November 24, 2014

LCMS President Apologizes

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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.

Rev. Dr. Matthew C. HarrisonI, 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?

- Clint Schnekloth, Lutheran Confessions

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing that, CM. To me, it’s a great testimony of Rev. Harrison’s intent to “do the right thing,” the tension of maintaining/achieving church unity, and his humility.

    I really liked this statement: “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.”

    I’ve said similar words to some of the people in the areas I minister within in my church. Basically, “Here’s something I can guarantee: I will let you down. There will be moments, hopefully not too many, when you will say, ‘Rick doesn’t know what he’s doing, he screwed that up.’ Don’t ever hold me in high regard. I’m a sinner, and will fail you at times, and will fall far short of what you expect from me. I hope you will love me and forgive me when it happens.”

    • A former pastor of mine was fond of saying to visitors and to those considering joining the church, “We will give you plenty of chances to practice forgiveness.”

  2. Steve Newell says:

    This event actually points to a bigger issue: “What is the role of church discipline should take when a pastor performs actions that run counter doctrine that the church body he is associated with believes?”

    • The problem is that Pastor Morris’s interpretation of the guidelines is perfectly reasonable and defensible, as are Pastor Harrison’s. The guidelines were vague, so when in doubt, better to err against punishing. Which is exactly why any kind of disciplinary proceedings would be a debacle and Pastor Harrison was right to try to short-circuit that, though it didn’t work out the way he hoped, for sure.

  3. You should link the video as well. It shows Pastor Harrison’s personality quite well. I don’t always agree with him, but I love him anyway, and think he’s exactly the guy who will help the LCMS resolve its own internal battles over its own circuses. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0KaVagzelY

  4. By the way, Pastor Schneckloth’s blog is very good.

  5. MattPurdum says:

    Well, I read the statement, and I don’t see Harrison admitting that he was wrong. This is what is wrong with churches and why people run as fast as possible from anything that smacks of Jesus.

    • “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.”

      • MattPurdum says:

        He apologizes for the pain that the Phariseeism caused, not the Phariseeism.

        • No, he apologizes for his handling of it, which the letter explains, includes his decision to publicly ask Pastor Morris to apologize for causing offense, which he acknowledges, caused pain and scandal.

        • It seems to me that you are under the opinion that our doctrinal position itself is Phariseeism. He is not apologizing for our beliefs, just the way in which he applied them.

          But if leaders who openly and publicly admit their mistakes, ask for forgiveness, and model repentance are the reason that “people run as fast as possible from anything that smacks of Jesus,” then why on earth aren’t the SBC, Sovereign Grace, Calvary Chapel, and similar growing by leaps and bounds?

          Jesus was quite ambivalent to crowds anyways. He could sure draw one, but he had no problem running them off just as quickly. It is painfully ignorant of the Gospels to equate numerical adherence with faithfulness. I’ll give you this: Jesus does enough on his own to piss people off without needing any of us to add to it.

          • Miguel,
            I think Matt is completely wrong, but just because someone takes a potshot at a leader in your branch of Christianity, why do feel the need to take a potshot at others? You often say good things and I usually enjoy reading your comments, but there is no need to defend ourselves by tearing down others.

          • I am a recent alumni of the SBC and Calvary Chapel. I’ve not seen leadership there admit mistakes on the local or national level. I’ve seen quite the opposite, and the damage that it can cause. It is nothing short of refreshing to see a denominational leader eat humble pie. You want to see people getting chased away from Jesus by the church? I can tell you some stories.

          • I am a current alumni of SBC. I’ll gladly admit we have our problems and that includes some of what the leaders do. However, that’s still no reason to mention them in this particular post. We also have good leaders and good people, and when you just mention the SBC without any qualifications, you slander everyone in it.

          • I have said nothing untrue or unfair about anybody. I’m just using the example to make my point: Taking issue with what we need more of is ridiculous when the exact opposite is a significant problem that we need to be dealing with. Between the Ergun Caner and coverup and C.J. Mahaney looking the other way, I’m not predisposed to dispense any benefit of the doubt here. I understand not all Southern Baptists are guilty by association, and every church body has their garbage that increases proportionally, making the SBC naturally the place to acquire the most junk. But the point stands that this is the opposite of that, and if you want to scapegoat the destruction of faith, perhaps that is a better place to start.

