Pastoral Letters on the Newtown Tragedy
A Statement of Unity
By the grace of God, we have worked through a very challenging situation. It has been our deepest mutual concern in dealing with one another to be faithful to Christ, our respective vocations, and to each other as brothers. Our dealings have been marked throughout with patience, kindness, and love. We implore the church to do likewise.
We have mutually forgiven each other where we have fallen short.
We are reconciled.
We are at peace.
Rob Morris, Pastor, Christ the King, Newtown
Timothy Yeadon, District President, New England District
Matthew C. Harrison, President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Pastoral Letter and Apology from President Harrison
The Newtown tragedy strikes at the heart of the nation, especially as we are left with no easy or clear answers as a society as to why any human being would inflict such pain upon others. Like many of our fellow Christians in America, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod confesses the inherent value of every life, and the uniqueness of Jesus’ death and resurrection for all for eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). We believe that Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament (Isaiah 53). We believe He is God in the flesh, born of the Virgin Mary (John 1:1–14). We believe that He died to pay the penalty for all sin (Gal. 3:10ff.). We believe that He rose again and promises eternal life to all who trust in His cross and resurrection. “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Like many of our fellow Christians in America, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod confesses the inherent value of every life, and the uniqueness of Jesus’ death and resurrection for all for eternal life.
As the nation struggles with increasing violence and tragedy, we as a church body have struggled and continue to struggle with how to respond to civic/religious services in the midst of such events and to do so in a way that is in accord with our core convictions about the uniqueness of Christ. There are strong differences of opinion on this issue within the Missouri Synod, and that is because we all take our commitments to the Bible and to serving the neighbor very seriously. One view is that by standing side-by-side with non-Christian clergy in public religious events, we give the impression that Christ is just one path among many. Others view participation as an opportunity to share Christ and to truly love a hurting community, which may not happen if we are not participating. We struggle with the tension between these two views. We all deeply want to support our hurting communities in ways consistent with our religious convictions.
Our people participate in the life of this great nation at every level, in part to protect everyone’s right to religious liberty and to enjoy the freedom to act on their own deep convictions. We respect others of deep religious conviction and appreciate good citizenship shown by any and all, no matter what religion or lack thereof. And we have and will fight to protect the religious liberty and conscience rights of all.
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.
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.
As president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, I take responsibility for this debacle. I handled it poorly, multiplying the challenges. I increased the pain of a hurting community. I humbly offer my apologies to the congregation, Christ the King Lutheran Church, Newtown, Conn.; to Pastor Morris; and to the Newtown community. I also apologize to the membership of our great church body for embarrassment due to the media coverage. I know that despite my own weakness and failings, God “works all things for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). My interaction with Pastor Morris and President Yeadon has never been anything but cordial and appropriate for brothers in Christ. Speculation that has implied anything else is false.
The day I was elected two-and-a-half years ago, I noted that the Synod had kept its perfect record of electing sinners as presidents. I also noted that I would fail at times. I am a sinner. I have failed. To members of the Missouri Synod, I plead for your forgiveness and patience as we try again to work toward resolution, faithful to Christ and His Gospel, in times that challenge us all.
Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison
President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Pastor Morris and Christ the King—Newtown, Conn. have also issued a statement in response to the events of this past week.
Pastoral Letter from District President Tim Yeadon
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As the President of the New England District I watched with horror the same events unfolding last December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut that you did. Because of my relationship with Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, Connecticut and her Pastor, the Rev. Rob Morris, the Lord gave me an opportunity to be present in the days and weeks that followed with these saints who were dealing with their own unspeakable grief and yet were ministering to the people of their Community with the only hope we truly have, the hope of Jesus Christ Whose light still shines in the darkest of days. Part of my privilege was also working with my aforementioned brother, Pastor Morris, whom I love in the Lord, and also my brother the Rev. President Matthew Harrison of our Synod whom I also love in the Lord. I admire both of these men for their devotion to our Savior and His Gospel and I attest to that devotion. In light of events and recent developments that have brought trouble to our Synod I have experienced a remarkable unity at the cross with these two brothers of mine and for that I thank the Lord. I know that President Harrison has received criticisms for his handling of this matter and people have questioned his motives. I remind us all that we are not privy to private conversations he has had nor the deliberations of his heart as he has weighed the options he felt best for our Synod. To draw conclusions about his motives without any of that information is not worthy of us as children of God. I defend him as one who wanted to spare the Synod grief and division and to find a way to allow the Pastor and People of Christ the King to continue to minister to their community and to one another without distraction. By his own admission he may now reflect back on whether the means of achieving that goal worked out as planned and he himself has expressed regrets over how things have happened especially now that the public media has run with this story. Please find it in your heart to give charity no matter what you may feel about the handling of this matter as you and I have received charity from the Lord in our life. My conversations with my brother have always let me know that the cross of Jesus was before him in all things: I also realize that as President of an entire Church body such as ours he has to deal with matters far beyond the scope of any of us and I appreciate his struggles to serve the Savior the best way he can.
In light of events and recent developments that have brought trouble to our Synod I have experienced a remarkable unity at the cross with these two brothers of mine and for that I thank the Lord.
I also wish to publicly state my support for my brother in Pastor Rob Morris. This man is a man of integrity and honor who was thrust into a nightmare few of us can imagine. He is a Pastor who has always supported the positions of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and he would be the last person on earth to ignore advice or use his freedom as an excuse to ignore our oneness in Christ as a Church Body. In any action he takes I attest that he precedes it with prayer and as he sought to do his best for the Lord, whether you agree with his actions or not, his heart sought out the Savior. His love for his congregation and his community do him, his saints, and our Church Body proud. As he himself acknowledges in his own writings, he never intended to offend anyone by decisions he made and if it resulted he took the high road of acknowledging those hurts and expressing his regrets for things he did that caused them. He too wanted peace with all and I know he was sincere in that. He has my respect for whatever that counts. Nobody in our Church body and no Church Official has ever spoken to the contrary on that issue regarding his pastoral heart, no matter one’s opinions on actions taken. As such, I pray to the Lord of the Church for more opportunities for me and our District to support this Pastor and this congregation of saints in their ongoing ministry to Newtown, Connecticut and to one another. I will also gladly and proudly in Christ continue to relay support and Christian love from the Office of President Harrison whom it is my honor to represent in this place of our Synod.
With the strength of the Lord I will not allow the enemy to isolate me from President Harrison nor from Pastor Morris and the people of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, Connecticut.
A final thought which I have shared with both President Harrison and Pastor Morris. I believe that Satan wants to divide us and to isolate us from one another. He is the true enemy and on December 14 this enemy showed his true colors. He will stop at nothing, not even the murder of little children, in his hatred of all that is God and all that is good. We hold up Jesus Christ in New England as do all of you where the Lord has called you to serve. With the strength of the Lord I will not allow the enemy to isolate me from President Harrison nor from Pastor Morris and the people of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, Connecticut. We will have our discussions and our disagreements. Where I am wrong I ask for forgiveness from the Savior and from any whom I offended. I without reservation give it to those who have sinned against me because Jesus has forgiven me so much in my life. With Christ’s help we will make it through these days and He will bring His good out of all of this. That is why I believe the best days of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod are still ahead of us.
Rev. Timothy Yeadon
President, New England District
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
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