Responding to a Tragedy in Your Community in a Steadfast Way

InterfaithAny pastor worth his salt feels a tension between two good things: (1) breaking out beyond his own ecclesiastical ghetto so as to live in the public square as a Christian leader and (2) remaining faithful to the Word of God and an orthodox confession. Often, it feels as though a choice of one or the other has to be made. Think of the recent flap over Louie Giglio being disinvited (forced to withdraw?) from giving the benediction at President Obama’s second inauguration. Whatever you think of the rest of Giglio’s Christian confession, he was forced out of the public square back into his ecclesiastical ghetto because of a single comment he made twenty years ago that homosexual behavior is sinful. The information about a statement made twenty years ago didn’t come out because someone just happened to be listening to a Louie Giglio tape from twenty years ago. Once he was announced, people who hate the rest of his confession went digging for what they could find that violates the public religion of our land. He could not have (1) and (2). We are at a time in cultural history where those who are allowed to participate in the public square must adhere to the new state religion which demands that you make a pluralistic and relativistic confession. If you don’t, you will not be granted a voice. If you don’t, you will be shouted down and ridiculed by the love and tolerance crowd (ironic, isn’t it?). Don’t believe me? For several days after President Harrison announced that he regarded the participation of one of our LCMS pastors at the vigil in Newtown, CT to be syncretistic worship, what can only be called hate was being spewed at the LCMS and at President Harrison on the LCMS facebook page. You can also see the same from the comments on any of these news stories. This is the world we find ourselves in. Count the cost.

Because of the cultural tension between (1) and (2) Many Lutherans have given up on having both of them together, with some opting for (1) over (2), or vice versa. Neither is right. Neither the pastor who holds his confession privately but will not take it into the public square nor the pastor who ignores or qualifies his confession in order to gain access to the public square are faithful. But from the beginning of the church, Christians have lived as Christians in the public square without compromising the witness and worship of Jesus Christ. They’ve done this in times that were even more hostile than our own.

So if there is a way to have (1) and (2) together, how will it be done? How do we bear public witness and live openly in the public square while holding steadfast to our confession?

More specifically, when a tragedy strikes a community — whether or not it gains national attention — how should a pastor (and by extension, laypersons) respond in the eye of the community?

1) Don’t wait on others to organize some communal worship event on which you will piggyback. Don’t let them set the agenda and then pressure you to get on board. Organize your own service. Announce it in the local paper. Get on the radio. Tell your parishioners to invite friends. Invite other clergy to attend, but <i>you</i> be the one to publicly witness to the grace of God in the midst of tragedy by providing a clear, unequivocal, faithful voice as God’s called and ordained servant. If there are other LCMS churches in the area, ask the pastors to participate in the service. Have them robe in vestments.

2) Call your district. Call the synod. See what relief efforts, if any, can be made to your community. Maybe they can help. Maybe they can’t. You don’t know until you try.

3) If people have been injured, go visit them in the hospital — nevermind whether they are your parishioners or not. This is true community chaplaincy.

4) Perhaps you can sponsor a drive for affected victims if this fits the situation.

5) Write an editorial to the newspaper pointing people to hope in Jesus Christ for the deliverance from evil.

6) If you’ve done anything like 1-5, there’s a good chance you’ll end up on the local news. Most people find it shameless when athletes use their access to the media as a platform to push some personal belief (whatever it may be), but when it comes to pastors, not only do they not find it shameless — they expect it (even if they don’t agree with you). So don’t be afraid to get on camera speak boldly about the tragedy. Be careful, however, to speak clearly and succinctly so that your words cannot be twisted through an editing job.

Get out in front of the response to the tragedy. Lead instead of follow, and you won’t need to serve up Jesus as one of the side dishes in the smorgasbord of faiths. Any accusation that you don’t care about the victims because you refused to participate in the new state religion is much more likely to ring hollow.

About Pastor John Fraiser

Pastor Fraiser didn't begin as a Lutheran, but he became one as soon as he could. He grew up as a Baptist and received his M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. With time on his hands following his seminary studies, he began reading the writings of Martin Luther and became convinced that Lutheran doctrine was a faithful presentation of the doctrine of Scripture and answered many of his perplexing Baptist questions. After joining the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, he went on for graduate philosophy studies, while also taking post-graduate courses at Concordia Seminary. Though he intended to teach philosophy in a university setting, he also applied as a candidate for ordination through the Synod’s colloquy program with the plans of bi-vocational parish ministry. Following colloquy, he assisted in a vacancy at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in LaGrange, Kentucky where he was eventually called as pastor. He said 'no' to a philosophy PhD fellowship and was ordained on Luther’s ordination date – April 3rd – in 2011. Pr. Fraiser is married to Emily, and they have a four-year-old daughter named Jillian.


Responding to a Tragedy in Your Community in a Steadfast Way — 8 Comments

  1. Awesome guys! I love the dig at the State Religion. St Augustine talked about such a religion, the lust for power. They want power over us. They want to bully us out of the public square. They (the World) will do everything it can to expunge the Gospel from society. What are we left with after we give up even an atom of the Gospel, nothing.

    I chose, both, I have been choosing both for quite sometime.

