Monday, February 11, 2013

Lutheran Synod Adds to Fractures in Society

Rev. Robert Morri
In an obvious act of insanity, a Lutheran pastor chose to attend an interfaith vigil held in Newtown, Connecticut in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 massacre of children in the Sandy Hook Elementary School there.  Naturally, the Rev. Robert Morris was recently chastised for his actions by the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod for such brazen defiance of church rules and his religious duties.

After all, clergy from other Christian sects, Islam, Judaism and Baha’i were there, not to mention community leaders and the president of the United States.  It’s a wonder Rev. Morris would even have considered such shameful action.

Rev. Morris was duly apologetic once the error was forcefully pointed out to him by the Synod’s leader Matthew Harrison.  He added an excuse for his deplorable act.   “I believed my participation to be, not an act of joint worship, but an act of community chaplaincy,” Rev. Morris explained.  He is, after all, the new pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown.

To the Synod, however, Morris had acted in an unforgivable way by daring to join with his colleagues, grieving parents and community members in respect for the dead. 

“The presence of prayers and religious readings” made the Newtown vigil joint worship, and therefore off-limits to Missouri Synod ministers,” Harrison wrote in a letter.  He added that Morris’ participation also offended members of the denomination.

Who’s really crazy: the minister seeking to join with a stunned community in need of spiritual help or a sanctimonious sect determined to maintain its elitist attitude? 

All Harrison and the Synod did was to guarantee divisions remain within society, which can only function well when all groups work together.  And, Harrison is the same man who said when sworn in as the new president that he would "work as hard as I possibly can for the unity around the clear and compelling Word of God and nothing else."  Hmm.  The unity part somehow got lost along the way.

The arrogance of the Synod, which represents 2.3 million Americans, merely encourages the kind of hatred and irrational thinking that led to Sandy Hook.

David Benke
On the other hand, the Synod is definitely consistent. In 2001, a New York pastor also was suspended for "praying with pagans" in an interfaith service held in Yankee Stadium after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. President of the Synod’s Atlantic District, David Benke, was later reinstated.

Then, too, the Synod is keeping with the attitude expressed by former Catholic monk Martin Luther, who in the 1500s founded the faith named for him.  Luther wrote in his book, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John, that “whoever wants to be a Christian must be intent in silencing the voice of reason.”

There’s definitely nothing resembling reason in the Synod’s approach to society.

Luther also recommended killing Jews and others be killed.  “If I had all Franciscan friars in one house,” he exclaimed, “I would set fire to it.”  He added in a 1520 letter, “The word of God is a sword, is war, is ruin, is scandal.”

No doubt, the Synod would love to live up to that credo, too.

Fredric March as Brady
In a deliciously irony, Synod leader Matthew Harrison bears almost the same name of the fundamentalist leader in the play (and movie) Inherit the Wind.  It retells the real 1925 Scopes trial when a biologist was arrested in Tennessee for daring to teach evolution.  Matthew Harrison Brady (left) led the opposition to science, basing his claims totally on the Bible.  In the subsequent trial, he was ridiculed and humiliated by the protagonist, Henry Drummond.

The current person bearing that name seems just as narrow minded.

It can be no surprise that Luther helped kindle the vicious European religious wars that eventually led philosophers away from faith and into the Age of Reason.  Those blood-soaked battles also sparked the idea of religious freedom that eventually became the hallmark of this country.

Martin Luther
In a way, then, Luther helped inaugurate a way of thinking toward less inhumanity and a more liberal attitude toward all faiths.

The Synod’s most recent decision isn’t going to push us further in a positive direction, but it will serve to further isolate fundamentalists who would rather pretend no one else has a valid religious faith.

They will not be missed whenever any community comes together to honor and remember those who have fallen.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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