I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard a journalism professor say, “Don’t ever do something you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.”
It’s worse today. In the 1990s, the news cycle was hours long. Today, with three major cable news channels and the Internet, the news cycle is minutes long, and marching toward real-time.
That’s the problem with Dr. Matthew Harrison’s hope, reported in the Post-Dispatch, to handle the LCMS’s Sandy Hook Vigil controversy “[Internally,] well out of the public spotlight.”
The extreme right wing of the LCMS doesn’t help. When they run websites containing inflammatory comments like this, what do they expect to happen? (All were quoted from the Post-Dispatch.)
Morris’s participation in the service “does more harm to the souls of the survivors than any gunman could ever do.”
“Does anyone else agree that Pastor Morris’ action is more abominable than those committed by the gunman?” the commenter asked.
“Yes I do,” [Rev. Timothy] Rossow answered in a post that followed. “The gunman killed the body which lasts for 70 or 80 years. … False teaching and practice kills the soul which lives for eternity in heaven or hell.”
These people don’t expect the press to pick up on that? Once it’s on the Internet, it’s fair game, and the press will pick up on language like that.
Let’s call that what it is. In the words of the Rev. Scott Seidler, the pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church in Kirkwood, it’s “a heavy-handed reproof of a young pastor who interceded for the little children.”
Actually, I’ll go even further than Rev. Seidler goes, and call it divisive and despicable.
I’m not sure what’s worse–web sites hosting commentary like this, or the drive-by malware that these sites host because they frequently get hacked.
Seriously, speaking as a security professional, be very careful when visiting these extreme right-wing sites. Use a text-mode browser like Links. And if the site tries to pass a .zip or .exe file to you, don’t save the file. Just cancel the download. But I digress.
And we need to be reasonable in our dialogue with one another. I applaud Dr. Harrison’s efforts to quiet and soften the dialogue by asking the administrators on those sites to remove the offensive comments.
I hope that Sandy Hook is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Regardless of whether it happens again, there’s no question that a gunman shooting up a kindergarten classroom is an extraordinary event, one that causes a great number of people to ask difficult questions. Questions like why a loving God would allow something like this to happen.
We, the LCMS, happen to be standing here with the best answer to that question. And our message is close enough to that of other Christians that what they say in such places will only make our message stronger.
We have a responsibility, during times like this, to tell the truth to the lost and the grieving: That God didn’t just “let” this happen, and God didn’t pre-ordain that it would happen, that God is the great healer and comforter, and, most importantly of all, these children are now in the hands of a merciful and just God, and that same God desires to offer salvation to all who believe in Jesus Christ.
That’s the message of Jesus Christ, and it’s Jesus Christ who is our ace. Not Martin Luther, and certainly not C.F.W. Walther.
All that matters when a crazed gunman just ended your world is the hope that God offers through Jesus Christ, and that God hurts just as much as you do right now. All the rest are details, and there’s a lifetime to get into all that.
And if we indeed have the best theology–and I argue that we in the LCMS do–then we need to be there with it, where the hurting people are, and deliver that message in the most gentle, simplest-to-understand terms we possibly can. And invite people to come up afterward with questions, and answer them.
That’s what the Good Samaritan did. He helped his hurting neighbor.
And what if someone in the audience ends up going to a different Christian denomination? Well, I guess that’s where I differ with the extreme right wing of the LCMS. But there again, if we don’t show up, where else are they going to go?
That’s why we need to talk. But we need to be careful what we say when we do it. The rest of the world can hear us now.