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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 • Faith Now • Lutheran • United States

soundoff (980 Responses)
  1. David

    Nice job you brilliant leaders of the Lutheran Church. A mass shooting of children and teachers isn't enough to allow one of your own to go out and tend to those suffering in his community. The time will come when people don't care to follow these foolish teachings. When the sheep realize the shepherd has been a wolf all these many years. Your lack of compassion, your lack of humanity, your inability to love thy neighbor ESPECIALLY in their time of need will get you nothing but a loss of followers...

    February 8, 2013 at 8:44 am |
  2. gladiatorgrl

    so much for preaching love – the haters gonna hate and more often than not they do it in the name of religion

    February 8, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  3. Ceri

    Pharisees are still alive and well.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  4. A

    The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is most likely the type of Lutheran church most people have seen/heard about, and they absolutely do NOT have this ridiculous rule that the Missouri Synod does. ELCA does interfaith stuff all the time and is in general very accepting. This was the church (ELCA) in the news a couple years back for passing a rule allowing for openly gay pastors. The Missouri Synod doesn't even allow women to be pastors, or non-Missouri Synod to take communion. Very closed, very conservative.

    CNN...I wish you would've clearly replaced "Lutheran" with "Lutheran-Missouri Synod" or "LCMS" or just "Missouri Synod" at each mention in this article. As someone who still has ties to the ELCA, I hate how this makes every Lutheran look bad. Personally, I'm accepting of all faiths (believe what you want-it doesn't affect me unless you're trying to force it on me).

    February 8, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  5. AGeek

    Ah yes. Religion. Such a virtuous thing. Someone care to remind me again just how it fosters harmony among humans? Oh .. right .. it doesn't. Unless you happen to believe the same, exact thing as the next guy. If you believe something different, their god will beat up your god. And the smiting. Oh .. the smiting.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  6. Rodeo_Joe

    According to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, ... Missouri ! – oh, that says it all.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  7. Bill

    Translations also be damned! People are dying every day over interpretations of their faith. .......Sunni.....Shiite. I was once a devout catholic but since all the abuse scandals I refuse to walk together with hypocrites that had to keep the money flowing at all costs. I'll keep my own faith......there's never a controversial moment.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:34 am |
    • ViK100

      I laugh when I hear people calling themselves "devout" yet they contradict themselves with the way they life their life. We Catholics don't follow men.. We follow Jesus. Men.. ALL MEN, YOU and I, are imperfect! You are a sinner just like a priest is, just like the Pope is.. just like Anybody and Everybody is.. You think you're better than others and that in itself is the biggest lie from the devil. Pride only comes from the devil. Follow Jesus.. Imitate him, Love God, Love your enemies. Aren't those the commandments?

      February 8, 2013 at 8:48 am |
  8. Charles Gannon

    This is straight out of Caddy Shack !

    February 8, 2013 at 8:33 am |
  9. Truth

    This was an appalling tragedy that never should happen. But as a Christian why would I want this mostly un-believing world to think that all religions are equal by standing with people of other faiths. This would be and in fact is a bigger tragedy.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Multiple cults setting aside their different myths for a few minutes is a bigger tragedy than the slaughter of 26 innocent defenseless people?!?! You are one fu.cked up mentally ill believer azzhole!

      February 8, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • Whiteman

      Yes, yes. Your religion is correct and everyone else's is wrong. It's all a bunch of baloney!

      February 8, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • God

      You make me weep.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • gladiatorgrl

      Judge not yet ye be judged .... good luck with that

      February 8, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • snowboarder

      truth, all religions are equal.

