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
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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. atomD21

    And this is precisely why I have been moving away from churches that claim to have all the answers and all other churches are wrong. That is ludicrous. I have a real hard time believing that God, being infinite, would choose one group of people to show all the knowledge anyone would need and say "screw you" to everyone else. This is also why I believe that we are all on the same path, just in different forms. All people are searching for the truth. Be it through religion, science, philosophy, or whatever, everyone is looking for the answers to the great mysteries of existence. The sooner we realize that we are all in the same handbasket, the sooner we can put the pointless divisions behind us and have true community. That being said, there are always the outliers that will claim to have all the truth and answers and everyone that disagrees with them is evil and wrong and will be sorry. Yeah, we're looking at you Westboro Baptist loons.

    February 8, 2013 at 12:41 am |
    • Jess

      I just want to clarify, this guy is from a smaller Lutheran church... the largest, the ELCA, has not such rules, at least to my knowledge. These people give the rest of us a bad name. Proud to be a member of the ELCA!!!! <3

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

      Jess, while the hate may exist on a range within various sects, all cults are delusional, including yours.

      February 8, 2013 at 1:07 am |
    • 30,000 denominations of insanity

      It sounds like the WELS is just as bad, possibly worse, and if you add those to LCMS, you get about 65% of the size of ELCA. But I'm at least glad the ELCA is inclusive.

      February 8, 2013 at 1:16 am |
  2. 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 12:39 am |
  3. 30,000 denominations of insanity

    Someone mentioned the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod:

    Mark Schroeder, president of WELS, affirmed in 2011 that "WELS does hold to the historic Lutheran position that the Roman Catholic papacy fits the biblical characteristics of the Antichrist." He also stated that "While WELS continues to see the characteristics of the Antichrist in the Roman Catholic papacy, it is wrong and dishonest to portray this belief as stemming from anti-Catholic bigotry."

    (from "The WELS view: By Scripture alone")


    February 8, 2013 at 12:34 am |
    • BIgD

      Add that WELS churches won't let their female members speak in congregational meetings. The Husband must do the talking.

      Even nut-job Michelle Bachman had to quit her WELS church, recognizing that its misogyny was a bit much for the electorate.

      February 8, 2013 at 12:40 am |
    • HotAirAce

      I suspect it had more to do with the Bachmans not being able to decide who the husband is.

      February 8, 2013 at 12:52 am |
  4. bill

    I love God, I love Christ, but I just can't stand churches anymore. They're just a hotbed of hypocrisy and hate

    February 8, 2013 at 12:25 am |
  5. Bob

    Screw the Missouri Synod, which is about as far from following the teachings of Jesus as any religion can get.

    February 8, 2013 at 12:22 am |
    • jay

      I think missouri synod 'get it.' Why would you align yourself with people who believe in a different god?

      February 8, 2013 at 12:56 am |
  6. BeverlyNC

    That is the stupidest thing I have heard. That pastor should gladly leave such a un-Christian, non-compassionate religion. NO one religion is THE one. I believe there is ONE GOD but they are many paths up the mountain to get there. Native American nature-based faith, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddism, Islam (the one true to the Koran), Seikh, Quaker, and even those who believe in God but do not like organized religion. Only the cults are the dangerous heretical non-God-based lies – Mormon who worships a man, Scientology which was created by a science fiction writer as a joke, and the lunatics like Warren Jeffs, David Koresh and so on.
    God comes to ALL People in a way they can understand Him, reflective of their culture, origin, and environment. God loves ALL the chldren of the world – and not just "Christian" ones.
    He must be so disappointed to see all those who worship him fight over whose religion is more right, more real, more holy. It's absurd.

    February 8, 2013 at 12:16 am |
    • ThinkingMan

      To bad this god of yours is a figment of imagination. There is ZERO evidence to support religions false claim.

      February 8, 2013 at 12:49 am |
    • jay

      The belief that there is no absolute truth is silly. When God said I am the Truth, he didn't imply I am one of many truths.

      February 8, 2013 at 1:00 am |
    • HotAirAce

      When and where did your god say this? Facts please!

      February 8, 2013 at 1:04 am |
    • jay

      The Bible, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

      February 8, 2013 at 1:08 am |
    • HotAirAce

      And of course you can prove The Babble is the true word of your god. This should be interesting.

      February 8, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
    • captain america

      So tell us what part of canada is Newtown In? None of your business you say you're actually just a wanna be American, poor baby decent canadians got no use for ya eh ? Guess what ... neither do we. There's your sign.

      February 8, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  7. Itsonlyme

    People wonder why I left the organized church. Does thw Mussouri Synod realize what ignoramuses they look like (and in fact, are)???

