10 Minutes with President-elect Matt Harrison

Religion News Service (which is a wire service focused on religion news) is running a Q&A with Rev. Matt Harrison. Here’s a snippet:

Q: The Missouri Synod is known as a conservative denomination, but some have said it or its leadership were not conservative enough. Do you agree?

A: I think the challenge we have to face internally is the proper approach to meeting culture and accommodating culture. Obviously we have to take a very ancient New Testament message and bring it into a fast-paced and ever-changing post-modern world. I think some thought the essence of Lutheranism was, at times, being compromised.

Q: Do you plan to take the church in a more conservative direction?

A: I am at once a rock-ribbed traditional Lutheran and at the same time believe fully that that very confession, that very conviction, drives us into the maelstrom of today’s post-modern life and particularly toward our neighbor.

Q: But will you take the LCMS in a more conservative direction?

A: I think we have been drifting, and so I will in good faith uphold the church’s confession.

Q: What might that look like?

A: We have a strong, orthodox, creedal Christianity. We believe that the fundamental teachings on social issues—sexuality and those kinds of things—have been determined already in the New Testament. I believe that we should be and we are going to continue to be uncompromising on the conviction of the truth of the Lutheran Confessions of Faith while at the same time generously recognizing that the church is far beyond our little Missouri Synod. The church exists wherever Jesus and his word is.

Read the rest here.


10 Minutes with President-elect Matt Harrison — 25 Comments

  1. I like the reporter’s tenacity. It’s disappointing that Pastor Harrison didn’t start with answer #4, explaining in what way he would promote conservatism, then move on to his earlier answers. The way he answers instead sounds disappointingly like the way a BP spinner might put things.

  2. Bubbles,

    I think he is trying to be charitable to those who have gone before him, “covering his father’s nakedness” as it were. Conversely, I think the reporter is looking to stir up controversy. What exactly is “conservative” in the question?

    So, I say three cheers for Harrison’s tact, and three more for his unwillingness to compromise his answers!

  3. @revfisk #2

    I think he is trying to be charitable to those who have gone before him, “covering his father’s nakedness” as it were. Conversely, I think the reporter is looking to stir up controversy.

    That was exactly my impression too.

    > It was a great and amazing irony that I essentially lost a job on Monday, and I had publicly spoken against the restructuring and did not ask for the new authority to be vested in the president. And the next day the delegates gave me a job and placed me into that very position.

    The phrase “of Biblical proportions” comes to mind.

    I think Pastor Harrison has the ‘both and’ thing right. Recognizing paradoxes is totally opposite from creating divisions with false either-ors. Boldly state all parts of the truth. We have the true doctrine, but are actually a small group of confessors within Christendom.

  4. One thing that people who have never been interviewed don’t realize is that there is a real art to answering questions. All successful leaders take that concept one step even further and they realize that there is also a real art to NOT answering questions. In a world where people jump to conclusions and take things out of context, a leader cannot afford to be his own worst enemy.

    Most people consider dodging a question to be inherently dishonest. I would submit that avoiding a question is neutral. Sometimes doding a question is as dishonest as dodging an unwarranted punch in the face. Sometimes not answering a question directly is the only way to get to the truth. After all, how many times did Jesus not directly answer a question that was put to Him?

    It is almost a cultural past time to take a swipe at “the leadership” these days. A leader who doesn’t learn to bob and weave is just going to end up with a career of bloody noses.

    Tact is a rare gift. I confess that I do not have it. Kudos to President Harrison. I believe that he is a good and honest man. He’s not the kind of guy who deserves a bloody nose.

  5. Dear Mollie,

    Thanks for finding this, and other great religious media!

    My opinion is that President Harrison did an excellent job here. Generally, our presidents have done an excellent job in the public sphere, which often requires different speech than when talking to the church-body or pastors. People in the public sphere either don’t know what certain terms mean, or they have a different understanding.

    Code word “conservative” is one of the words that really confuses people. If President Harrison said, “Yes, absolutely,” then it would only confirm in the mind of the hearer their own understanding of “conservative,” whatever that might be. Instead, realizing the confusion about terms, Harrison defines what our church-body has understood to be “conservative,” and completely affirms that.

    Avoiding the use of “code words” is not political. A politician uses “code words” all the time. Avoiding the use of “code words” is the mark of a good teacher and a person who understands hermeneutics. Harrison is both, in my opinion.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  6. @Martin R. Noland #5

    You are absolutely right. And it’s not like you can say things like “no comment” or “I don’t like that question.” Politically speaking, that is almost the worst thing you can say. People just assume that you are a liar, a criminal, or worse. Welcome to the realm of politics.

  7. @Martin R. Noland #5

    Dr Noland…you are correct. The reporter asked political questions and Rev. Harrison answered them theologically.

