After sparking intense debate, the president of a conservative Lutheran group is apologizing for his handling of a conflict within the denomination over a Newtown, Conn., pastor’s participation in an interfaith prayer vigil.
After initially demanding a redress from the Rev. Rob Morris, a faith leader who participated in the event, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod President Matthew Harrison has now posted a video apology of his own on the synod website.
The trouble started after Morris offered the benediction at a Dec. 16 service with other religious leaders who gathered on behalf of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod constitution bars clergy from praying with representatives from other religions, which is what led Harrison to request an apology from the faith leader. Participation in the event was originally seen as leaving an opening for “false teaching,” as Morris served along with members of other faiths — individuals with which his denomination has grand theological disagreements.
Following the initial request from Harrison, Morris complied and did end up apologizing (read his letter here). While he didn’t directly say he was sorry for his participation, he did express regret for offending members of the Lutheran denomination. Now, Harrison is backtracking, claiming his reprimand of Morris not only led to criticism of the synod but created more hardship for Morris and his Christ the King Lutheran Church congregation.
In the end, it was Harrison who many people took issue with, as they accused the group’s president of being insensitive in the wake of tragedy. Considering the emotions that were flowing in the wake of the horrific shooting, some felt that the request for an apology was inappropriate.
“In retrospect, I look back and see that I could’ve done things differently,” Harrison said in a video apology posted on Feb. 10. “My deepest desire was to bring unity, or at least to avoid greater division in the Synod over this issue.”
Watch the video, below:
In a letter describing the motivations for his actions he explained, in part:
I, along with New England District President Yeadon, asked Pastor Morris for an apology for participation in the Newtown prayer service, hoping to avoid deeper internal controversy and division in the Missouri Synod, which, in the past, has struggled with this issue to the very breaking point. I naively thought an apology for offense in the church would allow us to move quickly beyond internal controversy and toward a less emotional process of working through our differences, well out of the public spotlight. That plan failed miserably. Pastor Morris graciously apologized where offense was taken as a humble act to help maintain our often fragile unity in the church (1 Corinthians 8). He did not apologize for participating, even as he carefully provided his reasoning for participating due to deep concern for his flock and the people of his horrified community. I immediately accepted his apology, looking forward to continued conversation toward greater unity in the church. I had hoped to veil him and his congregation from unhealthy criticism within the church. I urged and still urge that anyone contemplating action in the church courts not do so. I desire nothing more than to keep our church body from deeper division so we can continue to work through our challenges with less heat and more light. Unfortunately, only a small portion of the two letters that we each provided to the church was picked up by the media, who distorted the facts of an admittedly nuanced situation that is very difficult for most people, even within the Missouri Synod, to understand. I kindly refer you to my letter and Pastor Morris’ letter for further clarification.
Morris says that while the topic is a difficult one, all parties have reconciled.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.