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Lutheran pastor apologizes for praying in Newtown vigil
People pray at the interfaith vigil in honor of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
February 7th, 2013
01:34 PM ET

Lutheran pastor apologizes for praying in Newtown vigil

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – A Lutheran pastor has apologized after being chastised by his denomination's leader for offering a prayer at an interfaith vigil for the victims of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Pastor Rob Morris, who leads the Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, violated the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's rule against taking part in joint worship services, said the synod's president, Pastor Matthew C. Harrison.

Participation could be seen as endorsing "false teaching" because some among the diverse group of religious leaders at the vigil hold beliefs different from those of synod.

The vigil, which was attended by President Barack Obama, was a high-profile part of the healing process for the families of the 20 children and six adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14.

One of the victims of the shooting was a young congregant of Morris' church.

In an open letter posted online, Harrison wrote that because of "the presence of prayers and religious readings" and the fact that "other clergy were vested for their participation," the event was a "joint worship with other religions."

"I could draw no conclusion other than that this was a step beyond the bounds of practice allowed by the Scriptures," Harrison wrote. "There is sometimes a real tension between wanting to bear witness to Christ and at the same time avoiding situations which may give the impression that our differences with respect to who God is, who Jesus is, how he deals with us, and how we get to heaven, really don't matter in the end."

Harrison then "asked Pastor Morris to apologize for taking part in the service" because he "violated the limits set by Scripture regarding joint worship" and "gave offense" to the Lutheran leadership.

A day after Harrison's letter was posted, Morris apologized in another open letter.

"To those who believe that I have endorsed false teaching, I assure you that was not my intent, and I give you my unreserved apologies," Morris wrote in a letter to the Lutheran leadership. "I apologize where I have caused offense by pushing Christian freedom too far, and I request you charitably receive my apology."

In the same letter, however, Morris defends his decision to participate, writing that he believed his participation was "not an act of joint worship, but an act of community chaplaincy."

"Those who have followed the news reports are aware that this event is not quite like anything that has happened before," Morris wrote. "I believe (and I fervently pray) that my ministry will never involve a parallel situation to the one that faced my congregation and community that weekend."

According to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, participating in joint worship events, particularly with religions that "reject Jesus," is forbidden and violated the synod's constitution. In his letter, Harrison cited Romans 16:17 as the justification for this rule.

"I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned," the passage reads. "Keep away from them."

Morris is not the first Lutheran pastor to be reprimanded for participating in an interfaith event. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, a New York pastor was suspended for participating in a similar interfaith event memorializing those killed in attack on the World Trade Center.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Lutheran • United States

soundoff (980 Responses)
  1. Just Me

    That is why I am a Non-Domination Christian, my relationship with Jesus is between me and the Lord and no middleman between us. I departed from that Pay, Pray and Obey Churches. I can walk into any Church and yet feel the presence of God in my life. Religion is a cult, and a cult is any religion that is an organization of manmade rules. a group that tends to manipulate, exploit, and control its members ... When you're in Jesus, your free, no pastor or priest is going to tell me what, where, when and why! Pastor Matthew C. Harrison should get on his knees and apologize, what a creep!

    February 8, 2013 at 2:36 am |
  2. Ira Radnick

    What loving people lutherans must be. To say an interfaith prayer violates a principle because, oh my golly, someone may not have the beliefs as the lutheran teachings? Wars over religion have been fought over such silly nonsense. If I were a lutheran I would find another group to join. Then again, I do not prance around following the blind who chase after fables.

    February 8, 2013 at 2:32 am |
    • Kyle

      You're ignorant of the differences between religious sects. And because of these particular church leaders you claim Lutherans are somehow ignorant and intolerant of others beliefs. I know plenty of Lutherans including pastors who would not at all object to participating in an inter-faith vigil. What about the horribly unpopular actions and statements by catholic church leaders and members? A certain baptist church in Westboro doesn't represent all Baptists now does it? Think a little before you pass judgment on such a broad scale.

