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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. NGB4M

    Such a curious name for a church. Missouri-Synod. Just doesn't have that ring to it. Out of all the people in history, including all of the believers in Jesus, these people got it right. Yeah, I'll buy that. Never mind more than a 1,000 years of Catholicism as The Church in the west. Never mind all the other countless splinter groups. The real truth finally came with the LCMS in the middle 1850's.

    February 10, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      The Lutheran Church is more than 1000 years old. The Catholic Church more than 2000.

      February 11, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  2. Daniel

    Alright guys, here's the bottom line: If you're going to judge this situation based on one side of the story, or your own feelings, then you're doing no better than a politician, a puking puppy or a pregnant mother in labor. It's all based upon your little brain, your needs, your feelings, and your presuppositions...and a reasonable man such as myself has no respect for that. If you can get over yourself and look at the bigger picture here, then you might see merit in both what Morris did and in how the LCMS responded (and in the LCMS' policy regarding these things). I'm not saying that the WAY in which LCMS leadership handled this is right (we should NEVER have made this a public thing in ANY WAY, and shame on us for doing it!), but the teaching about co-mingling, unionism, and sharing in fellowship with others who do not teach the same doctrine has been part of the LCMS for a very long time, and has been part of the Church on earth since before Jesus. You people say "you just have to love everyone", but do you how full of bull you are when you say that? When it comes to the teachings of Scripture and when it comes to God, we don't screw around with "oh just whatever you feel, man; peace!". There are clear Scriptural teachings with regard to how we are to deal with people of different faiths, religions, AND with people of the Christian faith who do not teach, preach or confess what we do, and we deal with them OUT OF LOVE for them (since we don't want them to think that we all can just believe whatever we want, but that true love comes from God as taught in Scripture). If you should accuse us or anyone, saying that we're wrong for following such scripture...I say to you: TAKE IT UP WITH GOD, and stop condemning the true things which you refuse to acknowledge, because you WILL acknowledge them one day.

    But as far as this whole situation is concerned, it should NEVER have reached the blogs of CNN or any other news outlet as this is an internal matter of the LCMS between brothers (fellow pastors) and sisters who deeply care for one another and are committed to the well-being of one another and their families. The fact that YOU PEOPLE can't shut your mouths and MOVE ON makes it even worse for us. Go back to vomit, we're done throwing you pearls...and all that. No one is telling you that you have to join the LCMS and frankly, if this is what you would bring to our pews...we don't want you.

    February 10, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
  3. NGB4M

    Makes me think us non-believers should step aside and let the "faithful" get back to tearing each other apart. Something like this just makes our point all too well. Really does a number on the old Pascal's Wager argument. Believing in god isn't enough. One has to believe in a specific god and his "word" as interpreted by another fallible human being. Why are there people who don't believe? Why aren't Jews Christians? Why aren't Christians Muslims? Why aren't Catholics Protestant or vice-versa? Why aren't we all Mormon? On the other hand I can say, I can understand to a certain degree, the desire to claim special status. If what one believes isn't really thought to be the "truth" then what's the point? This makes me scratch my head all the more at the so called moderates who have watered down their beliefs to the point that one wants to ask why they pretend anymore.

    February 10, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  4. Rev. Fuhn

    Birds of this feather can't flock together.

    February 10, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
  5. Travis

    I wasn't aware that there was a terrorist attack on September 11, 2011.

    February 10, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
  6. geospatiallibrarian

    Christians have made up so many rules and piled so much nonsense on top of Jesus' original message of "love your neighbor". In fact, this is the opposite of "love your neighbor". Why are Christians always making divisions rather than working together in a communal way?

    February 10, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  7. Tom C

    Please note that the pastor was not a member of the Lutheran church that includes most American Lutherans – the ELCA. He was a member of a splinter group known as the Missouri Synod, a conservative group whose beliefs do not represent those of the majority of Lutherans. The mainline Lutheran church has done more to respect other religious views (both Christian and other) than nearly any other Christian organization. I truly wish the headline for this article were not so misleading.

    February 10, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Daniel

      Buddy, the LCMS is not a "splinter group" as you write. With the exception of a couple small groups of Lutherans in America today, the LCMS is the ONLY group that has withstood the test of american time and come out STILL the LCMS (if wasn't a break off from any other group)! Read your history before you make comments about things you neither understand nor care about.

