Friday, February 8, 2013

Concerning Pastor Robert Morris' Apology

Some people are upset that Pastor Robert Morris of Newtown, CN, an LCMS pastor, was asked to apologize for his involvement in an interfaith service.  The following is taken from his letter of apology: (the highlights are mine)

Chaplains are expected to give faithful witness under circumstances which are less than ecclesiastically perfect, even as their fellow chaplains may proclaim a different witness. Thus, with a disclaimer at the outset (which I requested) having stated that participation did not mean endorsement of the other religions represented, I said I was sharing “a final blessing of the hope which is ours through faith in Jesus Christ, using the words of St. John and St. Paul”, I then read from Revelation 21 and I prayed the Trinitarian benediction from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians which we say as part of our Lutheran daily offices. I did not believe my participation to be an act of joint worship, but one of mercy and care to a community shocked and grieving an unspeakably horrific event. However, I recognize others in our church consider it to constitute joint worship and I understand why. I apologize where I have caused offense by pushing Christian freedom too far, and I request you charitably receive my apology. 
Those who have followed the news reports are aware that this event is not quite like anything that has happened before. This was not a natural disaster, an act of terrorism, or random bullets sprayed into a crowd. I believe (and I fervently pray) that my ministry will never involve a parallel situation to the one that faced my congregation and community that weekend. By their very nature, extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary decisions and I do not hold my decisions up as an example to be emulated under ordinary circumstances. I simply say to any pastor who finds themselves in a similar situation (and I pray that none will): you will have my unswerving prayerful support, and I encourage you to do all that you can to ensure that you faithfully proclaim the grace that is ours in Jesus Christ alone. Be sure the proclamation is faithful, and be sure that Christ’s grace is proclaimed.  

     Before we rush to judgment either for or against his involvement in an interfaith service, let's remember that it is important for all Christians to stand for Christ and for Christ alone at all times and in all places.  It's easy to agree to that when we are sitting in our church together. It's another thing when false teachers invite us to pray with them.  They, more than anything else, want us to acknowledge that their faith is valid.  That completely contradicts Jesus, who said, "No one comes unto the Father but by Me" (John 14.6).  That is why pastors of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are careful never to give that impression.

     Pastor Morris asked for a disclaimer that "participation did not mean endorsement of the other religions represented."  He also gave a very clear Trinitarian benediction.  The Bible calls us to give a clear witness to Christ when we have the opportunity.  He doesn't advocate joint worship services, and he didn't consider this to be one. But other pastors thought that it did look like a joint worship service.  To those who thought this way he apologized.

     I hope everyone can see what is really going on here. First, among ourselves (LCMS Lutherans), there should be no question about a pastor participating in any activity that affirms or is indifferent to false religions.  The world that is sold out to works righteousness will never understand this.  But the Bible warns us again and again to stay away from the prophets of Baal.  John, in his first letter ends with the words, "Children, keep yourselves from idols" (5.21).  These aren't mere words. They are serious warnings.  We can't affirm or be indifferent to false religions.  

     Secondly, and this where things can get difficult, we have to wrestle with what is or is not a "joint worship service."  When do we have a good opportunity to witness, and when will our witness be compromised?  That isn't always easy to answer.  We need to pay attention to what the other religious leaders think.  If they think it is an interfaith service that affirms all religions, then that's what it is no matter what we think it is.  We also need to pay attention to the way people perceive the event.  If they walk away thinking all religions are basically the same, we have failed, and we need to do better.  If they walk away believing Christ is the only way or grinding their teeth that we dared to say such a thing, then we have succeeded.  


Paul McCain said...

Pr. Walther, thanks for your post. There is a massive misunderstanding floating around out there.

Pr. Morris was not asked to apologize for doing that he did. In fact he did not. He believes he did nothing wrong. I happen to completely disagree.

But, what he did do was this. He voluntarily apologized for any offense he gave by being involved.

So, he was not asked to apologize for being there. But he voluntarily apologized for causing anyone offense by his participation in the service.

Frankly, I found his presentation anemic, to say the least. I wish he would have said something about the only source of hope and comfort being in Christ Jesus so as not to allow false religions to be viewed as valid.

Mary Kruta said...

Thank you for the way you explained this difficult issue.
If we look at the majority of offensive, negative responses on public forums we can see that the public at large thought this was an interfaith service, and that we as LCMS Christians are daring to say there is a difference in religion.