      February 8, 2013 at 2:43 am |
    • mama k

      True Kyle. I know of a Baptist church that would be marrying gay couples tomorrow if it became legal in their state.

      February 8, 2013 at 2:54 am |
  3. Over 30,000 denominations of insanity

    Has anything improved with Christianity since 200+ years ago?
    =================================================

    Thomas Jefferson, POTUS #3:

    Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

    John Adams, POTUS #2:

    I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved – the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! With the rational respect that is due to it, knavish priests have added prostitutions of it, that fill or might fill the blackest and bloodiest pages of human history.

    James Madison, POTUS #4, chief architect of the U.S. Constitution & Bill of Rights:

    During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

    Thomas Paine:

    All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

    February 8, 2013 at 2:04 am |
    • worldcares

      I like your comment.

      February 8, 2013 at 2:30 am |
  4. worldcares

    The Christian Religion has so many sects and bylaws.
    Pastor Rob Norris, you made the right choice. You followed your heart.
    I watched this vigil on CNN.
    There are many religions in this world but only one God.
    People seem to forget who God is.

    February 8, 2013 at 2:04 am |
  5. NickD

    I think thats a fring splinter group of the Lutheren Church.

    Either way to apologize for praying to god because someone present is not a member of your personal church hsows that that cg hurch is simply morally bankrupt. I doubt that is what the almighty had in mind for his peoples.

    February 8, 2013 at 2:04 am |
    • mama k

      I figured if you add the WELS to the LCMS, both extremely fundamental, then you are actually looking at about 65% of the number of ELCA. Disheartening. I did not know that many of these people thought the pope was the Antichrist. I'm an agnostic atheist, but I'm floored by this.

      February 8, 2013 at 2:13 am |
    • mama k

      think not thought. Earlier I found a quote from 2011 from the head of the WELS I think it was regarding the pope having the characteristics of the Anti-Christ. Wowzer.

      February 8, 2013 at 2:14 am |
  6. hellatight

    Jesus, as a practicing Lutheran, would have never ever committed this grave an error in regards to the religion he founded, LUTHERIANITY. Shame on this man, for violating everything that the only people who will get into heaven hold dear.

    February 8, 2013 at 1:52 am |
    • Anne

      Isn't Jesus forgiving? So should be you

      February 8, 2013 at 2:06 am |
    • worldcares

      dear or fear?

      February 8, 2013 at 2:19 am |
  7. Mani

    At the end of the day, organized religions don't want 'Members' to go to other organized religion events...so they don"t loose money. Like it or not, organized religions are nothing more than money making machines for the leaders.

    Follow the money basket...and see what happens. They might all have their differences, but they all agree on one thing.
    Green In their coffers!

    February 8, 2013 at 1:51 am |
  8. Eric of Reseda

    Christ is dead, been dead for a long time. And he don't give a hoot about all these idiotic "holy men" runnign around spreading nonsense in his name. Rodney King was more a preacher than any of these clowns: "Can't we ALL just get along?" That's the Bottom Line. The rest is pure bulls#@t.

    February 8, 2013 at 1:45 am |
  9. mountainlady

    This is the sort of thing that led to my no longer being a Christian. Jesus was a cool guy and if all Christians lived by his teachings instead of the many restrictions and prejudices and posturing of the different denominations of the Christian church it would be a cool faith. But it isn't. Pastor Rob Morris ministered to his community in their time of need. Too bad the rest of his church doesn't see that this is the purpose of faith.... not being divisive and narrow minded.

    February 8, 2013 at 1:45 am |
  10. Brian

    No kidding. Since when are people so touchy and intolerant. I am extremely conservative. However, the things I hear lately are beyond disturbing. Where is common sense and compassion?

    February 8, 2013 at 1:40 am |
  11. Just a Guy

    I am not sure why religious folks are so worried about going to Hell. As far as I can tell, they are already there!