            I don’t mean to hate on Baptist generally, I have many, many dear friends who are Southern Baptists. I’m not racist.

  6. I haven’t been following this particular drama, but man! what a solid apology. It’s refreshing to see leaders like this pulling no punches and making no excuses in describing their own mistakes.

  7. What a beautiful apology. Despite what happened, I can’t help liking him.

    I especially liked the comment that he failed, and that he kept up their record of electing sinners to the leadership.

    My intention is not to be snarky, but I genuinely wonder why you don’t see these kinds of apologies coming from Southern Baptist Leadership. You just see more of the same.

    • To be fair, you haven’t seen it in the LCMS really ever before, either. The ability to disagree with each other charitably, and be very eager to apologize and repent when overstepping out of zealousness, is a rare trait even (or maybe especially) in the church.

  8. Scott Clark says:

    All of us are sinners and fall short of God’s expectation of us more often than w woudl like to admit. I did write to the pastor of our church here in Omaha and stated my deep disappointment in your remarks. You have demonstrated great humility in acknowledging your error in judgement. I deeply respect your willingness to admit this and my prayer is that we can all learn from this, move on and know that by God’s Grace we are redeemed. Sometimes as men, we can beleive we are doing the right thing and firmly beleive that in our hearts in doing so. We are not always mindful of the unintended consequences of our words and deeds. My pray for you pastor is this: May God’s blessing continue to be with you, May God grant you peace and may God put into all of our hearts the ability to forgive you. On behalf of my family, we offer our most humble and unconditional forgiveness. Please stay strong in the tenants of our church and continue to share the good news that our loving savior is inclusive and made each of us. I firmly beleive, like you do, through pain comes great wisdom. As LCMS church members we should be able to agree on that fact.

    Blessing to you! – – – Scott

    Blessing to you! – – – Scott

  9. I’m impressed. It’s a solid apology. I don’t really like the potshot he takes at the media. I mean, all the media did was report the fact that an apology had been requested, extended, and accepted. The media exists to make certain that things of interest to the public get reported to the public. And they don’t always do a good job, but in this case, I thought they did a pretty good job. It’s not the media’s fault that the LCMS has 2 often competing camps in it that are at loggerheads over syncretism and a whole host of other issues. Nor is it the media’s fault that President Harrison took the action he did to try to keep the camps from blowing each other, and the denomination up.

    • And it isn’t the media’s fault that Harrison is the one who asked Morris to give a PUBLIC apology thereby making it everybody’s business. I’m glad he apologized because it was his fault that it blew up at all, but I still think it goes deeper than that. It’s an election year in the LCMS and there are politics at play here. The conservative base that helped Harrison get elected were online denouncing Rev Morris minutes after the Newtown service was over and, well, draw your own conclusions…

  10. I think its refreshing that a Christian leader can say “I was wrong.” Slightly tangental, but I think CM has a good perspective on these things, having been a chaplain.

  11. I say this gently, but Harrison appears to be apologizing only for the fact that the newspapers got hold of the inept way he tried to appease Missourians who howled for Morris’ scalp. I don’t get how saying, “I’m a sinner,” cleans any of this up. He’d still have been a sinner had this been handled deftly and quietly, behind the scenes. The real problem wasn’t Harrison’s handling of it, so much as it was the reason he had anything to handle in the first place. MattPurdam was right – the Phariseeism remains. But Harrison showed some political smarts by issuing the apology, as many of the foregoing comments show. The focus is off him, momentarily, and on who’s so mean that they can’t forgive the old man.

  12. We’d all do well to think about this:

    http://1minutedailyword.com/2013/02/13/1-corinthians-12/

    Thanks.

  13. Thanks for posting this follow-up Mike. Much appreciated.

  14. Just remember February 18th is “Hug a Lutheran” day.