      February 10, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
  8. Richard

    I agree with the church. It's like if an American doctor was in a remote tribal region of the Amazon where a witch doctor was "healing" people, then a child appeared with a 103 degree fever, the American doctor shouldn't give the child Tylenol because to practice medicine in that situation would be seen as an endorsement of witchdoctory. Just let the kid die. Really, Lutherans? Really? And for those of you a little slow, this post is saturated with sarcasm.

    February 10, 2013 at 9:22 am |
  9. hirsam

    Beliefs are not "relative"...either you believe Jesus was who He said he was, or you dont. The reason those other beliefs can take part of the supposed "interfaith" stuff, is because part of their belief system is to believe whatever you want.

    February 10, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No. It's because they, unlike you, recognize that there are many people who have many beliefs and are all to be respected and loved, regardless. People like you do NOTHING to make this a more peaceful, caring place.

      February 10, 2013 at 9:22 am |
    • johnsullivanmusic

      We all can "Believe Whatever We Want" the idea that we can't is based on no evidence at all. This Luthern cult is the height of hypocrisy and symptomatic of everything wrong with religion. Hearing other Lutherens of different sects trying to distance themselves from this is shameful. Religion is poison! It makes everything worse!

      February 10, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Look, john, I don't care if you believe that religion "poisons everything." That doesn't make it a fact. You're no better than the christian zealots.

      February 10, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • GodFreeNow

      @johnsullivanmusic
      Believing what you want is very different than the compulsion to want to believe. That compulsion is more often unconscious and based on external influences. In other words, most people who want to believe something are not in control of their desires. It's usually a basic tendency toward laziness that drives most beliefs. People will more often than not, believe what is easiest to believe and follow the path of least resistance.

      While you are correct that ultimately people "can" believe what they want, this is a dangerous practice for evolved societies to condone. Rather, we should encourage people to believe what the evidence supports until proven otherwise.

      February 10, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      No doubt preaching to the choir, but I felt it warranted clarification.

      February 10, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
  10. catholicboyrichard

    Reblogged this on catholicboyrichard and commented:
    THIS is an outrage. Jesus was always more concerned with kindness than rules. Does this mean to forget rules? Not at all. It means to know when discretion is more to the point. And in these two cases it was. Wake up Missouri. Lord wake me up too...

    February 10, 2013 at 9:00 am |
  11. DinINDY

    Look into his boss. Harrison has no trouble partnering up with other religious groups to make money. Ignore all of them and just pass some common sense gun safety laws.

    February 10, 2013 at 8:30 am |
    • Daniel

      what are you talking about? I happen to know Rev. Harrison and the LCMS pretty well, and I have NO IDEA what you're talking about. Would you care to share some specifics?

      February 10, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
  12. sciencelady

    tribal.
    in-group/out-group behavior to keep power and control over people.
    not cognizant.

    February 10, 2013 at 7:59 am |
  13. dracoinvictus

    Don't worry Pastor Morris, god is not offended. He's only a fairy tale after all.

    February 10, 2013 at 7:51 am |
    • Daniel

      You're a fairy tale, and a miserable one that that.

      February 10, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
  14. Kebos

    This article shows clearly how religion is a pile of rubbish . "If you're not part of my group them you're nobody." It's clan-type association and it's ridiculous. If there was a god, and there isn't, he or she or it, would have given up on us a long time ago.

    February 10, 2013 at 6:42 am |
  15. NGB4M

    And people wonder why there are those who are unconvinced? People with Jesus in their hearts who are sure their fellow believers are going to hell for having the wrong take on 2000 year old words. Words written by people who would probably shake their heads at what passes for Christianity today. Words that the majority of humanity never got to see or hear.

    February 10, 2013 at 2:30 am |
  16. HesNotAtHisComputer

    Wow... What a dou.**y move by Lutherans.

    *Note to self: Never become a Lutheran.

    February 9, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
    • Kebos

      Note to self: Avoid all religions!

      February 10, 2013 at 6:45 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It is one group of Lutherans–Missouri Synod. Not all.

      February 10, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • johnsullivanmusic

      #tom tom. To say "it's just them, we're not like that!"is really misguided logically. All religion fosters separation. If you can tell me that it doesn't matter what others believe and you can pray with other faiths without a nagging voice that says, "too bad they are going to burn for eternity! He he he! Than, in my opinion, you don't believe your Bible. If that's the case why be a Christian at all. Why not just be a loving person who can admit they don't know anything about God, the afterlife etc. If you feel shame when you see the conduct of the brothers and sisters of your faith, look at your faith. The Westboro crowd, who our whole nation sees as evil, are the most Biblically centered ministry I have seen since the severe Irish Catholocism of my youth. I thank God I'm an Athiest

      February 10, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      The ELCA is vastly different from the Missouri Synod. If you don't have a clue, get one.

