The national media have picked up on LCMS President Matthew Harrison’s response to the participation of Pastor Robert Morris in an interfaith prayer service in Newtown, Connecticut. The interfaith service took place on December 16, a letter from Pastor Morris regarding his participation was issued on January 31, and a letter from President Harrison on his handling of the situation was issued on February 1. Now, in the last 24 hours, an article by Caleb Bell of Religion News Service (RNS), “Lutheran pastor apologizes for praying at Newtown vigil,” has appeared in the Washington Post and other news outlets. And an article by Rachel Zoll of Associated Press (AP), “Newtown Pastor Reprimanded Over Prayer Vigil,” has appeared on ABC News and elsewhere. Expect to see the story now get even more coverage and commentary.
Of course, do not expect the coverage and commentary to understand or approve of what is going on. Even though, in my view, President Harrison’s letter is excellent, and his handling of the situation has been very balanced and pastoral–both evangelical and confessional–the media voices will not “get it.” To disapprove of interfaith services in our day is unpopular. It goes against American civil religion and political correctness. The prevailing notion in our culture is that “all roads lead to God,” and the spiritual smorgasbord that interfaith services offer falls right in line with that false belief. Even if a clergy participant is well-intentioned, and his portion of the service contains no false doctrine per se, the unavoidable effect is to support the “whatever works for you” overarching message.
I encourage you to read President Harrison’s letter for a truly “fair and balanced” approach. And I encourage you to speak up, in a winsome way, on various forums, comment sections, social media sites, etc., as to why our church does not approve of our clergy participating in interfaith services. It is not out of arrogance or lack of pastoral concern, but rather, just the opposite. It is so that, in venues–not necessarily high-profile ones–in venues both public and private, we can offer a clear and unmixed message, and people can hear that true hope is found in Jesus Christ our Lord, the one and only Savior of all men everywhere, and in him alone.
I’ll repeat what I wrote as a comment on Pastor Rossow’s post a few days ago:
I believe Pastor Morris’s intentions in participation were good. And he did take some measures to try to avoid giving wrong impressions, although those were inadequate, in my view. And I do believe Pastor Morris’s apology for giving offense is sincere. That’s a good start. Like President Harrison, I too accept his apology. However, that event that night was a joint worship service, an interfaith prayer service, even if Pastor Morris did not think it was. I hope he grows in his understanding of the inherent problems in any participation in joint worship services with the heterodox and/or heathen.
President Harrison’s letter is excellent. His handling of the whole situation is commendable. It is so much different and better than what we saw under the previous administration.
President Harrison rightly points to Article VI of the LCMS Constitution, on “renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description.” The members of our Synod need to come to a greater consensus and commitment on that, and I believe President Harrison will be able to help lead us in that direction over the coming years.
I am glad that things are moving in the right direction! May that continue! Thanks be to God!