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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. Jenny

    I am not Lutheran, but I admire the church for being principled. If they believe that participating in a joint worship might lead to people being led astray, and ultimately damnation, then why wouldn't they abstain? That makes perfect sense. Bravo for logic!

    February 8, 2013 at 9:12 am |
    • snowboarder

      logic is never welcome when religion is involved.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:14 am |
    • James PDX

      If any real logic had been applied, they would have disbanded the church.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • Paul II

      Logic? You don't respond to the slaughter of children with logic.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      So what we are taking away from this is that Lutherans aren't really fellow Christians? They stand apart with their noses in the air, worshiping a Christ of their own? Phooey. Don't run one for President after this.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:47 am |
  2. Doc Vestibule

    The prayers of some denominations would really sound like this:

    "Oh Lord, please make the eternal, unending torment for the unsaved victims somewhat less brutal than normal."
    – Jehovah's Witness

    "We ask that You take these poor souls into one of the nicer levels of the Celestial Kingdom, though not as nice as those of us who know the sercret passwords and masonic handshakes. We'll be sure to offer them all posthumous baptism."
    – Latter Day Saints

    "Oh Jesus, most merciful, please make the dirty souls' stay in Purgatory as brief as possible."
    – Catholic

    "May the zombified bodies of these poor victims be strong and hearty to face Satan's 1,000 when the Rapture comes."
    – Southern Baptists

    February 8, 2013 at 9:12 am |
  3. Rose in SC

    This is so contrary to what Jesus teaches. He ate with sinners, cleansed leapers, healed paralytics, made the lame to walk and the blind to see. He did that by present with them. I'm sad to see the ways churchs divide instead of unite people.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:09 am |
    • Eric G

      Why didn't he just cure all blindness and lameness? Would that have been better? Either he couldn't do it, or didn't want to.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • snowboarder

      or so the story says. of course, not a single word was written about his fabled life within generations of his death, so the majority of it is almost certainly fiction.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:12 am |
  4. Surffisher

    The leadership should be ashamed. Would Jesus Christ himself have not offered up prayers at that vigil, had he been standing in front of us?? For Heaven's sake (literally), have some common sense! Glad I'm not Lutheran 'cause I'd be looking for another church right about now........

    February 8, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • James PDX

      Don't kid yourself. None of these religions actually follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. They just pay them lip service while attacking others they feel don't follow those same teachings. The same goes for the Old Testament laws; they cherry pick which ones they follow as well as which ones they will condemn others for not following. Christianity is a terrible religion of double standards and hypocrisy.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • Francis

      Having read Martin Luther's words in his church in Wittenberg, I think even Luther himself would be ashamed to hear Sinod's condemnation.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • Ronn

      Jesus might have really helped if he had not allowed the shootings to occur in the first place.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  5. God

    Oh yes they will.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:03 am |
    • Satan

      No they won't.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:06 am |
  6. overed

    My god can beat up your god.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:03 am |
    • St. Floyd

      thank you. my god likes to be beat up.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • James PDX

      I am my own god and have challenged all others numerous times. The cowards have yet to accept or even reply.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:11 am |
  7. Satan

    No. These comments will never be closed.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:03 am |
  8. God

    These comments are closed.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • snowboarder

      you're not as omniscient as your followers make you out to be.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:03 am |
  9. Dale

    It's sad that they asked him to apologize; and even sadder that he actually did.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:59 am |
  10. snowboarder

    religion, just another imaginary division of humanity.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • Zwei Stein

      Amen!

      February 8, 2013 at 9:11 am |
  11. So what?

