In the aftermath of the horrific slaughter of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut, a few men of the cloth decided to put their theological differences aside and hold an Interfaith service in honor of the victims. One of the participants in the prayer event was Lutheran pastor Rob Morris, who had lost a member of his congregation in the massacre.
One would imagine that this service — designed to comfort victims and show unity — would have universal support among the faithful.
Incredibly, Morris was forced to apologize today after receiving withering criticism from members of his ultra-conservative denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. This is a denomination known for its radical positions on social and doctrinal issues, and is far to the right of the more mainstream, and larger, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. According to an article by Sharon Otterman in the New York Times:
The Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Missouri Synod, called on Mr. Morris to apologize, which he did.
“There is sometimes a real tension between wanting to bear witness to Christ and at the same time avoiding situations which may give the impression that our differences with respect to who God is, who Jesus is, how he deals with us and how we get to Heaven, really don’t matter in the end,” Mr. Harrison wrote in an open letter on the Web.
Because it was not Mr. Morris’s intention to give the impression that the other faiths were equally valid, Mr. Harrison called on Lutherans upset by what had happened to accept Mr. Morris’s apology and support him and his congregation “especially in providing funding for Christ the King as it continues to care for victims,” he wrote in his letter.
Here is a bit from Morris’ forced apology:
“I believed my participation to be, not an act of joint worship, but an act of community chaplaincy,” he wrote. “To those who believe that I have endorsed false teaching, I assure you that was not my intent, and I give you my unreserved apologies.”
Such obnoxious, exclusionary, intolerant, and insulting behavior towards other religions (and many other people) is not unique to this denomination:
The Newtown reprimand was not the first time a pastor from the Missouri Synod has been chastised for taking part in an interfaith service after a national tragedy. In the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Rev. David H. Benke, the pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Brooklyn and the equivalent of a bishop in the church hierarchy, was suspended from ministry for taking part in a huge interfaith prayer service held at Yankee Stadium.
Mr. Benke had broken the First Commandment — “I am the Lord thy God” — by worshiping with “pagans,” including Muslim, Sikh and Hindu clergy members, the Rev. Wallace Schulz, a senior official of the church, said then. Mr. Benke refused to apologize, and was cleared by a church panel in 2003 and permitted to return to ministry.
You have got to be kidding me. What a peculiar and petty God these people pray to at the Missouri Synod. They are selling a version of God who allowed the slaughter of innocent schoolchildren by a deranged gunman and let a plane hit the twin towers, forcing many to jump to their death. Yet, this puny version of God is presumably upset because a few of his preachers decided to comfort people after such heinous tragedies.
This is what Christianity looks like when even the pretense of “love” is stripped away in the name of hardcore ideology. Is it any wonder that people are leaving such strident denominations in increasing numbers?
* Photo, Shannon Hicks/Newtown Bee