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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  • P J Evans

    It kind of makes me want to send all the LCMS ministers who believe this crap to Missouri. Give them a county to live in, but don’t allow them to spread their narrow-minded church outside it.

  • Becca Stareyes

    That’s hardly fair to the good people of Missouri though.  

  • Revraddatz

    This author makes me laugh. Go LCMS. They have fortitude and stand on Scripture. Maybe the ELCA could learn a lesson. They are heterodox and on the way to being pagan.

  • This isn’t real, right?  I mean, no denomination that actually worships any kind of god worth worshiping could really be so callous towards their fellow man as to reprimand a pastor for taking part in a multi-faith prayer vigil after a tragedy, right?  Nobody could possibly demand that a pastor apologize for standing with the families of slain children in their moment of grief, right?

    The anti-gay thing I can picture, because they’re small-minded bigots.  But they wouldn’t actually put their hatred of Teh Gays ahead of a devastated community of grieving parents, right?


  • Darkrose

    From the Blade link: The brief concludes: “The people of California violated no one’s civil rights when they adopted Proposition 8. Their twice- expressed preference for the traditional definition of marriage over an untested rival conception was thoroughly rational. It is therefore thoroughly constitutional.”

    In other words: “Prop 8 is constitutional because people voted for it. Also, because of reasons.”

    It’s sad that I have to worry that this court might take this seriously.

  • Pastorfiene

    If I signed my Muslim neighbor’s petition to keep a strip club from opening across the street, but wouldn’t worship with him at his mosque, I’m sure you wouldn’t say this is hypocritical, since supporting people on a social issue and worshipping with them are two different things. This is no different than what the LCMS is doing on these two issues.

    Also, we’re not a “break away” group. I know research is harder than ad hominems, but it’s at least worth an effort.

  • PastorDave

    It’s a good thing we worship a God in Jesus Christ who never sat down with people who held different beliefs, ate with known sinners, hung out with actual prostitutes and touched the unclean. We wouldn’t want to get our message confused now, would we?

    Wait, what?

  • Lunch Meat

    It may have been held at a church, but it certainly wasn’t a traditional worship service. Would you go to a Muslim neighbor’s funeral after relying on his/her support on social issues? If not, you may not be a hypocrite, but I would say you’re kind of a jerk.

    Anyway, Fred didn’t say it was hypocritical:

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

  • I’m sure that we could put you in a room with some people that you wouldn’t worship with either. Having standards for who you will worship with and who you won’t doesn’t make you a bigot. Saying a prayer at an interfaith worship service where every god/God is set along aside one another as equal choices in the cafeteria of faith isn’t the only way to care for people who were affected through the tragedy in Newtown. Furthermore, cooperation on social issues isn’t the same as cooperation on the worship of different gods. This is a simple point. You really should be able to see it.

  • Lunch Meat

    Go LCMS. They have fortitude and stand on Scripture.

    Like the one that says “Weep with those who weep, unless they disagree with you on certain christological, soteriological, and eschatological issues?”

  • Lunch Meat

    Furthermore, cooperation on social issues isn’t the same as cooperation on the worship of different gods. This is a simple point. You really should be able to see it.

    Of course they’re not the same thing. Clearly, trying to take away people’s civil rights is much more important than grieving with the grieving.

    Do you also go up to every person in your church service or bible study and interrogate them to make sure they agree with you on everything before bowing your head with them?

  • Alex

    Wow. No sweeping, disgusting generalizations here, especially in the last sentence. The LCMS has 2.3 million people. We don’t hate gays and we love and grieve for the children of Sandy Hook. In fact, one of the children that was murdered was a LCMS member, and the pastor in question and his peers in the LCMS helped the grieving parents, hosted her funeral, and prayed with the parents when they learned the worst. You should be ashamed of that last sentence. It’s shoddy, biased journalism and it makes a sweeping statement that is totally untrue.

