Pastor Morris had made it clear that participants at the service did not necessarily endorse one another’s theological views. Nonetheless, up the Lutheran authority chain Pastor Matthew C. Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, reprimanded Morris for participating. Pastor Harrison said he feared such ecumenical activities might give the impression that it doesn’t matter who God is, how to worship Jesus, and what we need to do to get to heaven.
After the rebuke raised a public outcry, I was hoping to hear an apology, and there was one. Unfortunately, the apology did not come from President Harrison for having criticized Pastor Morris’s attempt to comfort grieving people who might have had different beliefs about an afterlife. The apology came from Pastor Morris, who humbly acknowledged that his participation was offensive to his church. He also promised never again to take part in such ecumenical activities.
I’ve noticed that religious believers tend to fall into two categories: those who place behavior above belief, and find in their holy books an obligation to advocate for social justice; and those who place belief above behavior, and think of this life as preparation for an afterlife. I certainly prefer the former view. I was sorry to learn that Pastor Morris felt he needed to apologize for the “sin” of putting behavior above belief.
Many irreligious people also object to participating in interfaith ceremonies. The word “interfaith” is meant to be inclusive, and to some degree it is. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and other minority religions can comfortably participate with Christians in interfaith activities. While such inclusive intentions may be honorable, a lot of atheists and humanists feel uncomfortable with the term “interfaith” because we have no faith in deities. A name change would be ideal: Inter-worldview? Interbelief? Faith and values? A better phrase?