Missouri-Synod Lutherans: Interfaith action against gay people is fine, but not prayers for slain children

Christ the King Lutheran Church is in Newtown, Conn. The church’s pastor, the Rev. Robert Morris, prayed at the vigil the Sunday after the massacre at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary school in December.

That’s a no-no in Christ the King’s denomination, the break-away “conservative” Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod does not allow its members to participate in interfaith prayer vigils. And for the LCMS, “interfaith” means anything involving anyone who is not part of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Caleb Bell reports for RNS:

A Lutheran pastor in Newtown, Conn., has apologized after being reprimanded for participating in an interfaith vigil following the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

… Morris’ church is a member of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and the denomination’s constitution prohibits ministers from participating in services with members of different faiths.

It’s not the first time a Missouri Synod pastor has been reprimanded for joining an interfaith prayer service; a New York pastor also was suspended for participating in an interfaith service after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk calls this “ridiculous religiosity,” and quotes from the Reuters report:

Earlier this month, the president of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Pastor Matthew Harrison, wrote a letter to church members saying he had requested an apology from Morris for his participation in “joint worship with other religions.”

“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,” Harrison wrote.

“There will be times in this crazy world when, for what we believe are all the right reasons, we may step over the scriptural line,” he wrote.

So, OK then, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod wants to avoid any appearance of squishiness about its core beliefs that might come from joint worship or joint prayer or standing alongside members of other denominations or other faiths. It doesn’t even matter if a community like Newtown or New York is united in grief from a grave tragedy. What matters most is that the LCMS never give the impression that it can co-operate with what are, in their view, false denominations and false religions.

No co-operation. No appearance of comity and partnership. No coming together or working together in any way that might blur these essential differences.

Got it?

OK, that was Wednesday’s news. Here’s the news from Tuesday: “Mormons, other religious groups file brief in support of Prop 8.”

And who would those other groups be?

Other groups whose names are on the brief are the National Association of Evangelicals, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; the Romanian-American Evangelical Alliance of North America; and Truth in Action Ministries.

So praying for the victims of tragedy with other members of the community is forbidden. But interfaith coalitions are just fine when it comes to kicking LGBT people.

This isn’t hypocrisy. It’s just that the people in church charge of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod hate gays way more than they love the schoolchildren of Sandy Hook.

Update: LCMS president Matthew Harrison has apologized:

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.

That’s a forthright, proper apology. I hope that the leaders of the LCMS, NAE, SBC, LDS, Orthodox union and Romanian-American Evangelical Alliance are just as genuine when, someday soon, they offer their apologies for that amicus brief against the rights of same-sex couples in California. And, yes, that day will come.



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  • Dash1

    I’m puzzled as to how you got “bragging” out of what I wrote. I was providing a specific example of how a similar instance had been handled. There’s much to criticize in Brethren practices.

    And my suspicion is that few Plymouth Brethren would be thrilled with an
    elder of the church praying at an interreligious (or
    interdenominational) prayer service.

    Well actually, interdenominational happens a lot. The Brethren aren’t big enough (and are split into factions, as you noted, in any case) NOT to interact with other denominations unless they simply refuse to interact outside of their little group at all. (See my previous message about the Tight Exclusive assembly in that small town I mentioned.) And as for interreligious services, the Brethren, like the LCMS military chaplains, must assist in religious services for any service member.

  • …I do NOT find the question of who was responsible for tipping off the ‘secular media’ of your sordid internal affairs remotely entertaining, and I’m reasonably sure that no one else here will either.

    But if they don’t find out which evil backstabber alerted the secular media to the existence of a public blog, how will they know whom to shame in perpetuity?

  •  (nods) That’s absolutely true. My claim is not that they’re right — they aren’t — but that they exist.

  •  Um… well, OK.

    If I may make a pragmatic reply, to defend the initial claim that nobody says all religions are the same on the basis of such a hairsplitting semantical argument is to render the claim utterly trivial. I mean, OK, on that account of sameness it’s true that nobody says all religions are the same, but so what?

    I prefer to assume the original poster was making a non-trivial (though slightly over-reaching) claim. It seems more respectful.

  • P J Evans

     y’know, most of us don’t say the really personal, private stuff in public. And we try hard not to notice when other people do it.
    But when you make a big thing out of How Private It Is And How Dare Anyone Notice What We Say And Do IN PUBLIC  – you’re already on the wrong side.

  • PatBannon

    I think that the claim is not trivial, because someone in PPPadre’s (or whoever I originally quoted, can’t be arsed to go look) position legitimately does believe that others believe (perhaps all others who aren’t LCMS) that all religions are equivalent and the same. Such people truly believe, as far as I can tell, that anyone who doesn’t hew to legalistic distancing from other faiths believes that all religions are step-by-step identical, and all the seeming contradictions are just

    1. Window dressing and vain rituals that don’t really mean anything, or
    2. Deliberate attempts to obfuscate the fact that they’re all secretly worshipping Satan, or whoever.

    The claim would be trivial if it were being made by a person with a non-deranged viewpoint of the world. Sadly, it isn’t and it isn’t.

  •  (shrug) OK.