  • Darkrose

    This is one of those things where I scratch my head and wonder if anyone realizes what this looks like to people outside of their bubble. I’m pretty sure no one was asking this pastor to recite the Shahadah or dance around the Maypole. The message was, “As a community, we’re horrified by what has happened here, and we’re expressing our concern for the victims together.” When I hear that being part of this was apparently considered a Bad Thing, I immediately think that someone–not the pastor in question–has lost sight of the fact that 26 people, including 5 and 6 year old children were killed. How could doctrinal purity be more important than a gesture of comfort and love to the families of the victims? If these Christians are going to act less like Jesus and more like the people he railed against, why should I take anything they have to say seriously?

  • Darkrose

    Okay, let’s take it out of the realm of generalization:

    Alex, if your church doesn’t hate me, why are you trying to make my life miserable? 
    Not “gays”. Me. Nancy from Sacramento, who celebrated my 4th anniversary with my wonderful wife this past September, because we were lucky enough to get in before Prop 8 passed. By supporting Prop 8, your church is attempting to do harm to me by invalidating my marriage. By supporting DOMA, your church is actively doing demonstrable harm to me by enshrining my second-class citizen status into law

    So why does your church want to hurt me?

  • Pastormesser

    Yes, because the Gospels are full of all those occasions when Jesus added His prayers and blessings to the prayers and blessings of unbelievers. Remember that time when the Jews who rejected Him held that interfaith prayer vigil with the Romans and the Greeks and the Samaritans and the Egyptians, and Jesus was like, “This is cool. We all call Me by different names, but it’s all good. Here, let me add my blessings to this service.”

    Wait, what?

  • Darkrose

    “This is cool. We all call Me by different names, but it’s all good. Here, let me add my blessings to this service.”

    So saying, “I understand that you’re hurting because your six-year-old daughter is dead, and I grieve with you” really means “I totally agree with everything you believe”? Good to know.

  • P J Evans

     Well, Petercertainly was given that message. If y’all don’t get that part of it, fine, it’s your afterlife, but  you don’t get to inflict your views on anyone else in this world without being held to account.

  • Lunch Meat

    You mean like the one where Jesus told the Samaritan woman that it was just fine that she disagreed with the “orthodox” people about where to worship, because true worship is in spirit and God knows who the true worshipers are?

  • Hexep

    Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaw turf wars. 

    I see all of this as ultimately curative – the worse it gets, the more people will shake their old habits and leave these churches, becoming disenchanted with this lifestyle and embracing a newer, better one.

    You know how it is – people don’t go to the doctor until they get properly sick. Well, this illness has to develop before it reaches critical mass.

  • Carstonio

    Apparently this church sees real pistols are less dangerous than sex pistols.

  • Will

    Just some facts: The man who made the statement, President Harrison knows something about caring for the wounded. He served for 9 years as the head of Lutheran World Relief, which brought 14 million to relief efforts in Asia after the tsunami, Haiti after the earthquakes, and after Hurricane Katrina. He was on the ground for all of them. He has seen and relieved more and cared for more people suffering than any commenter on here can claim. So before you throw out claims of heartlessness, do your research.

  • P J Evans

     He needs to spend some more time reading Jesus’s teachings then, because he clearly missed some important parts. ‘Love your neighbor as your self’ comes in here. If it’s wrong to participate in an inter-faith vigil for murdered children, what else does he think is wrong?

  • Pastormesser

    So, if we refuse to worship and pray with, and bless the prayers of, those who call upon different gods, we cannot show mercy, compassion, and love to those who are grieving after a horrific tragedy? Seems odd, especially given the fact that the LCMS is one of the most merciful, compassionate, and loving church bodies in our country, always there on the scene to assist hurting people when tragedies occur – not only at home, but abroad. I guess that’s all for naught if we refuse to join in worship with those who detest the God we serve. Interesting stuff, that.

  • PastorDave

    Nice straw man.

  • Pastormesser

     Peter was certainly given what message? You lost me.