      I'm not a member, dearie, and have no axe to grind; it's simply not accurate to claim that "Lutherans" are all alike.

      February 10, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      By the way, I'm an agnostic/atheist, so don't bother wasting your time preaching to me about religion.

      February 10, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • Daniel

      I'm not necessarily defending either Morris or the LCMS's rules here...but consider this: Say you were teaching your kids and you want them to grow up with certain traditions and understandings about life (and the things you were teaching them weren't bad or weren't going to cause them to be screwed up in the head). Now one fine day you bring your kids to the park and one of your relatives comes up to you and starts telling your kids something which is contrary to what you have been teaching them. Would that not bother you just a little? Would you not want to get your kids away from this relative of yours and say to them "don't listen to him"? Well it's sort of the same thing. If the LCMS believes, teaches, and confesses certain doctrines which, as they understand it, are true to Scripture, should they not be a bit protective of its people and try to keep its leaders from mingling with those relatives (other denominations) which don't teach the same thing? Isn't that just reasonable to do? Don't be so quick to judge the LCMS or Rev. Morris here. I can attest that what we Lutherans teach is much more full of hope and assurance than what you reformed teach, that's for sure.

      February 10, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
  17. Rev. Dr. Dan Koenig

    I am concerned about some of the leaders of my church, i.e. President Harrison, forgetting the great compassion Jesus showed to suffering humanity. When there is love, the apologizing pastor does not have to fear. The church does well to following the way of Jesus, and not bind the conscience with intimidation and fear of saying the wrong thing, or displeasing those who would enslave us with their laws and power. Jesus would have done it, why not pastors?.

    February 9, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • Kebos

      Leaders of all churches seek one thing, power. The leader of this church is no different.

      February 10, 2013 at 6:44 am |
  18. Cleo

    And Jesus wept.

    February 9, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  19. KLM

    The Great Commission is to go and spread the message of Jesus to others. How is that remotely compatible with a policy that forbids a pastor from praying in a service just because others with different beliefs are also praying? It is not those who have beliefs the same as ours that need to hear the message – they already know it. This story alone, if accurate, would keep me out of a Lutheran church.

    February 9, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
    • Daniel

      What does Scripture say? If all Scripture said was "love everyone and have compassion" I might agree with you...but it says a heck of a lot more than that! I don't think that the way this was handled was right, but the principle behind it is very sound. Don't be so quick to judge a situation unless you look at all sides first.

      February 10, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • christy

      This whole thing confuses me. Was St. Paul wrong to go to Ephesus then, since the Ephesians weren't originally Christians? How in the world can people bring Christ to the world if they just keep Him holed up? Nobody is saying that the Lutheran pastor had to say a prayer to pagan gods or even the monotheist god Allah for that matter. All he needed to do was give the love and hope of Jesus to people in need.There's nothing wrong about that.

      February 16, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
  20. MDC

    Maybe is just this Christian (ME) but, I feel that nobody should apologyze for their faith! It's a know fact that most American realte to Christianity so, to expect this person to say that your sorry is shamful of American. Know this very clear: When a nation forgets the God that made them BIG, the nation goes down. Will yoy stand for your believes in Christ Jesus? I Do!!!

    February 9, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
    • awasis

      China has no 'God". So why are they ascending on the world stage? What you say is nonsense, but makes you feel righteous, doesn't it. .

      February 9, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • Zante

      MDC, you have misunderstood. There was a much larger article in our paper. It was the CHURCH that made him apologize, not for being a Christian, but for praying with people who were of other faiths and other Christian denominations. He was not apologizing for his faith. These Missouri Synod Lutherans must be pretty narrow minded in their view of Jesus if they make a pastor apologize for praying with other Christians and those of other faiths.

      February 9, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
    • Kebos

      MDC, your arrogance and self-righteousness will be your demise as well as that of your nation.

      February 10, 2013 at 6:48 am |
    • DinINDY

      Typical fundie reading comprehension. This also frightens me.

      February 10, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • hirsam

      I agree MDC . Thank you.

      February 10, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Of course you agree, hirsam. You're a hateful little twerp.

      February 10, 2013 at 9:24 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.