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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. John Las Vegas

    Religion: Always teaching us who to hate.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
  2. The breakfast club

    You know what I think is wrong with society. The fact that everybody is operating under the delusion that they have to appologize to one another for every little freakin thing. If you pray..pray. If you hate religion hate religion. But watever you decide stand by it.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
    • Richard

      I don't pray and I don't hate religion. I would like to think there is something higher than myself, that there is a reason that I am here. But I need proof that a god exists, not just faith. I try to live by the golden rule and if there is a god, I hope he sees that I have been a good person, weather I went to church on Sunday or not.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @Richard........The reason you are here is the same reason I am here. Your parents had s3x. Your father came, nine months later, Ta Da!

      February 7, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Don't worry Richard, You are going to heaven. The religious fanatics will tell you George W. Bush is going to heaven. Think about the things he's done.

      Attacked a country (Iraq) that did nothing to us. A war that Resulted in the deaths of over 5,000 us troops and over 30,000 injured. Killed and injured over 500,000 Iraqis. Led the U.S. into a near depression amongst other things.

      With the amount of blood on bush's hands, If the religious whack jobs can say Bush is going to heaven, I KNOW YOU'RE GOING TO HEAVEN!

      February 7, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
  3. Alan

    In the past, I never had any negative feels towards the Lutherans. Now I feel only disgust for their childish religion.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
    • The breakfast club

      The recipe for failure is trying to please everyone, dude.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
  4. maria

    I am an atheist, so I must say it is very strange indeed to read about a pastor APOLOGIZING for praying. Makes no sense to me.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Talk about irony! A religious person telling a religious person not to pray. Wow.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • Arvin Huac

      Apologizing to his church for praying. That's even weirder.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
  5. mm

    This has got to be a joke. They object to a joint prayer? Don't we all pray to the same Almighty God regardless of differences in beliefs? It's religious teachings like these that cause wars between people and create vast divides instead of bringing people into one with the Almighty God.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Those that believe in Islam would object to you saying "Don't we all pray to the same Almighty God" Prepare for a bomb to be thrown through your window!

      February 7, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
    • SLoRider

      Thor and Huitzlipochtli would like to have a word with you.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
    • Arvin Huac

      If they are all the same god, why do all of them demand that you do not worship any other god, under pain of terrible punishment?

      February 7, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
    • joe

      In all actuality, if you Jewish you pray to Yahweh, a not so ancient Semitic God of war. If on the other hand you are Muslim, then you are hitching your cart to an ancient semitic moon god, dressed up as a variant of Yahweh... Kinda... If you are a Christian.. Still Yahwehish with a heavy sprinkling of Roman poly-theism and a dude named Mithra. If you are Hindu, then it gets super complicated, Let's see, Lord Brahma made the world, Vishnu runs it, but Shiva destroys it. Kind of like a Godfather/Soprano vibe. Zorastrians worship Ahura Mazda the all knowing God of the universe and fire, while Buddhists (most of them) don't believe in god at all. Although it may appear that all of these all point to the same eternal force or whatever..They don't. Almost none of these religions are compatible. Hence all the death blood shed surrounding them.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
  6. ed

    Since Pat Robertson seems to be slowly going sane these days, maybe he should be sent as an emissary to slap some sense into this troupe of wingnuts.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Slowly ?

      February 7, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • ed

      lol. we he has a lot of things to make up for, but recently between the marijuana thing and refuting creationism, it seems he is actually going sane.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      It's the marijuana!