  • Pastormesser

     Are you suggesting that Jesus’ message to the Samaritan woman was that it’s okay to worship with those who worship other gods?

  • Acting humanely towards one group of people doesn’t excuse the act of placing another group of people outside of the bounds of moral obligation. Should Christians help victims of natural disaster? Yes. Should Christians do everything in their power to support grieving parents? Yes. Should Christians work towards the just and humane treatment of all people? Yes. Jesus didn’t give us boundaries when it comes to who we should love or live or worship with–on the contrary, the heart of his message decimated these boundaries. Nothing–not theological divides or sexual orientation or, as you point out, geography, should be a barrier to love.

  • Guest

    It’s things like this that make me glad I left the Missouri Synod.

  • Pastormesser

     By, “Nice straw man,” you’re referring to the article upon which we’re all commenting, right? ‘Cause it’s chock full of straw men, for sure.

  • There’s a scripture that says members of LCMS can’t pray with members of other faiths?

    Who woulda thunk?

  • Darkrose

    Again: was everyone reciting “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His Prophet” part of the service? Was everyone required to take off their clothes and dance skyclad around the Maypole? Was there Mass, and was Communion served? Did they sit shiva for the dead?

    Or were people standing in front of a crowd expressing general sentiments of sympathy and compassion and sorrow?

    It’s great that your denomination does wonderful things. But if you can’t tell the difference between praying with and praying to in the face of an even that shocked even the most cynical among us, then sorry, but all I’m hearing is the sound of brass and tinkling cymbals.

  • B

    I always find it interesting to see which topics will cause the troops to rally for the battle of the comments section.  Sometimes it’s predicable, but sometimes it’s not the ones you expect.  This wasn’t one I expected.

  • PastorDave

     Nope, just your extracanonical argument.

    I do have a serious question for you. Have you ever been to an interfaith service? If you have, I am curious to hear your thoughts about what took place from your perspective.

  • It’s interesting to watch people unwittingly support Fred’s point while imagining they are refuting his point.

  • JustoneK

    Poor Fred’s gotten e-famous lately.

  • Pastormesser

    Dear Darkrose,

    It’s not that I, or my church body, can’t tell the difference between praying with and to, it’s that the world can’t tell the difference. I think that’s been proven in spades by the comments on all the various articles about this today. Pr. Morris certainly doesn’t believe that he was praying to the same god as the Jew, Muslim, or Baha’i clergy that evening. He knows he wasn’t praying to those gods. I know he wasn’t praying to those gods. But, the world doesn’t know that. The public watches a service like that and has the American Civil Religion that dominates our age reinforced in them. Most people commenting about this around the interwebs are not mad because we can’t tell the difference between praying with and to; they are mad because they thought it was a nice service where clergy of different denominations and religions prayed to their different understandings of the “One God” we all believe in, whatever we call him, her, or it, and how dare anyone question that! They are mad because we dare to believe that we don’t all pray to the same God, and that we confess that there is only one, true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Read the comments. That’s why they’re mad. And, that’s why we can’t participate in services like this without giving the impression that what they believe is true, namely that we all worship the same god, just by different names and in different ways.

  • H. Rasmussen

     Matt, considering that the Lutheran Synod I grew up in (Wisconsin Synod, as conservative as Missouri Synod) told me I was not to have “fellowship” with family members who were members of a different synod of Lutheranism from us (and yet, another conservative one, which I can’t remember)? Nothing really surprises me.

  • Virtue Ethic

    Agreed.  I actually do think that some of the criticism here is valid.  There is a world of difference between signing on to a legal argument and praying together.  It’s easy to say that it’s just mutual grieving, but, not knowing what the service was like, I would tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the Church sticking by its principles.  

    Think back a few weeks to the post on the Rabbi’s reaction to being asked to participate in interfaith services and the difficulties and challenges he faced dealing with Jesus-centric Christian prayers.  Although he participated, it’s not hard to imagine a setting where he, or a particular rabbinical organization he subscribed to, might choose pre-emptively not to participate.  As an extreme example, one would hardly be surprised if a Rabbi were chastised for eating non-Kosher food simply because it was served as part of an inter-faith service the Rabbi participated in.   

