Sunday, February 10, 2013

How we talked about it in Bible Class...

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.

+HRC




16 comments:

  1. Explain the "where President Kieschnick went to church in Kirkwood" thing?

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  2. Rev. Dr. Seidler was President Kieschnick's pastor from 2006 until President Kieschnick moved away from Kirkwood.

    +HRC

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  3. Did you defend Fr. Rossow's Biblical description of syncretism as spiritual prostitution, after all, it is not Father Rossow's idea. he got it from Fathers Nagel and Hummel.

    Also, do you agree that Father Morris, whether he did it naievely or not, still needs to confess that he committed spiritual prostitution?

    Fr. Rossow

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  5. We talked about exactly what syncretism is and we also talked about how all of us can say things in ways that, upon mature reflection, can be said in better ways.

    It was the "the gunman killed the body" quote that was not well received by salt of the earth, hardcore, Bible class Lutherans from the Midwest in a parish that has stood fast in every controversy in the LCMS within living memory. I report, you decide whether you could have communicated the same truth in more constructive ways that would reflect better upon us confessional Lutherans. Heaven knows I've certainly said things that were true in ways that have offended these same people! But I didn't think it was a stretch to say you regretted the way you said it since you pulled the quotes down.

    To your second question: I agree with what Father Harrison said in his initial response (which needed no apology): what Pastor Morris did was wrong, even though he did it with the best of intentions. It was syncretism, even though he didn't mean for it to be.

    +HRC

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  7. Pastor Curtis:

    Excellent remarks, thank you. I would however say that when you suggest Pastor Harrison "strike out in boldness" you are, quite frankly, being very insulting toward President Harrison who has been "quite bold" through the entire situation, and no more so than when he apologized for well-intentioned things that were done, that he feels were now not so helpful. Let's stop trying to set the Synodical President's agenda for him and telling him how to be "bold." I dare say few of us have even the most remote idea of what it is like to serve as the president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and, well, the exceedingly unique responsibilities, stresses and pressures that rest heavily on the shoulder of the one who serves in this way.

    Pastor Rossow:

    It is quite revealing you pop on to this post to defend yourself and appeal to two fine Lutheran professors. Neither one of these men would ever condone the manner in which the forum for which you are responsible allows the most irresponsible sorts of remarks. Maybe you should hear Pastor Curtis' remarks and consider how you could avoid repeating these kinds of things. You have, and continue, to permit the forum for which you are directly responsible to be a platform for some of the most vile rhetoric coming from baptized Lutheran Christians: lay and pastors alike that one would hope never to read. And now you see the consequences. It has been used to heap contempt on our church body, and more importantly, on the Gospel itself.

    Let us all resolve to use this incident to learn more about compassion, humility, and what it means to put others before self, to resist the efforts of Satan to divide the body of Christ.

    I pray that this is so.

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    1. President Harrison has my deepest sympathies and respect. As I said in an earlier post, I realize that I'm simply not privy to all the information he has and that I believe I owe him the same sort of support that I ask my elders to have in me. I want them to give me the benefit of the doubt, but I don't want yes men. I want to hear their opinions. My opinion is that President Harrison (and our Synod) would be well served to pick one of our big, controversial topics here in his first triennium and step out in bold action. Give us a public comment about Prof. Becker's teaching. Give us a plan to end "lay ministry" in X years - or a series of Lutheran Witness articles teaching us why lay ministry is wrong.

      That's an opinion from one parish pastor out in the trenches. President Harrison will make his own decisions, just like I make my own decisions about hearing from my board of elders.

      +HRC

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  8. Dear Paul:

    Obviously, we all have our opinions. I disagree with you that Heath was "insulting" toward Pres. Harrison. Heath was surmising what might become a temptation in the future - based on his own experience as a parish pastor (which Pres. Harrison also was and is). This situation is not terribly unlike that which faces a parish pastor when a serious antagonism in his parish and community breaks out, though obviously is played out on a larger stage.

    I find Heath's comments to be supportive without simply becoming a lapdog. I find Heath's optimistic objectivity to be refreshing. In fact, I appreciate the way Pres. Harrison didn't just "circle the wagons" on this issue. I find that refreshing as well. I can't see that Heath has been insulting in any way.

    Like I said, Paul, we all have our opinions and I just wanted to express mine. I mean no malice toward you or anyone else. This is a blog. We post opinions. Sometimes we disagree.

    Peace be with you!

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  9. We get the Post Dispatch here about three hours south of St. Louis, but the subject never came up at our Bible class. No one asked about it at all.

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  10. I got a couple of phone calls during the week -- most of them concerned simply about the beating our church body was taking in the media.

    What is hard on situations like this is when the rhetoric gets turned up. While you are certainly right to think of it as wrong, to call it "spiritual prostitution" ramps up the intensity and personal nature of this whole thing in a way that draws the attention away from the doctrinal point of faithful practice that could and should be made.

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    1. I agree completely.

      The problem here, let's not forget, is that we have 20 dead children over which there is some real grieving still going on. President Harrison was and is showing some acute mindfulness of this fact. Otherwise we are as heartless as they say we are. Theology is never done in the abstract.

      At the same time a synodical president does well who remembers his obligation to oppose syncretism and unionism, terms the former synodical president evidently thinks could not apply to anything.

      I give President Harrison very high marks in his handling of the whole thing, apology included.

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  11. I find myself in agreement with FRFBE for the second time in just a few weeks. Is the end nigh?

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    1. Let's see if the next pope takes the name "Peter." LOL

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    2. I've always had a fondness for "Paul," but maybe that's just me.

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    3. "I've always had a fondness for "Paul," but maybe that's just me." -- the Rev. McCain

      It's probably more the result of an early developmental experience in which mother said something about "robbing Peter, to pay Paul;" but that's just me.

      Your bill is in the mail.

      Your (unworthy) servant,
      Herr Doktor

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