Posted by: smstrouse | February 9, 2013

What Do You Do When Your Church Makes a Fool of Itself?

Prayswellwithothers_4eda17d2d34083c6f2dd09c6fdb8c709Latest reason for people to check ‘None’ when asked their religious affiliation: “Lutheran pastor in Newtown, CT apologizes for participating in an interfaith service for the 26 children and adults killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.”

Outrage, anger, sorrow, incredulity:  so many emotions roil around at this news. First there was the letter from the president of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod detailing the ‘offense.’ Next came the letter of apology from Pastor Robert Morris, who, it should be noted, lost one of his own parishioners in the massacre.  Then came the incensed disclaimers from members of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), including my own: “This isn’t MY church! This is Missouri Synod Lutheranism. Please don’t tar us all with the same brush!” Later on, reports began to come in from other Missouri Synod clergy who are experiencing deja vu, recalling when the same thing happened to an LC-MS pastor in New York after 9/11. In that case, the pastor was suspended until he apologized.

My initial response was to post on Facebook that “I hope Pastor Morris and people of Christ the King do some serious soul-searching over this.” Now I see that was a trifle self-righteous. I’ve read the letter written by Morris, a newly-minted pastor, ordained not yet a year ago. His letter reveals that his decision to participate in the service, knowing the restrictions of his denomination, was done after much thought and soul-searching. He knew what he was doing and he knew the consequences. You could say that he took a “Here I stand” position. I could wish that he had also refused to recant (apologize), but I’m not in his shoes.

More distressing is the action that President Matthew Harrison thought an appropriate response. I can only shake my head at the mentality of a church that is so afraid of other religions and the specter of “unionism and syncretism” and dismissive of other Christians who do not agree.  As an LC-MS blogger wrote, in reference to the COEXIST bumper sticker: ” The witness of the cross in that place is not to the cross of Christ . . . but to a secular ideology . . . it is worth being called mean and sectarian to avoid having our name associated with the ‘coexist’ public ideology.”

So there you have it. And it’s so far away from my understanding of what it means to be a Christian in the Lutheran tradition, that I’m almost (almost!) speechless. What, I wonder, would Preisident Harrison have done with the professor and students in my ‘Martin Luther and Buddhism’ class at Pacific Lutheran Theolgical Seminary?!

I don’t want to judge the good people who are members of Missouri Synod congregations. I don’t want to be self-righteous toward LC-MS colleagues who are struggling to deal with an antiquated hierarchy. They will have to make their own decisions about what to do when their church makes a fool of itself – as will we all. But I do want to say that I wholeheartedly and vehemently disagree with the wrong-headed position of the LC-MS and hope that more progressive heads will eventually prevail.

In the meantime, I absolutely want everyone to know: This isn’t us!!!

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