    There’s an argument to be made, by those more familiar with scripture and interfaith services, that the Synod’s policy is simply bad theology or bad policy.  But simply contrasting it with their support on the Prop. 8 brief proves little.  

  • Darkrose

    He knows he wasn’t praying to those gods. I know he wasn’t praying to those gods. But, the world doesn’t know that. 

    Oh! In other words, “We’re smart enough to know what’s going on, but no one else is.” Gotcha.

    The public watches a service like that and has the American Civil Religion that dominates our age reinforced in them.

    Wait, did Nicky Coast Range already start the Enigma Babylon One World Faith? I’m so out of the loop!

  • Fusina

    Until I was fourteen I attended an LCMS church. The youth group, was a nasty bunch of brats who had a very firm pecking order. I was at the bottom. The girl one rung above me refused to have anything to do with me.

    An example of what these people were like. The youth group went on a retreat. There were two tents for the girls. One slept 8 adults, the other slept 6. I was placed in the 8 person tent, as my parents had lent it for the retreat. All the other girls slept in the other tent, and there were, IIRC, fifteen girls in the youth group. 

    Another example: Another retreat. Everyone was gathered in a room discussing stuff. I had gone in hoping to be accepted. When I left, the kids applauded me.

    This is what they did for the hurting and weak in that particular LCMS church. Tell me, are they the same today?

  • Tricksterson

    Sunday! Sunday!  Giant Monster Trucks!

  • Diverlca

    Oh man…we’re so pagan in the ELCA.  I mean this Sunday, we read from our Pagan Bible…I believe it was Pagan Luke–something about Pagan Jesus nearly being thrown off the cliff by his Orthodox neighbors.  And then we prayed some pagan prayers to our Pagan God the Father.  After that, I believe it was a Pagan feast of bread and wine.  I believe there was a Pagan Apostles Creed slipped in somewhere.  Man, sure beats that LCMS church down the street.  I mean, its not like some small denomination formed out of the German-American Pietistic movement in nineteenth-century Midwest would have a monopoly on the truth right?

  • Chrissl

    I admit to being confused. One of the basic elements of the Christian faith is that there is only one God. Christians believe that the one God has three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but God is still one God, because there *is* only one God, right?

    So how could Muslims, Jews, etc. be praying to a different God if there *is* only one?

  • Pastormesser

    Never mind. I’ll just go find some homosexual people to hate and some slain children to not care about now. Have a nice night.

  • Darkrose

    I assume you agree with your denominations stance on Prop 8, so you’re good on the first one. 

  • Because Moon God. That’s Jack Chick’s answer, at any rate.

  • My best guess is that many religious people buy into the idea from D&D and fantasy, that gods only have as much power as they have worship.  So no, there isn’t just one god, because by not worshipping correctly they are manifesting the existence other gods. 

    Whoever swapped out their Bible pages with DM Manual pages must be hooting in the afterlife right now. 

  • Baby_Raptor

    How is calling your group a breakaway group an insult or attack? It may well be inaccurate, but inaccuracy alone does not equal insult. 

    I know thinking is harder than just getting offended, but it’s at least worth the effort. And it makes you look a lot better than the typical Christianist “They disagree with me, so ATTACK!” attitude. 
    Also, peoples’ rights and the bigotry required to want to deny them aren’t a “social issue.” It’s a matter of basic decency. But your group isn’t exactly batting perfect on those, either. 

  • Darkrose

    Impossible…and yet, it would explain so much!

  • Baby_Raptor

    Wow. No reading comprehension here. The article clearly talked about one group and the man they reprimanded. 

    Also, denying people rights simply because you happen to think that they’re bad IS hate. Your interpretation of your religious book saying so doesn’t negate that. You cannot love someone and at the same time seek to treat them as subhuman.