    “Conservative” and “liberal” are loaded political terms. In one sense, Rev. Harrison’s ministry has been quite “liberal” in its focus on mercy and compassion for the poor, oppressed, and suffering in the world. And others might label him “conservative” because he simultaneously believes, teaches and confesses “traditional” Lutheran doctrine.

  8. To a world that doesn’t know or understand the Missouri Synod, labels such as “conservative” are less than helpful. Conservative regarding what? Conservative compared to what? It just doen’t fit.

    I’m surprised more questions weren’t asked regarding where Pastor Matt Harrison’s support came from, considering President Kieschnick had won SP three terms in a row. I think the helpful reporting here at Brothers of John the Steadfast is one source where delegates were able to learn more about Pastor Harrison. Weedon’s Blog lists another source, in his writing: Issues, Etc. Convention ( http://weedon.blogspot.com/ ). Others already knew Pastor Harrison for his charitable work with LCMS World Relief and Human Care. Other sites on the web also taught us some useful information about this different, more Lutheran approach to leading the Synod at a time the Synod was ripe for a change. Nevertheless, the way we learned about Pastor Harrison’s approach, as explained in “It’s Time” isn’t all that important. What is important is that we all support our synod as we plead to God to return us to our proper direction. May we support all whom God has put in place that we might respect their authority, pray for them regularly, and strive to meet our brothers and sisters, centered on God’s Holy Word.

  9. @Rick #7
    Clarification in final paragraph:

    Nevertheless, the way we learned about Pastor Harrison’s approach isn’t all that important. Pastor Harrison’s God-centered approach in “It’s Time” is. What is also important is that we all support our synod…

  10. The reporter clearly states in her article, “Some answers have been edited for length and clarity,” so I wouldn’t spend a lot of time on what President-elect Harrison was reported to have said or not said.

    The article was designed for RNS clients (newspapers and other subscribers) with audiences likely to have less understanding of Missouri Synod theology and polity than the average pew-warmer in a Missouri Synod congregation.

    Previously as Executive Director of LCMS World Missions in his trips throughout the world, President-elect Harrision no doubt has had his share of interviews from non-Lutheran reporters and is well equipped to provide good Lutheran answers to poor or ill-informed questions.

    Let us know, Mollie, if President-elect Harrison is interviewed by an E_CA reporter from The Lutheran. That should be some interesting Q&A. 🙂

  11. >>To a world that doesn’t know or understand the Missouri Synod, labels such as “conservative” are less than helpful.

    What is often shocking to me is the gross caricature promulgated about the LCMS in the ELCA, which I hear from visitors and members who have come from the ELCA. By their definition just agreeing we’re “conservative” without further definition would only confirm that we are KOOKS, with wierd, un-Lutheran ideas and doctrines.

  12. RNS described the Harrison election as due to an “insurgency,” within the context of “Tea Party”. RNS has an “attitude.” It shows. Harrison does not. It shows.

    Rev. Kebas (#10), you are spot-on. Tragically, the ELCA has moved far away from what it means to be Lutheran.

    Johannes (Kooky)

  13. @Kebas #10

    I recently read a fascinating book called “Testing the Boundaries: Windows to Lutheran Identity” by Charles Arand. It is certainly not the first Lutheran theology book someone should pick up and read, but if you are fan of reading about this kind of historical theology stuff it is a fine work. It follows the historical development of Lutheranism in North America from a theological perspective (which is probably not that interesting to most people…. I am not most people.)

    It does a really good job of outlining the different approaches to interpretation of the Lutheran Confessions that various Lutheran people and organizations took and how that shaped their theology and practice. What really jumped out at me was that it pointed out that the laity of the early Midwest Lutherans (like the LCMS) had quicker and much more ready access to the Lutheran Confessions in the English language when compared to the early East Coast Lutherans (like the General Synod). If memory serves, the theologians in the Midwest also seemed to deal with Lutheranism along doctrinal lines where the many of the East Coast theologians saw Lutheranism more along historical heritage lines. (Someone please correct me if any of that’s way wrong.) The book shows how these two approaches through various points in the in the history created differing views of what American Lutheranism should look like.

    It really helped me understand alot of the unknown background between the ELCA and the LCMS. Alot of the views that I have heard from our brothers in the ELCA make more sense now because I can finally see them in a more historical context.

  14. @johannes #11

    I saw that whole “insurgency” stuff. What a laugh. I think the real insurgents would be offended to be wrapped up with a bunch of guys like us. Talk about slander!

    As indicated by their coverage of some of the other theo-political news this year, it’s obvious that “Church bites Laity” is not news while “Laity bites Church” is.

