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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. Tony

    One of the reasons I got out of the church years ago and left religion behind me.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • Nick

      Me too. Whether or not you accept the divinity of Christ, He would be appaled at the stupidity of the pompous sanctamony of many of the sects that espouse his teachings.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  2. Zeibodique

    APOLOGY NOT ACCEPTED! <==STICK THAT UP YOUR PULPIT!

    February 8, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  3. Jim Stovall

    Spirituality is a basic human need. The person needs community, awareness of sacred respect for being, connection to the great categories like gentleness, kindness, love, compassion, peace and justice. Sometimes in some religions leaders find it impossible to find the categories. Instead they choke on peripheral issues. Humankind is best not to reject spirituality because there are people who attemtp to practice spirituality in a toxic manner.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:45 am |
    • snowboarder

      spirituality is a person standing in a silent room expounding on the quality of the sounds they hear.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  4. Greg Morgan

    Wow. I'm so relieved that the Missouri Synod Lutherans have nipped this expression of community solidarity and compassion in the bud. If denominational officials hadn't stepped in, there's no telling what it might have led to: understanding, healing, love, peace, and who knows what all else. The implications are terrifying.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • h2ojames

      Viewpoints...
      MS Lutheran – We're right, all other religions offer false teachings
      Catholic – We're right, all other religions offer false teachings
      Muslim – We're right, all other religions offer false teachings

      Hmmm... I see a pattern here.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:54 am |
  5. thetruthwillsetyoufree

    Pure ignorance.... Get real. War are started from stupid rules like this.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  6. GOD DOES NOT EXIST AND ALL IS MOOT

    GOD DOES NOT EXIST AND ALL IS MOOT

    GOD DOES NOT EXIST AND ALL IS MOOT

    GOD DOES NOT EXIST AND ALL IS MOOT

    February 8, 2013 at 9:43 am |
    • Sergo Jean

      I do believe God exist, He is Our Father and He created all things. I do believe man are free to choose Good or evil.

      February 8, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  7. Embarrased ELCA Lutheran

    The Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Synod are a bunch of whack jobs, they are not true Lutherans.... My grandfather was a Missouri Synod and Married my Grandmother who was a ELCA Lutheran his entire family never spoke to him again.... His 1st cousin is Dr. Martin Marty the head of the Mo. Synod, he refused to to stop in and see my grandmother following my grandfathers death even though he was in her town...

    Frankly any religion that practices such intolerance is not a real religion, let them rot in Hell, with those Westboro Baptist wackos... .

    February 8, 2013 at 9:42 am |
    • Kate

      Thanks for sharing your first hand knowledge of these fools. In terms of their intolerance and values that appear to run counter to any normal spiritual group or theology they are kind of reminding me of Westbound Baptist "church"..... more like a cult than anything remotely resembling a church of God.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  8. winstonsirajphotography

    Is this seriously news? Church should apologize for wasting everyone's time with this ridiculous story, not for saying a prayer for the kids.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:42 am |
  9. Sergo Jean

    Ephesians 4 : 5-6 One God, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. A.D. 34 Jesus Christ said " And whoso believeth in me, and is Baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the Kingdom of God " and He also said " For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention, is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:40 am |
    • JJ

      "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit Not a nasty, dirty wet hole, filled with the ends of earth worms and an ozzy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole, with nothing to sit down on or to eat; it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort."

      From the book of Bilbo, 1:1

      February 8, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  10. Brad

    Shortly after the September 11, 2001 (not 2011 as this piece would have it) I joined a rather liberal congregation within the conservative LCMS. The suspension of pastor David Benke was an important issue at the time, with my congregation in strong opposition to the pastor's suspension. Here's a quote from 2002 piece from Christianity Today:

    That prayer has led to Benke's suspension from the clergy roster of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). It has also exposed deep divisions in the church. Denomination pastors, on condition of anonymity, say the dispute is partly an attempt to unseat synod President Gerald Kieshnick, who approved Benke's participation in the "Prayer for America" event.

