LCMS president apologizes for the Newtown controversy

Rev. Matt Harrison leads the way for Lent by repenting for what he now describes as mishandling the controversy over the pastor who participated in an interfaith gathering in Newtown, Connecticut.  Read the whole letter, but here is an excerpt:

As president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, I take responsibility for this debacle. I handled it poorly, multiplying the challenges. I increased the pain of a hurting community. I humbly offer my apologies to the congregation, Christ the King Lutheran Church, Newtown, Conn.; to Pastor Morris; and to the Newtown community. I also apologize to the membership of our great church body for embarrassment due to the media coverage. I know that despite my own weakness and failings, God “works all things for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). My interaction with Pastor Morris and President Yeadon has never been anything but cordial and appropriate for brothers in Christ. Speculation that has implied anything else is false.

The day I was elected two-and-a-half years ago, I noted that the Synod had kept its perfect record of electing sinners as presidents. I also noted that I would fail at times. I am a sinner. I have failed. To members of the Missouri Synod, I plead for your forgiveness and patience as we try again to work toward resolution, faithful to Christ and His Gospel, in times that challenge us all.

Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison

President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

via Pastoral Letters on the Newtown Tragedy.

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  • kerner

    I’m hearing a lot of apologizing for the past week or two, but very little agreement as to who did what wrong or what they should have done instead.

  • I guess I’m a little lost on this, but based on what I understand, shouldn’t Pastor Morris be the one apologizing for his participation in an interfaith service?

  • James Sarver

    From Pr. Harrison’s letter:

    “Unfortunately, only a small portion of the two letters that we each provided to the church was picked up by the media, who distorted the facts of an admittedly nuanced situation that is very difficult for most people, even within the Missouri Synod, to understand.”

    He is apologizing for not realizing that the media would betray him.

    “I naively thought an apology for offense in the church would allow us to move quickly beyond internal controversy and toward a less emotional process of working through our differences, well out of the public spotlight.”

    He is apologizing for not realizing that LCMS is not able to engage in discussion of controversial issues without getting hung up in offense given/offense taken roadblocks.

  • WebMonk

    JDean – Pastor Harrison asked Pastor Morris to apologize for his participation in the vigil at which other faiths were present.

    Pastor Morris apologized.

    Pastor Harrison is now apologizing for asking Pastor Morris to apologize.

    Pretty soon we’ll have Pastor Morris come out with an apology for apologizing.

    Pastor Harrison will then come out with an apology for apologizing for asking for the apology.

    Pastor Morris will then apologize for apologizing for the apology.

    They will then be stuck in a never-ending loop of apologies.

    Ta da!

  • Tom Hering

    The way I understand it, Pastor Morris has not apologized for participating, because it isn’t clear – from existing guidelines, and the counsel he sought ahead of time from his superiors – that he did anything wrong. Rather, he has apologized for causing offense to those in our synod who took offense.

  • Again, the only people left to apologize are the ones who actually have something to apologize for, who couldn’t pass up an opportunity to cause a controversy, to rile up and worry the flocks.

  • Tom Hering

    To the best of my knowledge, Bror, no date has been set yet for Hell freezing over.

  • I thought it had frozen already being geographically located in Michigan.

  • Pete

    Fascinating kerfuffle, this. The LCMS is, correctly, very wary of the syncretism thing. Sounds like Pastor Morris skated pretty close to the edge here but it would appear to be a situation in which the edge – to a number of intelligent and interested observers – might be fuzzier than it often is (e.g Yankee Stadium.) As noted there’s been a tsunami of apology/repentance from all quarters. I’m sorta gratified to be part of a synod that at least agonizes a bit over the issues here and whose needle doesn’t drift to either the Amish or the Oprah ends of the spectrum.

  • Steve Bauer

    The “confessionals” wanted a President who was a theologian. Be careful what you ask for! They got a theologian and one who actually reads his Bible. By his repentence he refuses to “play the game” everybody is used to. That’s the kind of thing that gets you “crucified”. Let us pray this does not come to pass.

    Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. Gal. 5:24-26

    Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Gal. 6:2

  • I’m not actually sure what the whole kerfuffle is about. Pr. Morris did what he considered a chaplain-type of act, which I wouldn’t say was necessarily wrong. On the other hand, the synod is justified in saying, “Hey, pastors! No praying in joint worship services!” I don’t see where anyone actually did anything wrong here, and while some have stirred the internet flames, the actual correspondence between these two has been remarkably loving and civil. Life has rough edges.

  • Jon

    OK, well, so I’m just going to go ahead and launch my own pre-emptive apology and repent right now.

    I’m sorry I read anything having to do with this kerfuffle. I repent of it. I beg your forgiveness and I ask to be reconciled, brothers and sisters.


  • Tom @ 5 and Bror @6,
    Is the part about Morris being involved in an interfaith service incorrect? Because if it’s not, isn’t that tantamount to participating in false religion practice?

  • George A. Marquart

    May I suggest that, although Pres. Harrison has made a written apology, none of us is without sin in this matter. The higher your position, the more difficult it is to apologize. Therefore, we should acknowledge Pres. Harrison’s apology graciously and not nit pick like a bunch of Pharisees. Rather, as the Apostle Paul suggest, let us put the best construction on everything and go on with our lives.

    Although I am not prepared to recant anything I have written on the subject, I acknowledge that I have sinned in my thoughts about it.

    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  • fjsteve

    As an outsider, it appears to me that Harrison’s only misstep was to pick the memorial of the worst school shooting in history to take a stand in writing when, I am pretty sure, there are other, less emotionally-charged occasions to drive the message home. Perhaps he should have, perhaps not, I don’t know. But what it tells me is that the LCMS doesn’t have the best politician as its president. Probably not the worst thing in the world for a religious denomination. I hope, for his sake, this ends the squabble. He seems like a good guy who is trying his best to uphold the doctrinal standards he was elected to defend.

  • kerner


    I don’t think he picked this event. I think some of the harder core LCMS blogs were gearing up for a controversy, and he tried to use his authority to resolve things and avoid the “kerfuffle”. But he was unsuccessful. His resolution didn’t satisfy anybody and the kerfuffle erupted anyway. I guess failing to prevent that is what President Harrison is apologizing for. I also think he is attempting to lead by example in the hope that the BJS types will examine their own conduct and (as the only ones who hadn’t yet done so) find something to apologize for themselves.

  • J.Dean,
    I would have done the same thing Morris did. I don’t know where you have been for our previous conversations on this, but I have discussed at length why I think Morris is not wrong in what he did, and I do not care to recap that all now. Please go read the other discussions, they are on the same blog. Perhaps for here, I will say this, he followed the guidelines previously set. And if we can’t step up in the public square when invited, we ought to shut up about them not listening when we aren’t invited.

  • SD

    Rev. Harrison is a politician and knows he had to throw some red meat to the conservative wolves who were barking at the door after the Newtown service. Public apology demanded = wolves appeased. But “public” means the media picked up the story and made a big deal out of it. Now, the moderates have to be appeased because they were, by and large, appalled by the demand for a PUBLIC apology or for that matter, an apology at all. So, Harrison goes public again with an apology. He knows he won’t win re-election without the conservative base, but without the moderates, he probably doesn’t stand a chance either. Poor guy. He’s finding out that you have to dance with the one that brought you, even if it’s ugly.

  • Your readers might be interested in my take on this controversy. See my piece on fanaticism at Blogia (

  • Gene Veith

    That’s an extraordinarily helpful treatment, Prof. Pless. I’m going to post it on its own terms, since its implications go far beyond our current controversy.

  • C-Christian Soldier

    happened w/ Benke-2001/–Morris – the present–
    if they used the -IN THE NAME OF JESUS–they SHOULD have been in both ceremonies–
    the Lutheran Church MS- is dying–why!!??
    LA LFL