Note: this is a follow up to last week’s post, Ridiculous Religiosity.
Below is an excerpt from a pastoral letter and apology from President Harrison of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod regarding the Newtown, Connecticut affair. Pastor Rob Morris, an LCMS pastor in Newtown, had been asked by Pres. Harrison to apologize for participating in an interfaith vigil for the children who died in the recent tragic shootings. He confesses that he took his action of asking Pastor Morris for an apology as a measure to “avoid deeper internal controversy and division in the Missouri Synod.” He also admits that his actions “increased the pain of a hurting community.”
These were precisely the issues that came out in our discussion here at Internet Monk, and I commend Pastor Harrison for his sensitivity to the Spirit and willingness to speak up in this manner.
I, along with New England District President Yeadon, asked Pastor Morris for an apology for participation in the Newtown prayer service, hoping to avoid deeper internal controversy and division in the Missouri Synod, which, in the past, has struggled with this issue to the very breaking point. I naively thought an apology for offense in the church would allow us to move quickly beyond internal controversy and toward a less emotional process of working through our differences, well out of the public spotlight. That plan failed miserably. Pastor Morris graciously apologized where offense was taken as a humble act to help maintain our often fragile unity in the church (1 Corinthians 8). He did not apologize for participating, even as he carefully provided his reasoning for participating due to deep concern for his flock and the people of his horrified community. I immediately accepted his apology, looking forward to continued conversation toward greater unity in the church. I had hoped to veil him and his congregation from unhealthy criticism within the church. I urged and still urge that anyone contemplating action in the church courts not do so. I desire nothing more than to keep our church body from deeper division so we can continue to work through our challenges with less heat and more light. Unfortunately, only a small portion of the two letters that we each provided to the church was picked up by the media, who distorted the facts of an admittedly nuanced situation that is very difficult for most people, even within the Missouri Synod, to understand. I kindly refer you to my letter and Pastor Morris’ letter for further clarification.
As president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, I take responsibility for this debacle. I handled it poorly, multiplying the challenges. I increased the pain of a hurting community. I humbly offer my apologies to the congregation, Christ the King Lutheran Church, Newtown, Conn.; to Pastor Morris; and to the Newtown community. I also apologize to the membership of our great church body for embarrassment due to the media coverage. I know that despite my own weakness and failings, God “works all things for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). My interaction with Pastor Morris and President Yeadon has never been anything but cordial and appropriate for brothers in Christ. Speculation that has implied anything else is false.
The day I was elected two-and-a-half years ago, I noted that the Synod had kept its perfect record of electing sinners as presidents. I also noted that I would fail at times. I am a sinner. I have failed. To members of the Missouri Synod, I plead for your forgiveness and patience as we try again to work toward resolution, faithful to Christ and His Gospel, in times that challenge us all.
Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison
President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
First of all, I thank all of you for a conversation here on IM that enabled me to think and talk through this issue with people who contributed a variety of perspectives. Second, I accept and echo the challenge set forth by another ELCA pastor on his blog:
So leaders in a denomination I consider to be our siblings, even while I struggle mightily with some of their faith commitments, has decided to go on record, publicly and clearly, in favor of apologizing. Do all of us, regardless of where we come down on the side of interfaith worship and community chaplaincy, have the grace to accept their apologies?