    Organized religion is Evil, Vile and should be thrown out. False teachings? Well, you all have false teachings. None of the organized religion have it all. Some more than others but they are all incomplete.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • magnum12

      What you stated is also a false teaching.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:00 am |
  12. Kathy

    The apology should be the other way around – coming from the synod that complained. Leadership failed big time. The message is of coming together as a community to support one another, comfort to the families, God's love, pray for God's guidance and healing – something common to all religons. Since synod heirarchy missing that point, they have exposed their narrow minded bigotry.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  13. RansomBill

    When someone tells me they go to church or have a religions affiliation I cringe and almost wish they didn't say anything. Changes my opinion on of them and not in a good way. This is another reason why I do that. 26 victims and this bass-terd has to apologize for showing some sympathy and respect. Disgraceful.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  14. Jim

    Of course, how could I have missed it.
    The key to religious freedom is to treat non-believers like they don't exist.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:55 am |
  15. combroker

    This is why I refuse to join ANY church. Organized religion is the fountain of most discrimination, bigotry and hate, througouth the World. It has led to most of the most violent of wars and terrorism. Organized relgion, in my view, should be erased.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • Jim

      Can I get an Amen!

      February 8, 2013 at 8:56 am |
  16. SnapinTurtle

    Wow, I thought we Southern Baptists were the only ones to get could have our tail feather rankled over something like this.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • So what?

      Southern Baptists are some of the most vile ones.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:01 am |
  17. Hugh Jass

    My uncle was a Lutheran; he beat his kids and cheated on his wife, then left her for his secretary. I went to church with them once and wasn't exactly inspired. This article has done nothing to change my bad impression of Lutherans. Sorry, but this is just unchristian.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • scranton

      You generalize too much.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • Tim

      Please note that this was a Missouri synod Lutheran pastor. Not all Lutherans have the same rules. ELCA Lutherans (the largest Lutheran body) would have no problem with this.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:07 am |
  18. Doc Vestibule

    There are so many folk who are certain that their God, their church and their interpretation of their holy book is the One Truth... what unmitigated arrogance!
    Who is to say that Angus, Belenos, Brigid, dana, Lugh, Dagda, Epona, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Atehna, Demeter, Dionysus, Eris, Eos, Gaia, Hades, Hekate, Helios, Hephaestus, Hera, hermes, Hestia, Pan, Poseidon, Selene, Uranus, Zeus, Mathilde, Elves, Eostre, Frigg, Hretha, Saxnot, Shef, Thuno, Tir, Weyland, Woden, Alfar, Balder, Beyla, Bil, Bragi, Byggvir, Dagr, Disir, Eir, Forseti, Freya, Freyr, Frigga, Heimdall, Hel, Hoenir, Idunn, Jord, Lofn, Loki, Mon, Njord, Norns, Nott, Odin, Ran, saga, Sif, Siofn, Skadi, Snotra, Sol, Syn, Ull, Thor, Tyr, Var, Vali, Vidar, Vor, Black Shuck, Herne, Jack in the Green, Holda, Nehalennia, Nerthus, endovelicus, Ataegina, Runesocesius, Apollo, Bacchus, Ceres, Cupid, Diana, Janus, Juno, Jupiter, Maia, Mars, Mercury, Minerva, Neptune, Pluto, Plutus, Proserpina, Venus, Vesta, Vulcan, Attis, Cybele, El-Gabal, Isis, Mithras, Sol Invictus, Endovelicus, Anubis, Aten, Atum, Bast, Bes, Geb, Hapi, Hathor, Heget, Horus, Imhotep, Isis, Khepry, Khnum, Maahes, Ma’at, Menhit, Mont, Naunet, Neith, Nephthys, Nut, Osiris, Ptah, ra, Sekhmnet, Sobek, Set, Tefnut, Thoth, An, Anshar, Anu, Apsu, Ashur, Damkina, Ea, Enki, Enlil, Ereshkigal, Nunurta, Hadad, Inanna, Ishtar, Kingu, Kishar, Marduk, Mummu, Nabu, Nammu, Nanna, Nergal, Ninhursag, Ninlil, Nintu, Shamash, Sin, Tiamat, Utu, Mitra, Amaterasu, Susanoo, Tsukiyomi, Inari, Tengu, Izanami, Izanagi, Daikoku, Ebisu, Benzaiten, Bishamonten, Fu.kurokuju, Jurojin, Hotei, Quetzalcoatl, Tlaloc, Inti, Kon, Mama Cocha, Mama Quilla, Manco Capac, Pachacamac, Viracoc.ha, or Zaramama aren't true gods?
    How can the Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash, New Testament, Quran, Sunnah, Nahjul Balagha, Avesta, Vedas, Upanisahds, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas, Tantras, Sutras, Vachanas, Adi Granth, Purvas, Samayasara, Niyamasara, Pravacanasara, and Pancastikaya; Anupreksa; Samadhishataka of Pujyapada; Tattvarthasutra of Umasvati, Tattvarthasutra, Pali Tripitaka, Jataka,, Visuddimagga, Tripitaka, Lotus Sutra, Garland Sutra, Analects; the Great Learning; the Doctrine of the Mean; the Mencius, Tao Te Ching, Chuang-tzu, Kojiki, Nihon Shoki, K-oki, Ofudesaki, Mikagura-uta, Michi-no-Shiori, Johrei, Goseigen, Netarean Shower of Holy Doctrines, Chun Boo Kyung, Kitab-i-Iqan, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Book of Mormon, Dianetics, or Revelation X be dismissed as Holy Books since they all claim to be The Truth?
    If you're a Bible adherent, how do you know whether Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, oriental Orthodox, As.syrian, Byzantine, Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Anabaptism, Brethren, Methodist, Pietism, Apostolic, Pentocostal, Charismatic, African Initiated, United, Quakers, Couthcotti.tism, Millerism, British-Isrealism, Latter Day Saints, Mennonite, 7th day Adventism, Kelleyism, Co.oneyism, Shakers, Methernitha, Strigolniki, Yehowism, Christadelphians, Christian Science, doukhobors, Iglesia ni Cristo, Makuya, Molokans, Subbotniks, Ebionism, Martinism, Rosicrucians, Rastafarianism, Santo Daime, or Umbanda is the REAL interpretation of your God's words?