    FWIW: Anyone who believes that “all religions are step-by-step identical” — that Orthodox Jews and Roman Catholics meet in the same buildings and utter their prayers in the same language, for example, or that Muslims and Wiccans celebrate the same holidays on the same calendar — does not know enough about religion to be included in any conversation worth having about it. Anyone whose attention is primarily focused on arguing that those hypothetical people are wrong about religion similarly is not involved in a conversation worth having. They may be performing a valuable remedial service, in which case they are perhaps praiseworthy, but the conversation itself is just silly.

    If you’re right that this was the nature of the conversation I inadvertently responded to, I apologize for interrupting it and I apologetically back out of it now. I had thought the OP meant something different.

  • AnonymousSam

    It’s more or less just the ultimate statement of tribalism. “There’s Us, the true believers, and Them — everyone else. It doesn’t matter what They are, because what They are is wrong. Good thing We’re not like Them!”

  • PatBannon

    It’s more or less just the ultimate statement of tribalism. “There’s Us, the true believers, and Them — everyone else. It doesn’t matter what They are, because what They are is wrong. Good thing We’re not like Them!”

    This, more or less, is what I’m referring to. I don’t think I’m reaching too far in ascribing such a mentality to people who stubbornly insist that taking place in an interfaith mourning vigil is the equivalent to syncretism and a dilution (and/or betrayal) one’s faith. And of course we’ve seen several of these people so far, including the guy I originally responded to.

    As for the substantive differences, that’s what my numbered allegations were meant to address. In the eyes of the anti-“syncretism” crowd, the different holy days and different rituals and different physical worship buildings among any religion that isn’t theirs are all either pointless frippery or intentional smoke and mirrors. Or possibly both.

  • PatBannon

    Basically…I picture PPPadre and the others seeing this interfaith vigil, and every single gathering that has representatives from more than one religion on stage (without an RTC clearly dominant) as the EBOWF unveiling from Tribulation Force, with all the respect towards and understanding of other religions that that implies.


    It’s more or less just the ultimate statement of tribalism. “There’s Us,
    the true believers, and Them — everyone else. It doesn’t matter what
    They are, because what They are is wrong. Good thing We’re not like Them!”

    This is, of course, how President Obama can be an Atheist Muslim who wants to impose a secular society governed by Sharia law. (I wish that was a joke.)

  • Free tip, dude. While I find your theology and psychology sufficiently interesting to keep this conversation going even after you explained that I’m an idolater because I don’t interpret the Torah given at Sinai to my ancestors in the light of your subsequent reinterpretations, I do NOT find the question of who was responsible for tipping off the ‘secular media’ of your sordid internal affairs remotely entertaining, and I’m reasonably sure that no one else here will either.

    It’s funny how the people who are so willing to tell you how you are misinterpreting your own scriptures aren’t willing to accept the same kind of critique of their scriptures coming from Muslims.

  • I agree that people who treat interfaith action as a dilution or
    betrayal of their faith are essentially being driven by tribalism, and
    that this includes some of the folks on this thread.

    I agree that many of these people consider the differences between different religions irrelevant.

    Indeed, that’s what I meant in the first place when I responded to the claim that nobody considers all
    religions the same by observing that I know people who seem to do
    just that. You corrected me by saying that “the same” is not the same as equivalent, and that we’re talking about the former and not the latter. I apologized for misunderstanding the context.

    I infer from
    the way you’re interacting with me that I’m still saying something, or that you infer I think something, that you consider
    both false and important enough to correct. I’m not exactly sure what that “something” is.

    For my own part, I’m content to drop the subject here.

  • If you had known me (or worse, known the way my mind worked) throughout my teenage years and early twenties

    Personality disorders are not supposed to be diagnosed in teenagers or young adults (under 25), because then pretty much everyone would be diagnosed with a personality disorder. Almost all teenagers in particular would be diagnosed with some combination of Narcissistic, Borderline, and Antisocial disorders. Also, teenage years tend to be the toughest for people with autism. (And a lot of people generally.) 

    The way you talk about interacting with other people and figuring out how they’re feeling, and particularly the fact that you do seem to feel empathy for others (even if it’s in a slightly different way than some other people might) and care about not being a jerk — I dunno, it doesn’t sound like APD to me. The way you phrase things does feel very much like many autistic people I’ve talked to. 

    Then again, I’m wary of personality disorder diagnoses generally. I think there are unquestionably people who have some of the disorders, but I also see them used as a hammer to attempt to beat people into whatever semblance of normality the times call for.  The way they are diagnosed leans on sexism, racism, and classism quite thoroughly. A boy who likes having lots of sex? Normal. A girl who likes having lots of sex? Borderline. Stuff like that. 

  • AnonymousSam

    Or, for that matter, homosexuality and Gender Identity Disorder/transgender and transsexuality related conditions. The DSM is often called the Bible of psychological definitions. I think there’s truth to that — it definitely is a collection of materials collected by multiple authors, voted and agreed upon by a council of educated peers, and every now and then, it’s laughably wrong.