      February 8, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
  10. Fact Check

    What total, unmitigated, bull shlt. =This= is how the Lutheran Church interprets the teachings of Christ? How about "Suffer Little Children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me? For of such is the Kingdom of Heaven." How is this a worship service? Oh, yes, I forgot, they were gathered to praise God's handiwork in allowing twenty innocent children to perish at the hands of one of his defective creations.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • A

      This is only the Missouri Synod. There is another branch of Lutheranism called the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The ELCA is not only much more tolerant of most things in general, but this would NEVER be an issue. When I was growing up we went to an ELCA church and we used to do interfaith events all the time. Not just with other Christian groups, but other religions (particularly Judaism and Islam) as well.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:33 am |
  11. Bernard Webb

    All this fuss about "false teachings" is highly amusing to me. Religion CONSISTS of false teachings, with MY made-up god of love being stronger and better than YOUR made-up god of love, and I'll kill you if you disagree!

    February 8, 2013 at 8:26 am |
  12. ronvan

    It is always hard, almost impossible, to argue over religion! BELEIF & FAITH, guides our commitment to OUR religious beleifs. The same words also apply to those who do not beleive. While, I personally, have faith and beleive in my savior it does not mean that I follow blindly! Questions abound that cannot be answered, by anyone, on this planet! History shows us that MANY people have been killed in the name of religion, and they do not deny it! The bible was written, and re written, many times, by HUMANS! Stories embellished, changed, removed, depending on the one who is re writing!

    February 8, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • Whiteman

      By definition, faith is blindly following.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • seaann

      Hi Ronvan,

      There is a difference in true &false religion. The reason Jesus came to earth was to demonstrate what life would be like under God's Kingdom, and give his life as a ransom for mankind. Rev. 21:3,4.

      These churches with their different teaching do not represent the True God of the Universe.

      The Creator is the Author of the Bible. He used 40 different men from different backgrounds to write the bible. It took over 1600 years for it to be completed. The original scrolls were pinned in Hebrew, Greek,& Aramaic.

      The theme of the bible is "God's Kingdom" That kingdom is what Jesus taught & demonstrated the benefits of that kingdom. 2Peter 1:20,21."no prophecy of scripture springs from any private interpretation,Vs21"For prophecy was at no time brought by man's will but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit." 2 Timothy 3:16,17 "All scripture is inspired of God & beneficial for teaching, for reproving & setting things straight. Vs.17 that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.

      Genesis is Clear: 1:1 " In the beginning God created the heavens & the earth." Do you honestly believe He prepared all of this and not give clear instructions. Those instructions come from His Written Word: If you sincerely pray for His guidance & direction, He will answer your prayers. Psalms 65:2 & Psalms 53: 2 He is looking for those looking for Him.

      You remember the Lord's Prayer" Matthew 6:9,10. That kingdom is a real government in the heavens that is going to take control very soon over the earth. Daniel 2:44 is very clear what is ahead.

      Many of the parables Jesus spoke was a picture for his follows an get the sense of it. Example:
      Luke 8:5 paints a picture of sower, he was speaking to his disciples, in verse 9 they asked a question:what this illustration might mean. vs. 10 Jesus said: To you it is granted to understand the sacred secrets of the kingdom of god, but for the rest it is an illustration,in order that though looking, they may look in vain & though hearing they may not get the meaning. He goes on to explain the illustration. Vs. 11 explains what is meant.
      I guess you are asking where is she going with this? It is here. Wheat & Weeds Jesus said let them grow until the harvest.
      Weeds stand straight up. Wheat due to the heads fall over. At the harvest you can tell the difference. (true christian & false christian) John 13 :34,35 by their fruits.
      All would know his disciples by their genuine love. It would be a world wide brother hood. Please do not give up in your search for truth.

      Keep your chin Up!.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Primewonk

      Seeann wrote, "Genesis is Clear: 1:1 " In the beginning God created the heavens & the earth."

      Except, of course this is a lie, and only goes to show just how scientifically ignorant your god is. The universe began expanding 13,700,000,000 years ago. Over time trillions of stars formed – went main sequence – and died, creating new elements that coalesced to form new stars and new planets. This process went on for 9,000,000,000 years before the earth formed. So not only did the earth not form "in the beginning", it didn't form for billions and billions and billions of years.

      When your god gets the very first verse of the very first chapter of the very first book completely wrong, it doesn't bode well for the rest.

