LCMS president and other church bodies

Mathew Block, the communications director of the Lutheran Church Canada who writes for the First Things blog, praises the re-election of Matt Harrison to the presidency of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  He cites “another topic worthy of discussion in considering President Harrison’s first term—namely, the LCMS’ increasingly friendly relations with other church bodies.” [Read more...]

LCMS president’s re-election

While I was gone:  Rev. Matthew Harrison, a confessional theologian with a heart, was re-elected president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  By a landslide of 2/3 of the vote.  You LCMSers, does this bode well?  What exactly, if we can say that, does it bode? [Read more...]

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. [Read more...]

Matthew Harrison’s open letter

Matthew Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, has issued an open letter from religious leaders to Americans, stating why they object to the Obamacare insurance mandate requiring coverage of contraceptives and abortifacients.  It’s getting some notable attention.

FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION:
Putting Beliefs into Practice
An Open Letter from Religious Leaders in the United States to All Americans

Dear Friends,

Religious institutions are established because of religious beliefs and convictions. Such institutions include not only churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship, but also schools and colleges, shelters and community kitchens, adoption agencies and hospitals, organizations that provide care and services during natural disasters, and countless other organizations that exist to put specific religious beliefs into practice. Many such organizations have provided services and care to both members and non-members of their religious communities since before the Revolutionary War, saving and improving the lives of countless American citizens.

As religious leaders from a variety of perspectives and communities, we are compelled to make known our protest against the incursion of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) into the realm of religious liberty. HHS has mandated that religious institutions, with only a narrow religious exception, must provide access to certain contraceptive benefits, even if the covered medications or procedures are contradictory to their beliefs. We who oppose the application of this mandate to religious institutions include not only the leaders of religious groups morally opposed to contraception, but also leaders of other religious groups that do not share that particular moral conviction.

That we share an opposition to the mandate to religious institutions while disagreeing about specific moral teachings is a crucial fact. Religious freedom is the principle on which we stand. Because of differing understandings of moral and religious author- ity, people of good will can and often do come to different conclusions about moral questions. Yet, even we who hold differing convictions on specific moral issues are united in the conviction that no religious institution should be penalized for refusing to go against its beliefs. The issue is the First Amendment, not specific moral teachings or specific products or services.

The HHS mandate implicitly acknowledged that an incursion into religion is involved in the mandate. However, the narrowness of the proposed exemption is revealing for it applies only to religious organizations that serve or support their own members. In so doing, the government is establishing favored and disfavored religious organizations: a privatized religious organization that serves only itself is exempted from regulation, while one that believes it should also serve the public beyond its membership is denied a religious exemption. The so-called accommodation and the subsequent Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (AN- PRM) do little or nothing to alleviate the problem.

No government should tell religious organizations either what to believe or how to put their beliefs into practice. We indeed hold this to be an unalienable, constitutional right. If freedom of religion is a constitutional value to be protected, then institutions developed by religious groups to implement their core beliefs in education, in care for the sick or suffering, and in other tasks must also be protected. Only by doing so can the free exercise of religion have any meaning. The HHS mandate prevents this free exercise. For the well-being of our country, we oppose the application of the contraceptive mandate to religious institutions and plead for its retraction.

Sincerely yours,

Leith Anderson, President National Association of Evangelicals
Gary M. Benedict, President The Christian and Missionary Alliance U.S.
Bishop John F. Bradosky, North American Lutheran Church
The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, President The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church Bishop, Fellowship of International Churches
The Very Rev. Dr. John A. Jillions, Chancellor Orthodox Church in America
Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, l.s.p., Provincial Superior, Baltimore Province Little Sisters of the Poor
The Rev. John A. Moldstad, President Evangelical Lutheran Synod
Deaconess Cheryl D. Naumann, President Concordia Deaconess Conference The Lutheran Church MS
The Most Rev. Robert J. Carlson, Archbishop of St. Louis
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York President United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V., Superior General of the Sisters of Life
Sister Barbara Anne Gooding, R.S.M. Director, Department of Religion Saint Francis Health System
Sister Margaret Regina Halloran, l.s.p. Provincial Superior, Brooklyn Province Little Sisters of the Poor
The Most Blessed Jonah, Archbishop  Orthodox Church in America
Imam Faizul R. Khan, Founder and Leader Islamic Society of Washington Area
The Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, Director of Interchurch Relations Orthodox Church in America
The Most Rev. William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore Chairman USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty
Sister Maria Christine Lynch, l.s.p., Provincial Superior, Chicago Province Little Sisters of the Poor
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President NHCLC Hispanic Evangelical Association
Sister Joseph Marie Ruessmann, R.S.M., J.D., J.C.D., M.B.A. Generalate Secretary Religious Sisters of Mercy
The Rev. Mark Schroeder, President Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
L. Roy Taylor, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America
Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, l.s.p., Communications Director Little Sisters of the Poor
Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendent The General Council of the Assemblies of God