  15. @Mike Baker #12

    I have seen unhappy people in the “other” synod label it “Everthing LCA”.
    If you read early American history, and learn that the Muhlenberg sons who wanted to be ministers to the Lutherans in Virginia colony had to be licensed by the Anglicans who were the “official” church there, you begin to understand present day syncretism a little better. Lutheran and Reformed Germans in Pennsylvania sometimes shared the same building, and even the same pastor in the early days.
    What came as a shock to midwestern synods who merged with them, was old news to LCA.

  16. @Helen #15

    That is very right. In a way the LCMS was very blessed to have fewer outside influences exerting pressure on them in their early development. I’m not sure if we would have faired any better as a church body under the circumstances.

    The other thing you learn through the study of Lutheran History in North America is that we, by no means, hold title to all that is Lutheran by any means. It is not as if Luther whispered “This is for you, LCMS.” as he nailed the 95 Theses to the door or anything. I think that, when we aren’t careful, we really come across that way. I have been told as much by some really great people in the ELCA.

    You have non-LCMS theologians past and present like Charles Porterfield Krauth who present very good defenses of confessional Lutheranism. Their contributions to the Gospel cannot be understated. By the same token there remain many faithful Lutherans outside the LCMS in America and their dedication to Lutheranism is impressive by any measure. One of the lessons of the history of Lutheranism in America is not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

  17. @Mike Baker #16
    Yes Mike, but publically confessing membership in the ELCA also is supporting their churches position on Quauntanis Subscription, which is not a confessional, faithful Lutheran. ELCA people by their public membership are also supporting their churches postion that Scripture has errors and contradictions (you can read that on the ELCA website) and their position on the slaughter of the unborn, preaching the homosexual to hell by telling them no need to repent of their sexual sin, and many others apostasies (abandoning the truth) and heresies (teaching lies about God) of the ELCA.

    Be very gentle to ELCA people as they are wrongly taught Lutheranism but a confessional Lutheran should be very quick to condemn the ELCA Church for its errors. To say someone is a confessional, faithful Lutheran in the ELCA is an oxymoron. Scripture should have compelled them to leave. It’s not like they are the prophets in the Northern Kingdom.

  18. God give President-elect Harrison the strength to be confessionally consistent and unambiguous as he represents us in a politically-correct world. I would prefer a one-term presidency of confessional candor to a multi-term presidency of ambiguity. We need a Walther/Krauth captain confessor at the helm, not a compromiser who avoids conflict. I believe that we’ve elected the former, not the latter…and that’s why he’ll need the encouragement and support of us all.

  19. I don’t think President-elect Harrison’s answers were evasive, they were tactifully avoiding a reporter putting words in his mouth. There is nothing quite as amusing as listening to a journalist asking political questions of a theologian and getting theological answers. They’re never really sure what to do with the answers-other than edit them. And unfortunately some cannot tell the difference between religion and politics. It is important for our leadership to diffuse the connection between the contemporary political scene and what goes on in our Synod. Leftward leaning reporters seem to be searching for another religious right ‘moral majority’ type of whipping post wth which to stir the political left to action.

  20. Pastor Harrison crafted his words very wisely. He is smart. He is firm. He is accurate. And at the end he knows his God is more than the LCMS. I hope he “shepherds” us for many seasons.

  21. @Rev. Allen Bergstrazer #19
    Yeah, “conservative” is usually coined in terms of social issues. Although this is important, “conservative” in the Right Kingdom sense is often overlooked. Praise be to God that our President-elect is conservative in regards to both kingdoms. Perhaps this is a consequence of the “Social Gospel” of American Evangelicalism (and works-righteousness of Christendom in general).

  22. @Mike Baker #13

    The Arand book (Testing the Boundries) is a great read and does a wonderful job of outlining the history of different “Lutheran” approaches to the Lutheran Confessions… from there it is very simple to connect the dots to today!

  23. @Mike Baker #16

    We in the LCMS were somewhat sheltered from the revivalisim of the mid to late 19th century; we are not sheltered from it today. We would gain much insight into a proper Lutheran approach to revivalism by a renewed reading of Krauth.

    I pray our new LCMS President would be a modern day Krauth among us!

  24. @Rev. Clint K. Poppe #24

    I agree, Pastor. Krauth’s “The Conservative Reformation and it’s Theology” is as relevant to the LCMS today as any book I have read so far. I think Krauth had keen insight into the problems facing the church of his day. His educational and pastoral approach to doctrinal ignorance (and sometimes just plain old indifference) is an inspiriation for us still today.

    Krauth was as successful as he was because his zeal and unrivaled comitment to confessional Lutheranism was tempered by patience and an even-handed approach towards his opponents. His goal always seemed to educate his opponents to the rightness of his poisition rather than just defeat them with rhetoric or political might. In that respect, I would agree with you that our new LCMS President seems to be a good fit for the mold. May the Holy Spirit guide Pr Harrison to change hearts and minds so that the LCMS can enjoy unity under the truth of Scripture and our common confession.

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