      February 8, 2013 at 10:08 am |
  13. SSampson

    Funny – Christianity is supposed to be a welcoming religion – 'Love thy Neighbor' and such.... and yet so many times they aren't even capable of living by their own rules...

    I am an atheist.... but I have NO difficulty with someone offering prayers at events such as this – even though I think the beliefs are sheer lunacy and separate from reality, I DO believe that what this Lutheran Pastor was doing was from the heart (So to speak)

    Making him apologize for his actions proves that this part of the Lutheran Church promotes bigotry and discrimination.
    (I read another post indicating there are 2 'types' of Lutherans...)

    Utter lunacy....

    February 8, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • Bernard Webb

      The infighting among these "Christians" parallels the civil war in the republican party. Today's conservatives are nothing if not confused.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:28 am |
    • ronvan

      EXACTLY!! HOW does ONE religion PROVE that they are the right one? Can't be done! While I do have faith and beleive in MY savior there are MANY, unanswered, questions that I have and they CANNOT be answered by anyone on this planet! WHY is it that many religions CHANGE their teachings to meet public opinion? And I sure do not beleive that ANYONE on this planet has the "ear of God"!

      February 8, 2013 at 8:29 am |
  14. Daws

    While everyone's praying I'll actually be working to make sure this doesn't happen again. What do I care if one group doesn't want to do a useless incantation with another group? It still gets nothing done, you may feel good but what we really need to do is make real effort to prevent instances of violence,

    February 8, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • Daws

      That said, assuming it would help others it's sad people would choose not to because they thought their holy scripture said not to. When your scripture says not to do what you can to help your fellow man, it's time to dump your scripture and think for yourself.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:25 am |
  15. ghastly

    May they all be touched by the noodley appendage. RAMEN!

    February 8, 2013 at 8:20 am |
    • Whiteman

      Hey, everyone knows that the flying Spaghetti Monster trumps Ramen any day.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:46 am |
  16. Carl

    This is NOT an apology – all the news outlets should be putting that word in quotes. This church has now heaped more anguish and hurt on people who have already suffered unimaginable loss. The Lutheran church owes a real apology now to the families of all these little children and their teachers for stabbing them in their collective hearts. Shame.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:18 am |
    • Roe Marie

      Thank You Carl!!! I had the same reaction to the church's statement and actions regarding the vigil. I guess love thy neighbor and tolerance are foreign concepts to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

      Pastor Matthew C. Harrison could have addressed the situation to Pastor Morris in private. But I guess he felt he needed an audience to properly chastise Pastor Morris. So he posts the whole thing on the internet, which made me sick to my stomach. The only thing Harrison accomplished by this, was to let everyone who reads it know, that he is hands down the most selfish and heartless excuse for a human being. His message of Love Thy Neighbor, but only if he is Lutheran, has no place in Newtown or anywhere else for that matter.

      February 8, 2013 at 11:09 am |
  17. JimW Statesville, NC

    My wife is Lutheran and even though I'm not a very religious person I've attended many Lutheran services and events. But if this is the way of thinking of the Lutheran Church as a whole then I don't think I want to be involved at all with them. The time has come when we have to put aside petty differences in our beliefs and faith and come together as one. If some monk 800 years ago left out a period from his copy of a manuscript that made it into the Bible that's not cause for people to have differences. After all, isn't Christianity about the teaching of Jesus Christ? Was he not a person of the Jewish faith? What difference can something like this make? It's about people coming together to heal after a tragic event and then some know-it-all preacher comes out and says, 'No. We can't allow this because we have this old dogma that we have to follow strictly.' Right. Someone higher up in the Lutheran Church has to look at this and say 'No. We're not about this. Let the people grieve and pray as they need to in order to get by this terrible thing and heal.' Dogma be damned.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • A

      This is only the Missouri Synod. If your wife is ELCA, then this is absolutely NOT the thinking of the ELCA at all. I attended many interfaith functions via the ELCA when I was growing up. They are much, much more tolerant/accepting than the Missouri Synod.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • JB

