Posted by: smstrouse | April 20, 2013

Praying in the Public Square: Boston’s Interfaith Service

The title of the new thread on a conservative discussion board was “Here We Go Again” and the participants once again went at each other over the burning question of whether it’s proper for a Christian pastor to participate in an interfaith service.

The ‘again’ was in reference to the fact that it had been just a very short time ago that they were commenting on the news that a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor had been forced to apologize for taking part in the interfaith prayer service held in Newtown, CT after the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. And once again, the majority of those chiming in agreed that it most definitely had not been appropriate.

Granted, they expressed compassion and the need for pastoral care of victims, families and the community. These are not heartless people. But their theology is so bound to the belief that ‘Jesus is the only way to salvation’ that praying with those who don’t believe that is akin to consorting with godless heathen.

They needn’t have worried. This time around, the LC-MS pastor declined the invitation to take part in the service organized by groups including the Massachusetts Council of Churches. Laura Everett, director of the council, said they hoped to represent the breadth of religious traditions in the city and find “a common language for us to pray together.” The pastor of the church in Cambridge decided either that they don’t have any common language in which to pray or that it wasn’t worth the fallout that would come from doing it.

It’s too bad. Diversity isn’t going to go away. Unfortunately, neither is the need for community response to tragedy. It is possible to be a Christian and participate with integrity in interfaith services. When we held our ‘Healing the World’ conference several years ago, we told all the groups who were leading worship services or meditations to do so according to their tradition, no watering down of who they are or what they do. The same held true for the Christian service on Sunday morning. I don’t have to deny my faith in order to respect someone else’s. Attendees had the choice to participate in as much of a particular service as the felt comfortable. There was room  for a broad spectrum of spirituality and tradition.

Of course, I know that kind of event just won’t fly with my conservative sisters and brothers. And again, it’s too bad. By isolating themselves from the public square when their brand of religion is not recognized as the only one, they miss out on both the richness of the religious tapestry – and the opportunity to present a unified front of compassion and pastoral care to a hurting community and world.



  1. […] published on March 20, 2013, by Pastor Susan […]


  2. Following the 9/11 attacks, Missouri Synod pastor David Benke participated in the Prayer for America interfaith service at Yankee Stadium. Although had the approval of then-LCMS president Gerald Kieshnick, the Synod’s Dispute Resolution Panel suspended Benke.


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