This morning, I read something in the St. Louis-Post Dispatch that disturbed me greatly. I didn’t say anything about it until I had a chance to confirm with my pastor that it is true.
In the aftermath of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., Rev. Rob Morris, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, spoke at an interfaith service designed to give comfort to the community. the Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, of which I am a member and a former employee, forced Rev. Morris to apologize. (I will refer to him as Dr. Harrison throughout because he has earned that degree, not because I agree with what he says. It is possible to acknowledge rank while expressing disagreement.)
I’m not going to go toe-to-toe with Dr. Harrison over theology, just as I would not expect Dr. Harrison to attempt to correct me about computer security or journalism. I will leave that to Rev. Stephen Hower, the pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Ellisville, Mo. (a St. Louis suburb), and to the Rev. Dr. Jerry Kieschnick, who was even more outspoken in his critique of Dr. Harrison. Then again, Dr. Kieschnick can better afford to be outspoken in his critique, being the past president of the synod.
I will say there is a time and a place to disagree, and there are times we must put our differences aside, come together, and offer aid and comfort to our community and nation. In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, our duty as Christians is to share the love and comfort of Jesus Christ with the people who are hurting, and then let God use that to draw people to Himself, in His time. To paraphrase Dr. Kieschnick, we can be like Elijah praying in the presence of the prophets of false gods, letting God show who He is.
Or we can be like Dr. Harrison. I don’t speak for him, so I don’t know what his intention was. The message that he is sending is that the purity of his doctrine is more important than helping people who are in pain. When I see bumper stickers that say, “God, please protect me from your people,” this is precisely the kind of thing they’re talking about.
Update: After posting this, several people raised this undated apology by Dr. Harrison to my attention. That’s a start. Dr. Harrison said many of the right things in his apology. There is the possibility that something good can come of this controversy; I can only hope and pray that both sides are equally open to that.
Update 2: As time went on, this attitude persisted even though the stance in this particular incident softened. It is one of several reasons I severed all ties with the LCMS. I now attend an Evangelical Free church.