Commentary on Harrison’s “Open Letter”

Julia Polese of the Institute for Religion and Democracy on LCMS President Matthew Harrison’s open letter on the Obamacare insurance mandate. (I draw your attention to what pro-infanticide ethicist Peter Singer has to say on the topic.)

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) recently released a statement on religious freedom expressing solidarity with the Roman Catholic Church in their fight against the HHS mandate requiring religious institutions to provide contraception to employees. In a video statement on the Synod’s website, President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison emphasizes the first amendment guarantee that religious people not only have freedom of assembly, but mentions that “Congress cannot make laws that prevent the free exercise of religion in this country,” which not only means freedom to assemble but freedom to “practice our religion in the public sphere in institutions that we have and run as Christians or other religious people.” The statement was signed by an ecumenical group of clergy and lay people, from Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan to Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and Imam Faizul R. Khan, the founder and leader of the Islamic Society of Washington Area.

The statement comes at the beginning of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” events. Centered around local dioceses, the events intend to rally Catholic laypeople to the cause of religious liberty with special prayers and marches. The left has shown typical paranoia about these events, questioning their funding (because, as we all know, you scratch a Catholic and find a Koch brother) and motives (Sammie Moshenberg: “It’s a marketing ploy.”). The LCMS’s statement, however, shows that the HHS mandate is not only a Catholic problem, but one for all religious people in the United States.

Rev. Dr. Harrison identifies the crucial difference in the invocation of the First Amendment in this debate. For many supporters of the HHS mandate, freedom to assemble is reinterpreted to mean freedom from public engagement from a religious worldview. Professor Peter Singer, the notorious utilitarian who has argued for infanticide in the past, articulates this angle in his latest piece. He asserts “the Obama administration’s requirement to provide health insurance that covers contraception does not prevent Catholics from practicing their religion. Catholicism does not oblige its adherents to run hospitals and universities.”

This limitation is not true freedom of expression, but instead an implicit command for bifurcation of the religious person’s life. Freedom of conscience is great until it butts heads with the conscience shaped by thinkers like Rousseau and Bacon. At its root, it is moving any religious mindset to a private sphere. Leave your beliefs in church where they belong. In a blog on the Washington Post website this morning, Bishop Lori articulated what is wrong with this conception of religious liberty. He wrote: “As we often say, we serve people because we are Catholic, not because they are. It is why so many Catholic schools enroll so many non-Catholics; Catholic hospitals don’t ask for baptismal certificates upon admission; and Catholic soup kitchens don’t quiz the hungry on the Catechism.” As a Reformed Southern Baptist whose alma mater stands both on the Potomac and the opposite side of the Tiber, I am thankful for this impulse to service and I must say that my education was best when unapologetically Catholic. A shared worldview can form partnerships in the public square between the sons of Martin Luther and those loyal to the Pope.

The HHS mandate is only a symptom of a grander impulse to demand religious people to abandon their views that do not overlap with modern liberalism in the public square. It is not just about contraception, but a clash of worldviews. For this reason, the ecumenical statement from the LCMS in support of the Catholic Church is encouraging in its explicit recognition of this problem and the Mainline Left’s response (or lack thereof) reveals where its true intellectual heritage lies.

via Lutherans and Catholics Together « Juicy Ecumenism.

President Harrison makes a very useful distinction:  Religious liberty is not just  “freedom of assembly,” as in “the right to worship” behind four walls, which is how some officials are construing it.  The Constitution specifically protects the “free exercise” of religion, which takes it out of just the place of worship into the public arena.

Rev. Harrison on Lent

I am appreciating more and more the ability of Matt Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, to witness to our faith in the public square.  Here are his Lenten greetings:


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