Last Friday was not a good day.
When I got up I found, on page A3 of The Washington Post, a short article about a Missouri Synod pastor in Connecticut. He had been forced to issue an apology after his participation in a community prayer service for the elementary school shooting victims there.
The article itself said clearly “Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod” and “conservative.” But the headline just said “Lutheran.”
I had known something like this would be in the news. I had already seen the full apology and the covering letter from the Missouri Synod president. “Maybe this won’t be so bad,” I thought to myself. Stupidly.
Over the course of the day the internet, and my in-box, exploded with questions and outrage. People were saying, “Apologize for what?” Somebody asked, “Don’t Lutherans pray for people?” The whole business seemed weird and ugly to most people. The low point of my day came when a family member, who fell out with his own church years ago, sent me without any comment statements in which the Missouri Synod leadership tried, and failed, to explain what was going on.
Honestly, this is hard for us. People around us hardly know what Lutherans are. They certainly don’t distinguish between the several Lutheran brands. So now, of course, it looks like we are all part of some mysterious sect that wants to hold itself apart even from a community’s deepest grief and sorrow.
I suggest that our appropriate response to what’s flying around is probably not to offer people some carefully crafted statements about the difference between us and the Missouri Synod. Few outsiders ever understand this anyway. It can come across as mean-spirited exchange. And it hurts our local Missouri Synod neighbors, who are trying to be our good friends and our partners in mission, and who need our prayers now.
What might work better is a whole series of “I statements” from each one of us. We need to speak out clearly wherever we can. “This is what I believe about God’s grace and mercy.” “I believe God feels this way about innocent suffering.” “As a Christian I want to play this kind of a role in our community.”
I don’t know how many people will listen to us. Lots of negative attitudes have already been reinforced by the news that’s out there. Our role is more difficult because of what’s happening among our Missouri Synod sisters and brothers.
Our role is more difficult, but it is not different. We are still called to lift up the grace and goodness of God revealed in Jesus Christ. We are still called to proclaim hope in a deeply troubled world. This is our duty and our delight. May it always be so.
Meantime we know that there will always be challenges for us. And we know that God will never desert us. We carry on in faith.
God bless us all,
Bishop Richard H. Graham
Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
* The original version of this message was distributed to rostered leaders of the synod on 2/9/13.