Any 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.