We are close enough to St. Louis that folks get the Post-Dispatch on Sundays, so I was sure to get questions about all the "prayer vigil event" hubbub this morning in Bible class. It is always instructive to get the viewpoint of the good and godly folks in the pew.
They were turned off by the obvious political nature of the criticism of Fr. Harrison. They felt very badly for Fr. Morris and his community. They were livid at the comments from Fr. Rossow quoted in the Post-Dispatch and disgusted at the politicking from Fr. Seidler. Of course, the newspaper didn't mention that Team Harrison had jumped on Fr. Rossow post haste to pull those comments down in the first minutes of their appearance, and they were glad to hear of it. The paper also didn't mention where President Kieschnick went to church in Kirkwood either, and they found that instructive as well.
On the issue itself I think I can sum up my Bible class's thoughts like this: they didn't like the idea of a Lutheran pastor sharing a religious stage with an Imam and a rabbi, but they were certainly not ready to string the guy up. In other words: Fr. Harrison's original handling of the situation was exactly what they wanted - a steadfast confession combined with a gentle and pastoral attitude.
As I mentioned earlier, this case is so unlike the Missouri Synod's other famous foray into "civic events" precisely because the pastor in question forthrightly agrees that Christians can't worship with non-Christians. He didn't offer some half-baked theological justification for prayer with Muslims based on a mistranslation of the the Large Catechism - instead he issued a polite apology for causing offense in which he forthrightly confessed that these other religions are falsehoods. He just doesn't agree with the Synod President that his actions added up to joint syncretistic worship. Father Harrison's critique, echoing the hearts and minds of many in the Synod, was simply that if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck. . . .
As the lawyers would say, it's a question "not of the law, but of the facts." Since it was a disagreement on the interpretations of actions instead of a difference in theology, it was hard to get really worked up about it and I have not spoken to anyone who could say he was mad at Pastor Morris or thought he should be kicked out of the Synod. As Fr. Petersen said here: he made a mistake out of compassion. The Synod President called him on it in the most gentle and pastoral way.
But in almost three years President Harrison had not given his political opponents any ground on which to oppose him. He has done nothing remotely controversial (at least nothing the news of which has spread beyond the IC). So they seized this. It fit their script nicely: confessionals are meanies who only care about doctrine not people, vote for the nice guys who love you.
President Harrison has now apologized for "handl[ing the situation] poorly, multiplying the challenges" and "increas[ing] the pain of a hurting community" and "for embarrassment due to the media coverage."
Has President Harrison been reading the advice of our own Father Petersen when it comes to responding to angry letters?
Just like the parish pastor who gets blasted for "his demeanor" or "the way he said it" when he did the right thing (or even a little less than he really felt duty bound to do because he was bending over backwards to be kind) President Harrison has tried to defuse the situation by taking blame for the fallout while not retracting the substance of his remarks.
Like the parish pastor so blasted, the temptation for President Harrison will be to become gun shy, to retreat to his study, to be slow to speak when he should speak. What would we pray for the parish pastor in a similar situation? That he would take from this experience not an excuse for being gun shy, but a realization that he ought to be bold. They are going to come after you even when you try your very best to be as gentle as you can manage - so why not strike out in boldness on an issue you care deeply about and that needs to be taken care of? If they want an election issue, a reason to hate you, let it be a good one that you can feel good about upholding come what may.