The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) has been in the news (National and Local) recently with controversy surrounding a prayer vigil in Newtown, CT after the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, in which a LCMS pastor gave a benediction. If you would like to catch up on the issue click here to find the links to the letters from the different parties involved.

Pastor Ron Burcham, the Sr. Pastor at Gloria Dei, wanted to make known where he stands on the issue. His response is the following:

You may be aware of the “Public Prayer Controversy” that has been the topic of headlines across the country. It has brought The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), the national church body of which Gloria Dei is a member, into the national spotlight. Rev. Rob Morris, a young, recently ordained pastor of the LCMS, was requested to apologize for “exceeding the bounds of practice allowed by the Scriptures, our Lutheran Confessions, and the constitution of our Synod.” The request for this apology came from the President of the LCMS, Rev. Matthew Harrison. There is a link on our website to his letter and all other mentioned letters or articles.

The controversy centers on a prayer vigil that was offered after the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. The prayer vigil had participants from various Christian denominations and representatives from the Baha’I and Muslim faiths. President Obama was present and addressed the crowd.

According to President Harrison’s letter: Pastor Morris took specific steps to insure that there would not be the impression that those present were in agreement in their beliefs. President Harrison also notes in the letter that Pastor Morris “asked for an announcement before the event to make it clear that those participating did not endorse each other’s views. He read from Scripture when he spoke.”

Nonetheless, President Harrison concluded that the vigil was indeed a worship service and that Pastor Morris had acted contrary to the constitution of the Synod and Scripture. Pastor Morris offered an apology to those whom he had caused offense, but not for participating. Pastor Morris wrote; “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.”

After the news media capitalized on the story, President Harrison issued another letter of apology to the church for the way he handled the situation. In addition President Harrison, Pastor Morris, and Pastor Morris’ District President issued a joint letter of harmony.

There are various opinions as to whether Pastor Morris should have participated in the vigil. Unfortunately many of the opinions have been shared over the internet and many have simply ignored the 8th commandment. In the Small Catechism’s explanation of the 8th commandment Luther wisely wrote about how we are to speak of our neighbor: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.”

Pastor Morris made a decision in a short amount of time with limited information. Only he knows all of the emotions and thoughts that went into that decision and it is unfair and unjust to throw stones after the event. In my personal opinion, he acted correctly and demonstrated maturity beyond his years and certainly beyond his experience in ministry. He proclaimed the love of Jesus to a community that needed comfort and hope. Unapologetically he proclaimed the Gospel and gave voice to God’s compassion and grace in the public square.

I understand that we never want to give the impression that there are various pathways to God or heaven. We never want to lead anyone to believe that the differences between Christianity and other religions is unimportant, but I do not believe that anyone watching the prayer vigil would walk away with that impression. What they saw was a community coming together to try to make sense out of a senseless act of violence.

My final thought is, what message would have been given if Pastor Morris had not participated? What message would people assume about his congregation and the Lutheran church? I believe it would have been the impression that we are uncaring and very closed. Both would be completely untrue, but nonetheless, I believe that would have been the impression.

I know that all do not share my opinion and I respect that. I felt that you, the members of Gloria Dei, would want to know where I stand on what has become a very public event in our church body.

In Christ,

Pastor Burcham