The context... Pastor Morris of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown made a decision to participate in a prayer vigil/service in which President Obama was the featured speaker. It was a markedly civil event that included religious participation in a sort of serial prayer format in which each speaker was given a part to play without presuming a unity of faith with others on the program. It has become a staple event in the way that Americans deal with tragedies and yet it is not one without grave consequence as we endeavor to hold up Christ and the Gospel as more than one deity on the stage and one truth among many.
Pastor Morris did a credible job of trying sort through the minefield of dangers in such a format but no one can participate in something like that without causing offense -- just as, perhaps, not participating might have caused offense within his congregation. President Harrison dealt with the situation lovingly and compassionately and gave the congregation and Pastor Morris as much time as possible out of the fray of those who would argue and make his participation an issue. Privately and collegially, President Harrison and Pastor Morris recognized that his participation had caused offense and he graciously apologized for that offense and President Harrison accepted that apology. In a perfect world, these things could have been handled discreetly but, as we all know, the news media got wind of it and turned the whole thing on its ear. President Harrison was portrayed as a controlling ogre and the Synod as a loveless bunch of self-righteous Pharisees. In the midst of it all, President Harrison released a video explaining what he had done, how he had attempted to handle things, and, in humility, taking responsibility for and apologizing for mistakes he made in carrying this out and for the disrepute caused to our Synod by the media frenzy.
For better or worse, our recent history as a Synod has left this whole matter of how and whether one can participate in such civil expressions of religion as a muddle. We as a Synod must clarify and respond to such things in a manner which will both honor our doctrine and display the love of Christ. So far, we have not done either very well. To his credit, President Harrison has offered us his sincere apology for the way in which the handling of this has become its own issue. God bless him for it. Would that each of us in Synod were as reasoned, pastoral, and humble as Pastor Harrison -- if that were the case we would find it much easier to discuss these contentious issues without rancor and come closer to the koinonia that both honors God and honors our life together as a Church. So pray for him, prayer for Pastor Morris and the good people of Christ the King parish and Newtown, and for a God pleasing resolution to the issues raised.