      First off, don't lump all Lutherans together. There are several churches that follow the teachings of Martin Luther. The Missouri Synod Lutheran Church happens to be a rather conservative church as does the Wisconsin Synod. The ELCA is much more liberal church. One has absolutely nothing to do with the other.
      As a Christian I would have encouraged participation in an inter-faith prayer service. The Missouri Synod Lutheran Church has its rules and evidently doesn't allow it. I don't agree with their rule, that’s why I'm not a member of the MSLC.
      As a Christian I find Harrison's request for the pastor’s apology insensitive and offensive. Christ taught us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. When we can't prayer together, what can we do? I'm sure at the inter-faith service each pastor, priest, rabbi, and others prayed to God in their own way. Which is fine with me, but they prayed together. There are times churches need to put aside their differences and come together for the common good. Pastor Matthew C. Harrison needs to learn this! He needs to think of the feelings of the families of Sandy Hook, before he thinks of himself.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • seaann

      Jim,

      You are correct!. Jesus is the son of the True God. John 17:3 He came to the earth for a reason.

      To break up the works of the Devil:
      For this purpose the Son of God was made manifest, namely, to break up the works of the Devil. 1 John 3:8,9.

      What people forget is there is true & false religion.

      The bible is the book of truth. John 17:17  Sanctify them by means of the truth; your word is truth.

      These churches have their own dogma. Not the truth from God's word.

      If you would read what I sent to Ronvan, it is clear who these people represent. It is not The Creator of this Universe.

      All you have to do is look at the order of our planet. You see the order from the Creator. The confusion we see, is a real indicator who is the ruler of the world. 1 John 5: 19 verifies who that is " The God of the system of things is Satan the Devil the author of confusion"
      The world is under His power and the Creator is allowing it while He is searching for those who want to live under His Kingdom. Matthew 6:9,10 the Lords' Prayer makes it clear. ( Jesus said, I came to bear witness to the truth) for him to say that it has to exist. You have to pray and search for it. Proverbs 2:4,5 keep searching for it as silver or hidden treasure, you will find the very knowledge of God.

      Enjoy your day Jim,

      February 8, 2013 at 10:47 am |
  18. Travis

    The Synod? What is this Babylon 5?

    February 8, 2013 at 8:15 am |
  19. Johnny 5

    Religion will be ousted within the next two generations. Our planets inhabitants will then be able to move forward by leaps and bounds in so many ways. If only I could be around to see it.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:14 am |
    • Bernard Webb

      If only this were true.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • Dave

      Not so fast, John-boy. Religion will be fine. However, if you aren't here in 30 years, but you may then find yourself on the rotisserie in the toasty abyss. Roast in piece.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • richunix

      Roast...as in your meaning.....

      February 8, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • AGeek

      From your lips to god's ea....rrr.. waitaminnit.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • ViK100

      Have you wondered where you're going to be?

      February 8, 2013 at 8:56 am |
    • JimW_NC

      I thought that too in 1968 when I was just a young man going off to fight a war. I was convinced that my generation would be the one to shed all the hocus-pocus beliefs and become one with mankind. It didn't happen in my generation or in the generation that followed or in the one that followed them. I don't think we will ever be over it because people are afraid to admit they won't live in some other shape or form for eternity after this life ends. If you can come to accept that when life ends you end then and only then will people shed religion and all the hatred and killings that it has spawned over the ages.

      February 8, 2013 at 10:27 am |
    • seaann

      Closer than you think!

      February 8, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  20. Steve

    I love to be around those seeking the truth, but run like hell from those who are sure they found it.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:14 am |
    • Eileen

      Steve, what a brilliant sentiment. I think it will become my new mantra!

      February 8, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • seaann

      I don't think so Steve, the truth from the True God has a wonderful future ahead! It requires you search for it. Proverbs 2:1-11

      February 8, 2013 at 10:52 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.