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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. Sandy hook

    If the victims were Christian why was the service inter faith?

    February 9, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  2. Dave Harris

    We forget sometimes that these church types all imagine that anybody who goes to another church is bound for hell. It's how they fill the collection plate. The boobs buy it.

    February 9, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  3. FaithfuLea

    How sad this all is. When so millions could benefit from what the faith community - despite its sometimes confusing diversity - has to offer, this scandal comes about over a man of God joining other people of God in mutually comforting a flock in which one of his own lambs was lost. Pastor Morris is the true believer here, and his first instinct was holy and righteous. The self-righteous, divisive reprimand by Harrison in the name of the LCMS is the action of one trying to play God instead of serving God. What would Jesus do? He'd show up for the grieving families of Newtown, just as his servant Rob Morris did.

    February 9, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • TANK!!!!

      Why didn't he show up to prevent the cause of the grieving? Y'know, the cold-blooded massacre of 26 people?

      February 9, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  4. A Christian

    When a man of the cloth has to apologize for praying in public, I say sumting is wrong!

    February 9, 2013 at 6:48 am |
    • Tim Hurley

      A misleading headline typical of CNN.

      February 9, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  5. LuthInCan

    Why does the punishment of a pastor in a comparatively small religious organization bother religion haters so much? Why should it matter how they deal with their own? It doesn't affect those that don't go to their churches or subscribe to their teachings, so why get upset? Leave it alone and deal with your own life. After all, you have found the right way to live, right?

    If you care to try to understand, the reason Pastor Harrison had to reprimand him was out of love and following the teachings of the LCMS. If he let it be, then it was as if he said that what Pr. Morris did was right. And according to the LCMS, it wasn't right. Because praying or preaching with other religions, in the LCMS doctrine, is like saying that it isn't just through Jesus that you are saved. And to say that, if you truly believe that Jesus is the only way...is a lie...is wrong...is a sin. So, Pastor Harrison did what was right – he stayed true to his beliefs and treated others with love. Isn't that what everyone should do? We should stay true to our beliefs and treat other with love.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
    • Aden

      We disciplined your Jesus out of love and look what happened.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
  6. Conrad

    As a Lutheran myself, I find the fact that he was required to apologize is embarrassing. Does this mean that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod does not participate in military congregations due to the requirement to share space and work with other religions? For an example of how interfaith worship works, take a look at the Four Chaplains.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Chaplains

    February 8, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
    • GiGi In Georgia

      I am also a life-long Lutheran who grew up in a Missouri Synod church. When I moved, I joined an ELCA church. (Lutheran churches aren't alway easy to find.) I am now affiliated with an LCMC church and truly feel like I am where I belong. I understand that there are probably many individuals within the LCMS church who would find nothing wrong with what Pastor Morris did, but when the hierarchy speaks, they speak for all. That's a shame too. Peace be with you and your family as who seek a new church home.

      February 9, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  7. Mark A. Spatz

    Religion=insanity. I'd rather believe in the Flying Spagetti Monster than your mountain spirit you call jehovah.

    February 8, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • dean

      We shouldn't reject something that we don't fully understand. All religions believe they have the truth, but the truth is given or found when we can understand it.

      February 9, 2013 at 9:21 am |
  8. Nietodarwin

    Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.
    Isaac Asimov

    There once was a time when all people believed in God and the church ruled. This time was called the Dark Ages.
    Richard Lederer

    February 8, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • Chad

      hmm..

      define "properly read"

      you mean, "not reading it"?

      February 8, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Simple: read it critically as you would any book that makes such extraordinary claims. Look carefully into its origins, as well.

      February 8, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • sick of christian phonies

      That is why I read the Bible, concentrating on the old testament. You see what an evil, psychotic, jealous, vengeful god they conceived to worship. Telling Abraham to sacrifice his son, for kicks; turning Lot's wife into a pillar of salt for the simple sin of looking back at his destruction of Sodom; destroying all life on Earth in a flood; "kill everyone, including the children and animals, but keep the virgins for yourself"- this god is one twisted mutha.

      February 8, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
  9. Nietodarwin

    “The difference between faith and insanity is that faith is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with the evidence, whereas insanity is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with the evidence.”
    _ William Harwood, Dictionary of Contemporary Mythology

    February 8, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
  10. amercon

    There is only one God and only one way to heaven. Saying or doing anything that leads people to think otherwise would lead them to the wrong place. The first commandment deals with this issue.