    Why the heck do we have to approve of others’ faiths? Why must we sacrifice the Gospel for this? Because the World demands it, that is why and that is why many of us are willing to buckle to the pressures put on us to cave in. We are all sinners, even ordained ministers.

    Everything you said is true. Be a leader, go out there in the mist of darkness to evangelize. If we have our own Divine Service, guess what? We can preach about Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and drive home the Gospel message. Bonus, we also don’t look like stoogy sectarians who are just looking to dis the ‘man who all the troubles of our nation rest on’ aka the President (whoever this is, the media makes them always out to be a christ)

    In a synchronicistic service, we cannot get out the Gospel as it is muted, neutered and thrown in the pile of ‘great religions’. Do the other great religions have a god who loves us as much as the Lord God, the Father, loved us? No, but they are still great because they teach ‘good things’ aka works.

    Ehh, I am getting off into a rant. Everything in theology is connected to Christ, so it is hard to not talk about how this effects our faith.

  2. Doesn’t it all go back to the Lutheran view of the office of the Holy Ministry?

    A pastor is called by a specific congregation to shepherd and administer the Word and Sacraments to the calling congregation, not to shepherd at large. He baptizes, marries and buries his flock, not non-believers. He consoles his flock and comforts them during tragedies like Newtown. His witness to the world is his confession of the Word in all its truth, a comfort to believers, a stumbling block to non-believers.

    What benefit is a watered-down witness (confession) to either believers or to non-believers? It causes confusion, not comfort. It feeds the “monster of uncertainty” and gives no peace.

  3. Dear Pastor Fraiser,

    Thanks for an excellent post!

    Dear BJS Bloggers,

    I want to highlight Pastor Fraiser’s point #3, which if properly understood, solves a lot of the issues surrounding this controversy. He said:

    3) If people have been injured, go visit them in the hospital — nevermind whether they are your parishioners or not. This is true community chaplaincy.

    This is “pastoral care,” by definition. The Germans called it privatseelsorge. You can see the term “privat” in there, which means “private,” not public. In today’s lingo, it means “one on one.” “One on one” work IS pastoral care.

    Pastoral care is not climbing on to the stage to have a few words with the audience. When you pray to God or speak to an audience at the lecture podium it is called “public speech.” Our LCMS liberals have fouled up our theological language for so long, in trying to defend their errors, that they don’t even know what they are saying anymore. Speaking to an audience is NOT “pastoral care” – it is preaching. Speaking to God in front of, or on behalf of an audience is NOT “pastoral care,” it is corporate prayer.

    Lutheran “pastors” actually wear a number of hats–they are generalists in ministry. They are preachers, liturgists (or “worship leaders” if you prefer), corporate prayer leaders, teachers, catechists, counselors, administrators, and also “pastors.”

    Lutheran pastors should always be visiting their own members in the hospital, emergency wards, etc. That is a given. That is our duty, as found in the installation promise re. “a constant and ready ministry.”

    With regard to members of other congregations, or those with no congregational membership, it is best to first offer your services, not barge in. If the hospital has a chaplain’s office, you need to check with them first; or with a family member. That way the injured or sick doesn’t get bombarded with visitors who want to counsel or pray with them, when what they need is rest.

    In my career, I have been surprised to find that many ministers of other denominations don’t make hospital visits or other types of pastoral calls. My impression is that Roman Catholic priests do make calls; but I don’t know if these are assigned hospital chaplains, or what the arrangement is there. Anyway, many of my members ask me to visit their relatives or friends, because their own pastors don’t.

    My point is that Lutheran pastors (i.e., those who do make regular calls on their own members) are probably better prepared by experience to make pastoral calls on those who don’t have pastoral care than almost anyone else–and that is not even mentioning the fact that we have the best message to share with them.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful post!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  4. An added thought to #6- if you are interviewed by the paper or television news, and it is not live, be as succinct and clear as possible. Don’t rely on the editors/reporters to get the gist of it and select the right soundbites/quotes to include. It’s better to have them chop off a minute of silence as you formulate your response in your head than to let them chop up a five minute circumlocutory response. There’s no telling what the latter might look like.

  5. Excellent, proactive suggestions! Especially #3. However, I don’t think that any of them or all of them will make the town hall prayer vigil with television cameras go away. These have become part of the fabric of American public life post 9/11.

    To this end, we need a clear synodical policy to which we all, as voluntary members of the synod, agree to abide. It can read either:

    Member pastors and congregations of the LCMS may not participate in community inter-faith rallies, vigils, or services under any circumstances.


    Member pastors and congregations the LCMS may participate in community inter-faith rallies, vigils, or services at times of national or local distress or disaster at the discretion of the local pastor and congregation.

    Unless we have a clear, specific, and agreed upon policy, our family dysfunction and disagreement will continue to play out in the public eye.

  6. Another point I would make is that LCMS pastor need to make a point of building their reputations among fellow clergy so that when the issue of joint worship comes up, they can say to their fellow clerics and friends in the community, “I have an obligation to those in my church body that supersedes my involvement here.” And if you’re the pastor who is making hospital calls and always around, they’ll give you benefit of the doubt. Earning respect gets you a pass in some situations.

  7. I, as a layman do not want the shepherd of our flock ‘ministering’ to the community in any service. The community did not issue a call for him to serve. Isn’t it, really that simple?

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