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Pastor Morris and Newtown: An LCMS Fair Fight?

The controversy over Pastor Rob Morris’ participation in a syncretistic worship service for the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut shooting revealed a lot about the character of the LCMS. Steadfast Lutherans had a huge week of posts, and Gerald Kieschnick and David Behnke came out of the woodwork, along with their “once-in-a-lifetime” service exception. If you have belonged to the LCMS for a long time, you’ve seen stuff like this, and the fact it occurred again isn’t surprising.

But in reading the blogs and news stories, I came to a realization: LCMS is in conflict because it is unwilling to allow conflict. Non-confrontationalism is an essential part of our denomination’s character, and until we are willing to accept the fact we have divisions, we’re not going to be able to work through them.

No place was this more clear than in President Harrison’s first blog post after the service, where the lone embolden words were “I accept his apology”. The whole tenor of Harrison’s first post on the was, “Yes, Pastor Morris should not have participated in this service, and he knows it. Let’s stop fighting about it.” After the news outlets and blogs cycled through stories, President Harrison felt the need to write another post apologizing for the reaction that was outside of his control, and that this was so terrible that this became a national story.

But really, who cares? The liberal media is picking on a small, infighting church body? That’s not news. In fact, Jesus said things like this would happen.

Lutherans, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but there are several types of congregations in our synod. First, there are psuedo-ELCA congregations, who use the green hymnal and say that women serving as elders and communion assistants are just a different expression of the gospel. Then there’s the full blown contemporary, praise band congregations who embrace mega-church trends. There are the churches who embrace the full liturgy and who call mostly from Fort Wayne. And then there are the moderates, who borrow a little from everyone. That makes four very different.. If this is your church body (and how we all ended up in the same church body, I have no idea), you are going to drop the gloves and go at once in a while.

And that isn’t a bad thing. As modern relationship studies have taught us, the couples who never fight are the ones who end up getting divorced, or who are unhappy in their marriage. The couples who learn how to “fight fair” are the ones who survive and thrive. So the question becomes, is the Newtown situation one where the LCMS fought fair?

On that count, I’m not as sure. I don’t know that this caused people to do anything more than to come to their various platforms and reiterate their own beliefs, for their own sake as much as those of their fellow believers. I’m not privy to Synod politics, but there doesn’t really seem to be two fighting factions, as there was in the Behnke-Yankee Stadium controversy, where Kieschnick, the synod’s president at the time, and Behnke, were fighting conservatives on various boards. Pastor Morris apologized (some pastors said he should have “confessed sin”; semantics, in my opinion), and likely would not have participated in the service had he known what people would have said about it afterward. I don’t think this event will result in CTCR studies; the greater damage is that, when a big problem comes up, the LCMS behaves like a good family who lives behind a white picket fence and goes into denial when their youngest son gets arrested for drug use. They make statements and deny that such a thing could even happen.

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