    February 8, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • the AnViL

      the pinnacle of ignorance: the bible is true because it says so in the bible.

      once again – a prime example of how ridiculously stupid religious people shouldn't be allowed to purchase or own computers – much less connect them to the internet.

      tolerance of religious idiocy has to end – and it is.

      zoop!

      February 8, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • Primewonk

      We've invented tens of thousands of gods in the 200,000 years we have been modern humans. Your particular god is a relative latecomer. He was cobbled together from various minor deities worshipped by bronze-age nomadic tribes of shepherds in the Middle East 6,000 years ago. Your version is no more, nor no less special or real than any of the others.

      February 8, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • ¿¿lol

      totally ignorant, self-serving post

      February 8, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
  11. snowboarder

    religion is nothing more than an imaginary line of division of humanity.

    February 8, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
    • lol??

      Like no two snowflakes are alike?

      February 8, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • snowboarder

      lol, why do you always post nonsense?

      February 8, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • BJS

      That's the pot calling the kettle black.

      February 8, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  12. Andy

    All of those whining about this are blinded by the world. The LCMS holds this position it is the *loving* thing to do. Do you tell a drug addict that his problem is not a problem? Likewise, the LCMS understands that there is one triune God and that there is not salvation other than through Him. All those who do not trust in his promise of salvation will spend eternity in torment. Therefore, the LCMS properly calls "a spade a spade" and rejects all false beliefs. Participating in joint worship services is the same as giving deadly drugs to a kid.

    February 8, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • snowboarder

      andy, all religious organizations operate under the same mistaken premise that their doctrine is the only true doctrine. it is quite comical.

      February 8, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
    • End Religion

      Andy, shouldn't you be off flagellating yourself with a cat-o-nine tails or some such?
      "Dona eis requiem.." *WHACK*

      February 8, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Momof3

      You all believe in the same god. How are some of you doing it right, while the rest are doing it wrong?

      February 8, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
    • beth

      I'm so glad the LCMS leadership is staying firm to their beliefs. Pastor Morris knows the LCMS teachings and doctrine, and knows that the established church has rules which members of the faith have to follow. Even when we may not totally agree. It's submission to the word of God and to our leaders-just as the Bible commands us. I know he had good intent and that his heart was in the right place-in some ways. But sometimes, the right way is to lead by example. God Bless all involved and those in Newtown.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Yup! Way better to stick to silly childish beliefs inflated by "my weeny bigger than your weeny" than to show support and compassion for 26 slaughtered humans. How mature – bunch of f'ck ing delusional mentally ill cult members.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • CarlK

      Andy, that is it in a nutshell. The LCMS supports their pastors showing concern and compassion for people and community in such a horrific situation. All the LCMS is saying is, do not do it in a setting of joint worship, where in the view of the LCMS, the participation of a pastor may be interpreted as condoning religious views regarding eternity which are incorrect. Since the LCMS believes they and only they know the true path to eternal salvation, they are only being kind and gracious in not supporting the incorrect views of other religions. Such support if given could lead to the eternal damnation of individuals who otherwise might see the light of the LCMS theology. Bottom line, the censure of the minister is an LCMS issue which is being handled internally according to LCMS rules.

      February 10, 2013 at 3:47 am |
  13. Bemused

    I have it on good authority that the LCMS (Lutheran Church Martian Sololoqui) members with their green heads are laughing their green butts off when they talk about the Missouri synod.
    They think that little green speck of "show me state" and its spread out members are nutters. I heard them say they'd find them missouri synod folks funny if they weren't so embarrassing to all LC groups around the universe.

    February 8, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • End Religion

      Your various cult sects are on a spectrum of hate, however they are all equally insane.

      February 8, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  14. Reality

    Luther et al, founders of Christian-based religions suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty, wingie, talking thingie" or horn blower visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    Added details available upon request.

    February 8, 2013 at 11:51 am |
  15. the AnViL

    those of you who believe in an imaginary man in the sky are delusional.

    you should not be allowed to hold public office, vote, serve on a jury, purchase or own firearms – or teach public school.

    tolerance of religious idiocy has to end.

    delusional thinking is mental illness – and just because everyone is doing it – doesn't mean it's right or ok.

    there are no gods – and those of you persist in propagating ancient middle eastern peasant mythologies are the true force of darkness on this planet.

    enough is enough

    February 8, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • Reality

      Amen !!!!