    You can see that this wasn't about the ministry of Jesus Christ at work in the world. This was simply politics within a shrinking and divided denomination. Is the treatment of pastor Rob Morris any different?

    Strangely enough, the LCMS has no problem cooperating with other denominations, even other faiths, politically. Together with the LDS Mormons, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the Southern Baptist Convention and others, the LCMS has filed a brief in support of California's prop. 8 which will be reviewed by the Supreme Court in March. So LCMS Lutherans must not pray over dead schoolchildren with people the LCMS does not approve of, but acting with any like-minded people against the interests of gay people in American society is just fine.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • Brad

      Should be Shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks (not 2011 as this piece would have it)

      February 8, 2013 at 9:38 am |
  11. jpeizer

    There is something fundamentally wrong with having to apologize for acting decently and empathetically - and people wonder why so many question religion.. (as opposed to spirituality).... a very depressing story

    February 8, 2013 at 9:36 am |
  12. Miriam

    This is one of the many reasons why I am no longer a Lutheran.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:34 am |
    • Camct

      This is the reason I am Agnostic!

      February 8, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  13. Jason Viper

    This is the reason why I rarely go to church anymore (though I am very much a spiritual person and firm believer in Christ). These organized religions seem to forget the reason they are in existence....to serve Christ, not themselves. Shame on the Lutheran Church. Good for the pastor to look beyond some silly rule about joint worship and attempt to heal a community. WWJD? Exactly what he did. Minus the apology part, there was nothing to apologize for. I guess it was an apology or his job. Shame shame – Lutheran Church.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • Ben

      How can you "serve Christ" if you are taking place in an interfaith worshhip where you cannot mention Christ, or his distinctiviness or his claim to being THE Truth, not A Truth? If he were going to be there, he should have spoken unabashedly about the distinctiveness of Christ and his power to heal, rather than giving tacit approval to false teaching and false hope.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • JB

      Ben, he could serve Christ by offering compassion to a grieving community. A vigil for 20 slain children is not the place to tell everyone your god is better than everyone else's god. For one, that's beyond inappropriate, and also, it is a lie.

      February 8, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  14. mrzntejas

    Jesus was witnessed to have only wept twice – this probably was the third time!

    February 8, 2013 at 9:24 am |
  15. Dave

    "This was a step beyond the bounds of practice allowed by the Scriptures"

    Really? The scriptures talks a lot about pastors praying together, does it? No wonder Christianity is getting such a bad name.......and I say this as a practicing Christian, active in my faith.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • Mikd

      Christianity has always had a bad name, you've just been shielded from it.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • bob

      @mikd: That's a lot of hate you got there, seek help.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:35 am |
    • Kate

      I would say the evangelicals in general and fundamentalist wackos like this group of Lutherans have done more to damage Christianity than anything else. They have become way too political inside their groups and outside and thus expose their very human shortcomings.....

      February 8, 2013 at 10:00 am |
  16. Steve

    The Lutheran leadership has effectively deflected the focus away from the sadness, grief, and recovery efforts of this community onto itself. Jesus criticized very few during his years of ministry, but he singled out the hypocrites and the arrogant for reprimand. Let us continue to collectively pray for the healing of this community and the families who were so devistated by their losses.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:23 am |
  17. Miguel

    How about we apply this rule to EVERY religion and stop public prayer all together...

    February 8, 2013 at 9:23 am |
  18. Saboth

    This is why I don't go to church. Religion by itself can be a force for good, but when you get into organized religion, you are following the rules of men seeking to gain and keep power, not the rules of God.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:21 am |
  19. Shakingmyhead

    What a bunch of hypocrites..Jesus wept!

    February 8, 2013 at 9:21 am |
  20. Joe

    It was probably mentioned in an earlier comment, but I haven't read through all of them. The terrorist attacks were September 11, 2001, NOT 2011 as stated in the article. Probably a typo, but it ought to be fixed.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:15 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.