      February 7, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  7. JK

    Just one thing to know.... there is no god. Religion is the creation of early man without science to answer questions they did not know how to answer.... "because god said so"

    February 7, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
    • raforrester

      I experience God in my own life regularly. Religion is an attempt to explain the unexplainable.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    I am very disappointed in CNN's reporting here – the majority of this article claims that this pastor and his church are "Lutheran," and CNN, that is absolutely incorrect. This pastor and his church are MISSOURI-SYNOD LUTHERAN, not Lutheran. That is about as big a difference as Hindus and Catholics. CNN – next time check your facts a little better before reporting such completely false information and misrepresenting the large majority of Lutherans through-out the world. This article simply makes you look, as news reporters, to be completely ignorant.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      I really don't think anyone cares one way or the other. They all suck.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • Dave

      To add on, we have an ELCA congregation in Ohio with a female bishop leading our synod, a female pastor leading our congregation and we welcome EVERYONE to chuch. We have openly gay pastors in the ELCA. We frequently participate in services with ALL religions. Somehow everyone needs to know that not all Lutherans are like the folks in this article. http://www.trinitylakewood.org

      February 7, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • mm

      Whatever they are doesn't matter. They are just totally off the deep end with their beliefs. Wonder if they believe as some Muslims do that they should kill those who don't agree with them? Hmmmm? Crazy nuts.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
  9. Lester

    This is just so sad.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
  10. bobk52

    I didn't hear jeebus say anything today or recently?

    February 7, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • JeffinIL

      Jeebus Cripes, the son of Gosh?

      February 7, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
  11. JeffinIL

    Perhaps someone should nail a list of grievances to their door.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
  12. Ken Margo

    And people wonder why religion is losing influence? The nerve of people trying to bring a community together! The next time there is a mass shooting just ignore it. No sympathy, no hope, no prayers (obviously they don't work) Why be phony and ACT like we care. Unless you got the onions to vote for someone who'll pass reasonable gun control laws, you are part of the problem.

    If I could I would take bets on where the next mass shooting will happen. At least make some money on it. People will be upset at me, but instead they should be mad at those who wont pass gun laws!

    February 7, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
  13. David Hostetler

    That's what's wrong with "organized" religion

    February 7, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
  14. joe

    They are absolutely right: The nation may be mourning a scandal, but tragedies shouldn't make us temporarily overlook minor differences in theology!

    After all, it's the subtle differences in theology that are supposed to keep us apart and cause wars, oppression, bigotry, and death! Lets not lose sight of what's important here – and that is that one day everyone will give up and follow the true religion – mine. Aaaaaaany day now.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
    • joe

      whoops, not a scandal.... a travesty. poor choice of words, sorry.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
  15. Alice

    Jesus said: "Forgive them father for they know not what they do." This applies to Mr. Harrison too.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
  16. Owl Creek Observer

    Nice to see so many atheists with a deep interest in Christianity, evidenced by the number of comments here.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Trust me, we have ZERO interest in Christianity. That's why we make fun of it.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Care to hypothesize on the possible reasons?

      February 7, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
    • Richard

      I'm not atheist; I'm agnostic. I live by the golden rule more than 95% of those who belong to an organized religion.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
  17. Seth Hill

    It's important to keep our religion pure. As a matter of fact, there are only 2 people in the world who adhere 100% to the correct faith ... and I'm not sure about you.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
  18. Jarhead4life

    This MO synod sounds more like a cult – thus the reason they are keeping all their followers on a short rope and reprimanding anyone for the slightest infraction.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
  19. Over 30,000 denominations of insanity

    Thomas Jefferson (POTUS #3, principle author of the Declaration of Independence)

    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, Patriot of the American Revolution)

    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.

    (delivered to the Virginia General Assembly)

    Thomas Paine (Patriot of the American Revolution)

    I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. 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 7, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
  20. Richard

    This is EXACTLY why I don't belong to or practice an organized religion. To condemn a pastor for simply offering a prayer in mixed company. How ludicrous can you get?

    February 7, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
    • Dave

      We have an ELCA congregation in Ohio with a female bishop leading our synod, a female pastor leading our congregation and we welcome EVERYONE to chuch. We have openly gay pastors in the ELCA. We frequently participate in services with ALL religions. Somehow everyone needs to know that not all Lutherans are like the folks in this article. http://www.trinitylakewood.org

      February 7, 2013 at 9:39 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.