      February 8, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • Please stop

      please stop forcing your beliefs down my throat.

      This is America, and according to American beliefs, I can believe whatever I want without the persecution or hate speech such as yours.

      February 8, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Steveo

      Funny how you included the word "Tolerance", especially since your rant was anything but!

      February 8, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
    • the AnViL

      tolerance of religious idiocy is a BAD thing.

      tolerance of division is a bad thing.
      tolerance of ignorance is a bad thing.
      tolerance of bigotry is a bad thing.
      tolerance of hate is a bad things.

      division, ignorance, hate, and bigotry are the ugly products of all monotheistic religions.

      those of you who are too stupid and brainwashed to understand this are a BIG part of the problem.

      no, little ones... tolerance of bad things isn't good.

      deal with it.

      February 8, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • the AnViL

      Please Stop bleats "please stop forcing your beliefs down my throat."

      in this country there are several states that prohibit atheists from serving on juries or running for public office.

      sucks when the ideal is reversed... eh?

      brainwashed bigots from the uneducated classes shouldn't be allowed to own or purchase computers – much less connect them to the internet.

      tolerance of religious idiocy has to end – and it is.

      .
      .
      .
      .
      .
      cha cha cha

      February 8, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
  16. BJS

    The synod's statement on unionism and syncretism are easily found using a google search. Those are the two terms used to describe this issue at hand. I think it If you would take the time to look deeper into this subject, you maybe able to see the theological and scriptural reason why the Synod takes this position. After reading it you still may disagree but at least you know what we in the Missouris Synod firmly believe about this subject.

    February 8, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • snowboarder

      bjs, all religious organizations operate under the mistaken premise that their doctrine is the only true doctrine.

      February 8, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Scott

      Snowboarder, everybody believes what they believe because they think it's true. I don't see why you think that's some amazing point to make.

      February 8, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
  17. Over 40,000 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 & the 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 11:40 am |
  18. Cheryl

    Glad God prayed for and loved everyone and did not make such distinctions. I am a Lutheran and a member of the ELCA Synod. We welcome prayers from all and pray and love all people no matter their denomination.

    February 8, 2013 at 11:21 am |
    • the AnViL

      Cheryl is another ignorant idiot that never bothered to read the bible – as evidenced in this one retarded statement:

      "God prayed for and loved everyone and did not make such distinctions"

      we can't make this stuff up, folks.

      sure – at face value it's funny – but actually – it's sad.

      tolerance of religious idiocy has to end.

      and it is.

      February 8, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
  19. Kevin

    Should that last paragraph read

    "Morris is not the first Lutheran pastor to be reprimanded for participating in an interfaith event. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a New York pastor was suspended for participating in a similar interfaith event memorializing those killed in attack on the World Trade Center." (Edited by me, I changed 2011 to 2001)

    Or was the other pastor suspended IN 2011 for what he did in 2001? Or did he speak at a 2011 event memorializing the 2001 attacks? A knit picky sort of detail but its un-clear.

    February 8, 2013 at 11:19 am |
  20. Lifelong LCMSer

    I truly understand the reaction and frustration to President Harrison, because I share it. Please know that this man DOES NOT represent the feelings of every LCMS church member. In fact, I am willing to bet that most LCMSers are very embarressed by President Harrison in this matter. I very much support Pastor Morris in his participation in the vigil. Thank you.

    February 8, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • Check

      Well, at this point he IS speaking for you. Maybe you ought to do something about that...

      February 8, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • JZ

      I am also a life long Missouri Synod Lutheran, and I wholeheartedly agree with you. My husband and I were searching for another LCMS church to attend because, in addition to other issues, our pastor did not choose to address the Newtown killings in a meaningful way. After this rebuke of Rev. Morris by the LCMS leaders, we are now rethinking whether an LCMS church is really where we would like to make our new church home. Our prayers are with Pastor Morris and his family, and most definitely with the the citizens of Newtown.

      February 8, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • GiGi In Georgia

      (my initial reply ended up under Conrad's name way above) Anyway – When the hierarchy of the LCMS speaks, he speaks for ALL of the LCMS. It's what he was elected to do. As check said, maybe you should do something if you don't agree? I grew up in an LCMS church and joined an ELCA church when I moved (Lutheran churches aren't always easy to find). I now belong to an LCMC church and really feel it's where I belong. I understand JZ's frustration as well. JZ – I wish you and your family peace as you pray about a new church home.

      February 9, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
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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.