    If the One True Deity, shaper of The Universe, wishes their words to be transmitted and adhered to, they should have been a bit less ambiguous. Expecting people to select The Truth out of limitless possibilities on faith alone seems a sloppy way to run things – Especially if the punishment for a wrong choice is eternal torment.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      The instruction manual says that if you manage to have as much faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will be saved. Doesn't say you have to split hairs, dress to the left, and consider other Christians the enemy to be saved, just have faith.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Hugh
      Well, there are more denominations of Christianity that would argue against you than there are that would agree.
      And Matthew 13:31–32 says that The Kingdom of Heaven starts as small as a mustard seed, but then grows into a mighty tree – meaning that one must grow and develop that faith.
      But grow and develop into what?
      Which sect of the Cult of the Jewish Carpenter will let that seed grow so large that birds will come and nest in it?

      February 8, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • Mark

      Who is to say? Lutherans.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • tony

      So, a loving God confuses u so u r not able to find the truth that will set u free from your own understanding & confusion??!

      February 8, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • JWT

      The gods are all equal.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:06 am |
    • James PDX

      Hugh Jass, faith is the ability to believe in something you know is not likely to be true. If it was likely, faith would be an unnecessary component. Therefore, having faith that god exisits is the same thing as admitting it's highly likely he does not.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:15 am |
  19. Mike

    You just gotta love religion. The source of most conflicts among people.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:47 am |
  20. DolphinProwess

    Once again, I am ashamed of being in the LCMS... This isn't about whose beliefs are right and whose are wrong... this is about comforting devastated people and supporting the community by being a physical example of God's love... They are choosing to focus on something that isn't even relevant! The pastor wasn't saying he believed in the other faiths present! He was there to comfort those whom he could... The leadership of the LCMS should be ashamed and realize that they are sorely out of touch with what it means to minister to people in this day and age...

    February 8, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • RonnieO

      You have hit the nail on the head with your statement. Religions needs to support people, bring people together, not destroy what little these people have left. The leadership of the LCMS should publicly apoligize for being so cynical that they forget what religion is about.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:08 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.