    February 8, 2013 at 1:38 am |
  12. Jo234

    Dear Pastor Rob Morris,
    Thank you for being part of the service. Not only were you a chaplain to all of those who were there, you were also a chaplain to all of us who were watching around the world on TV and in need of your comforting words. You helped us all so much. You do not need to apoligize. Thank you for your participation.

    February 8, 2013 at 1:32 am |
  13. MOCaseA

    Some people... some religions, need to actually read the Bible. Jesus was almost completely against the Pharisees, yet that did not stop him from conversing about religious theory and encouraging support for the church. He prayed openly in the Pharisees temples and spoke of dedication to the Church. He didn't let the "religion" suppress his faith and care.

    And them this "leader" of the Lutheran Church steps forward and basically says that a pastor, doing exactly what Jesus himself would most likely have done to help heal the pain, was in the wrong? This leader need to get his head checked. The scripture says NOTHING about shunning other religions and not showing any support for those who don't share your views. As a matter of fact it even goes so far as to say to be a witness of your faith.

    Normal hypocrisy of organized religion...

    February 8, 2013 at 1:28 am |
    • Jon

      amen mocasea! Well put.

      February 8, 2013 at 2:08 am |
  14. Kathy E.

    Nobody forced Rob Morris to be a Missouri Synod Lutheran Pastor. He knows very well what the rules are, he just chose to ignore them. I was raised in a Missouri Synod Church, but could not tolerate their position on gays and women and switched to ELCA......and I suggest Pastor Morris do the same if he can't follow Missouri Synod rules. I think the lure of a National audience and TV cameras is a big factor here.

    February 8, 2013 at 1:18 am |
  15. I know you are but what am I?

    My delusions are right... Your delusions are wrong!!!

    February 8, 2013 at 1:17 am |
  16. mmi16

    Doctrinare Religion – Kills all religious thought.

    Short sighted and harmful!

    February 8, 2013 at 1:14 am |
  17. tom in connecticut

    fifty years ago my best friend invited my to his bar mitzvah. one of the nuns at my grammar school, st. pats. found out about it and dragged me into the office for a inquisition. my father was called in and had to sit through a two hour rant about how i was going to hell because i was friends with a jew. long story short i could go but had to sit in the last row closest to the door ready to leave if the devil approached,( a little exaggeration.) that was the beginning of the end for me and the catholic church. david and i are still good friends.

    February 8, 2013 at 1:08 am |
    • End Religion

      congrats on getting out with your sanity and keeping your friend!

      February 8, 2013 at 1:22 am |
    • Bet

      I remember being told that going to a non catholic service was sinful too when I was in parochial school. I was terrified when one of my mom's friend got married and we attended the wedding in a protestant church. I remember trying very hard not to listen to the minister's voice for fear that I would somehow become "uncatholic".

      February 8, 2013 at 1:53 am |
  18. me

    So there are these religious people out there, hmmm, who knew? Good luck with that, and break a leg.

    February 8, 2013 at 1:07 am |
  19. sly

    Of course he apologized – he's a sheeple like all Godsters. "Lets not wake up baby Jesus' now ... don't swear ... don't shout ... don't make love (unless for procreation of course) ... don't enjoy stuff ... baby Jesus' suffered for you..."

    Now... right, I'm supposed to respect some dude Jesus' who takes all the blame for stupid peoples sins? He's out there apologizing for this cop killer right now: "Yeah, the guys a good guy, y'all jus' have to understand him better. Here let me cut a few holes in my feet for him".

    Yeah, now that's someone I respect. NOT!

    February 8, 2013 at 12:59 am |
  20. jess

    Ugh, why do people apologize for BS. He did a good thing and his "religions" chasitised him for it. Im sure Jesus would have totally done nothing....ugh

    February 8, 2013 at 12:59 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.