware it continues to do so. A little acknowledgment of that fact in the opening post would have been charitable. Here is a post from Dec. 14, for instance:


    • Also, at Pres. Harrison’s urging (see above), the local congregation I belong to has been praying for the Newtown victims during our public (as in, open to anyone who wishes to attend) Liturgy each week. But that’s just our “ridiculous religiosity” coming out again.

    • The opening post simply reran the Reuters piece. Their service was duly noted in many comments and the pastor praised for his support of his community.

      • As far as I can tell you did put a small editorial at the top, with no attempt to explain the viewpoint of those with whom you disagree.

        • Nate, in case you don’t understand: that is the point of a blog. It exists to present the point of view of its authors. Our original posts represent our thoughts, perspectives, and opinions. We are not reporters.

          Other points of view have been adequately conveyed in the comments. And you will notice that we do not moderate, edit, or delete comments here unless they are clearly out of bounds. We invite disagreement and discussion.

          I also encourage you to read all the comments, because it is not unusual for perspectives to shift and get clarified and sometimes even change during the discussion — even those of the author.

          • I understand, Mike. Is it wrong to expect a professing Christian to fairly represent the views of another professing Christian? My complaint isn’t about reporting, just common decency and politeness.

            • You may not agree, but I thought the Reuters piece adequately explained the LCMS point of view. Harrison’s own words were used to set forth their position very clearly. Then, in the discussion, I allowed links to letters that were made public giving more detail and did not censor in any way the contributors who defended the LCMS actions.

              Nate, I haven’t always been perfectly fair, but in this case I think both sides were heard clearly. Try saying what you’ve said to me on some other blogs and you would be silenced almost immediately.

              I hope you know you are welcome here whether we agree or not.

          • My “it would have been charitable” comment above was about the title and the short paragraph above the Reuters article, just to be clear.

            Considering Michael Spencer’s friendly relationships with LCMS folks over the years (and indeed, a link to a lecture by an LCMS member in the sidebar), I didn’t expect this sort of snarky attack from iMonk, that’s all. I expected a little more hesitation and consideration of the issues at play.

            I’m all for a good self-critique, and that has been done by other LCMS members as well. Check here, for instance:



    • Well said Nate. So in other words, while the rest of the “churches” and religious community in Newtown were doing the dog and pony show for network TV, the LCMS folks were……um……actually ministering to people. And for that they are vilified. Gotcha, makes perfect sense to me.

  24. Late to this discussion, but have followed closely the same one on Patheos, at genevieth.com. Pretty much the same thing altho wider views. 2 things: why is the media blamed? Most news outlets have religion/faith blogs to pick up tidbits on various religions. I presume with all the extremely articulate posts here and other blogs on the positive views of LCMS, and the “rightness” of this unionism and syncretism, that one would be proud to have the world outside of MS know about your beliefs. But the prevailing view seems to be the opposite, don’t tell anyone. Isn’t this a good time to witness? Another more important thing to me. What about the Holy Spirit? Possibly the Spirit was active in this invitation and Pastor Morris felt compelled to pray. Perhaps the Holy Spirit was active in the whole thing. In other words, what did our Lord want to happen?