A pastor in Connecticut apologized to his flock last week.
He had sinned, he confessed.
His sin was praying – with non-believers.
With, that is, leaders of non-fundamentalist-Christian faiths that some Lutherans view as non-believers.
Rev. Rob Morris, newly installed at his post as spiritual leader of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, Conn. – site of the recent murders of 26 people at an elementary school, and of the murderer’s mother – took part in an ecumenical prayer service in the days after the tragedy. One of his parishioners was one of the victims,
Other religions represented at the interfaith service included Judaism, Islam and Bahai.
Rev. Morris’ participation in the event – he gave a benediction in front of the worshipers at the memorial service, whose ranks included President Obama – came under immediate criticism from his denomination, the conservative Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. His error, the New York Times reported, was seeming by his presence to give his theological endorsement to “faiths that do not regard Jesus alone as savior,” to suggesting that “differences between religions are not important.”
So Rev. Morris apologized. He had, he said in an open letter, spent hours educating his congregants on the differences between Lutheran teachings “and the teachings of false religions such as Islam or Baha’i.”
He didn’t specify Judaism, but Protestant authorities who hew to a rigid interpretation of New Testament doctrine regard Judaism, for sure, as an incomplete religion, and Jews among the “unsaved” who require Jesus’ intervention to attain heavenly reward. In other words, in the eyes of the reverend’s intolerant putative spiritual superiors, praying with a Jew, whose Christless prayers, in their opinion, do not reach God – is banned.
As if we, or believers of other faiths, need someone’s endorsement.
Not that Judaism doesn’t harbor those who similarly look askance at Jews who pray in houses of worship of other denominations, who feel that one Jew’s presence in the synagogue of another branch of our religion gives tacit approval.
Many Orthodox Jews – I number myself among the members of Orthodox Judaism – ban stepping foot in a non-Orthodox congregation or calling a non-Orthodox rabbi “rabbi,” or taking part in a ceremony where non-Orthodox clergy also play a public role. (This does not include the ban on entering a church, whose practices or icons are a violation of traditional Judaism.) Such acts, these Orthodox Jews feel – not all Orthodox Jews feel this way – would indicate that one of us at the service or bar mitzvah of one of them offers a stamp of approval.
Nonsense. I grew up in the Conservative and Reform movements; no one in my ranks considered our interpretation of Jewish tradition justified by having someone from an Orthodox shul step into our midst. On the contrary, their absence just proved that people who would separate themselves from us, for the sake of a principle that shattered Jewish unity and made no sense, were narrow-minded.
Orthodox leaders who issue declarations before the High Holy Days that it is forbidden to set foot in a non-Orthodox congregation, that it is better to daven by oneself at home than in a Reform or Conservative synagogue, are speaking only to their like-minded choir. Those who wouldn’t go to a non-Orthodox house of worship anyways don’t need a reminder; those who don’t care about these Orthodox-only rules, scoff at these declarations.
There are legitimate distinctions between and within faiths – but a memorial service for the victims of a demented individual who didn’t regard life as sacred is not the place to make these distinctions.
Offering a prayer to God, in your way, in the presence of people of faith doing it in their way, does not legitimize others’ beliefs. It simply is a mark of respect for those who lost their lives. Staying away, apologizing for showing up, simply shows your intolerance.
Rev. Morris owes another apology – for apologizing in the first place.