    One of the things about APD is that it’s categorized by how the patient acts. “Willful violation of the rights of others” is one of the defining traits. What happens if a person stops violating others’ rights? Do they stop having APD? As I’ve said before, I’ve never actually really heard of anyone being in my shoes. I’ve heard of people who were “behaving” so that they didn’t go (/back) to jail, but no one who’d really reformed. Personality disorders aren’t supposed to be “cureable” per se, just trained out of the person’s behavior (again, focusing on the way they act) and then watched for with vigilance with the assumption that those behaviors will pop up again whenever the person stops being dilligent.

    It’s quite probable that I shouldn’t have been diagnosed that way, and it’s possible that it’s changed since then, since, yes, personalities continue developing into adulthood and I wasn’t yet an adult. I can’t afford to go to a clinician (much less several times at a few hundred dollars an hour!) for a new evaluation, but I’d be curious to know what he or she would think now. The last time I talked to a psychiatrist outside of a clinical environment, she seemed to think I had Attachment Disorder instead. <.<

  • KalleOskar

    It’s too bad that Missouri has chosen the road of tribalism. The LCMS pastor’s comments are evidence of how far this has gone. Self-righteous tribalism. Of course the LCMS pastors are free to pray with other denominational leaders, so long as they are “close.” Which means Wisconsin Synod. Everyone else is heretical. Sad.

    LCMS led Lutherans in liturgical renewal. But they needed to keep the rest of us out. The organist at our little ELCA church also plays for an LCMS church. The pastor there believes that we ELCA Lutherans don’t treat Bible as Word of God – we do, but we don’t understand it in the Scholastic tradition of the post-Solid Declaration Waltherists. And he thought we don’t believe in the Real Presence in the Sacrament. We do, but again, we are likely to understand that real presence in a number of ambiguous ways. Even while we affirm, we allow for a broader understanding. 

    Too bad that the pain of the world has to be prayed for by LCMS alone. It’s such a burden for them to bear. But the rest of us can’t be trusted with it.

  • Lori


    The last time I talked to a psychiatrist outside of a clinical
    environment, she seemed to think I had Attachment Disorder instead.

    Not to go too far down the internet diagnosis road, and allowing for the fact that my information is not up-to-date with current research, AD sounds more reasonable to me than APD. People with APD aren’t known for working as hard as you do at either figuring out what’s going on with other people or not going off the rails and hurting people.

    I’m sorry that the best healthcare system in the world (TM) doesn’t make it possible for you to see someone for a more updated evaluation.

  • AnonymousSam

    I could see the resemblance as well, but the diagnosis for attachment disorder requires a history of neglect, and my parents were pretty good to me when I was young. It also seems to only be a diagnosis in children, less often in adolescents and adults, to the point that Wikipedia has no information at all about how it manifests in adults. Although I may often come across as very young at times… well, let’s just say I can remember the original commercials for Chicken McNuggets. ^^;

    Internet diagnosis is bad, self-diagnosis is worse. I don’t even really like speculating, since it’s so easy for the mind to convince itself of things, but I’ve been quite convinced for a long time that my sociopathy was a real thing. It’s just that in recent years, it’s been something I’ve tried to deal with, rather than just living with it. Who knows, though? Maybe sociopathy and APD aren’t synonymous and I have one without the other. I could bear that.

  • Darkrose

    Wow…that was a real apology, too. Good on President Harrison for that, and hopefully the apology for trying to take away people’s civil rights will come.

  • Matri

    You’re going to need to understand why people reacted so poorly to this.

    This particular step is, like empathy & compassion, a wholly alien concept the likes of which is incomprehensible to christianists.

  • jfinish

    Your catholic friends make that “asinine” argument about worship all the time

  • jfinish

    Wow. You are really sharp. Good job spotting a typo.

  • jfinish

    Yes. Great comment, though.

  • jfinish

    Grieving is not the issue, and never did he apologize for grieving.

  • EllieMurasaki

    You expressed a belief I have always before seen used to justify not treating Jews like people. Forgive me for not reading your mind to discern that this time is different.

    If indeed it is. I’m not sold on that.

  • EllieMurasaki

    How so? I’m reading B as it’s okay to assume the lover knows how to love the beloved better than the beloved knows such if the beloved is a pet, a child, or someone otherwise not presently capable of knowing their own mind, but if the beloved is a compos mentis adult human then the lover’s being a jerk.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    What “American Civil Religion”?  Is that the annual human sacrifice to our Beloved Corporate Overlords?

  • Sep154

    Check your facts, Will. No idiot from the Missouri Synod would ever be allowed head of Lutheran World Relief.

  • ngoth02

    Separation of Church and State.  This is important on sooo many levels.  A concept on which our great country was founded; that our founding fathers found so important.  I fear the separation is becoming increasingly blurred, muddy.

  • Lutheran

    Missouri Synod churches are all over the United States.

  • Patrick Garin

    I was raised a lutheran(ELCA), and I think the Missouri synod is just another branch of the right wing baptist-evangelical crap that we have to put up with due to freedom of speech, so shut your pie holes you high and mighty morons!!!

  • Pat

    I agree, I think it is a cult like church, I know some of them and they are as right winged as they come. They hate everybody!!!