    February 8, 2013 at 12:14 am |
    • jay

      I think missouri synod gets it. Why would you align yourself with people who believe in a different god?

      February 8, 2013 at 1:01 am |
  8. danigirl65

    Yet another reason that I don't believe in organized religion. Being admonished for offering a prayer because it was a multi-denominational services is nothing short of ludicrous. Seriously? Christian's think this is what Jesus would do? You've got to be kidding me!!

    February 8, 2013 at 12:13 am |
  9. Cted

    Don't pray with any other religions... you might get cooties....

    February 8, 2013 at 12:13 am |
    • Itsonlyme

      Not only other religions, not even other brands of Lutherans!!!

      February 8, 2013 at 12:15 am |
    • jay

      I think the missouri synod gets it. Why would you align yourself with people who believe in a different god?

      February 8, 2013 at 1:02 am |
  10. John Lennon


    February 8, 2013 at 12:03 am |
    • Pockets

      I could not have stated it any better. Ty.

      February 8, 2013 at 12:30 am |
    • jay

      I think the missouri synod gets it. Why would you align yourself with people who believe in a different god?

      February 8, 2013 at 1:03 am |
  11. blessedgeek

    Christianity is a false teaching. It advocates the conversion of adherents to an original and more ancient tradition. It calls the that ancient tradition as the "OLD", obsolete and dead testament. It portrays itself as Rachel and whereas our traditions are likened to the obsoleted Leah.

    They promote a false and unfamiliar god. To those of us who refuse to submit to that false god, we are said would be thrown in the everlasting fiery cauldron, like Daniel's friends were. Or thrown into the den of their lion-god, like Daniel was.

    February 8, 2013 at 12:01 am |
    • ThinkingMan

      Any religion which promotes the existence of nonexistent super being is lying.

      February 8, 2013 at 12:55 am |
  12. CarrotCakeMan

    Fortunately, other Lutheran denominations are not so negative toward people of other faiths. This sounds like something this Missouri Synod should consider dropping to be good Americans.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
  13. Reality

    Only for those who are not reading-challenged:

    1. origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    “New Torah For Modern Minds

    Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine docu-ment. “
    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.

    2. Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

    The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.


    For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

    Current RCC problems:

    Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

    2 b., Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    February 7, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
    • prochoiceispromurder

      Satan has deceived you.

      February 8, 2013 at 12:07 am |
    • Pockets

      The best "explanation " I have read. Thank you for enlightening me...

      February 8, 2013 at 12:34 am |
  14. Get Real

    This has got to be the dumbest thing I have read today. This is why people can't make peace. This is why Isreal and Palestine will NEVER have peace. They need to just get over the fact that they are different and move on. It was an event with all kind of people there to include Obama. The guy said a pray. So what?

    February 7, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
    • spocksbrain

      Absolutely true.

      February 7, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
  15. vince

    Personally as a Christian it breaks my heart when a particular denomination treats a letter from Paul to a particular group of Christians in Rome, at a particular place and time with the same 'scriptural authority' as Jesus's teaching in the Gospels taken collectively. Paul was just a man, he was not an original apostle, who fought with some of the original apostles, was a great missionary, but had many faults– including losing his temper with his congregations But he is not Jesus and these kind of refrences violate the spirit and message of love that Jesus brings. Please dont judge the message of Christ by the beliefs and outdated traditions of some conservative denominations. Read the gospels and you'll find that the message and teachings of Jesus have little to do with todays modern churches.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
    • yoda

      mmMMmmm. chatty cathy Paul was. mmhhmmMMmm.

      February 8, 2013 at 12:02 am |
  16. BeadlesAz

    Perfect example of why I abstain from organized religion.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
  17. IndyMike

    The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is still stuck in the first half of the 20th century with their racism and lack of tolerance.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
  18. Cheryl

    Please do not confuse Missouri Synod with the mainstream Lutheran Church, or ELCA. They are outliers and fundamentalists. Lutherans congregations tend to be tolerant and progressive, especially in the Northeast where I am from.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
    • GAW

      I believe that the Wisconsin Synod is even worse from what I have heard.

      February 7, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
    • spocksbrain

      Thank you for saying that. I was wondering - because the Lutheran church around here, where I live in Irvine California seems infinately more tolerant and human than this "synod."

      February 7, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
  19. Jessica

    Religion... The root of ALL evil!

    February 7, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
    • GAW

      Power is. Religion is one expression as is the misuse of politics.

      February 7, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
  20. GAW

    The LCMS are a strange breed. I was once threatened by one of their pastors who pointed his letter opener at me and called me an idiot because I was going to join another denomination. They can be cult like at times.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
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