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. Jorge

    The Lutheran church, and all those other religious man-inventions that claim to have exclusive billing for God, can put their crusades where the sun don't shine. I have heard, read and seen of more atrocities and travesties that Abrahamist religions have been a party to than any other social organization ih history. Now I know why post-columbian tribesmen dressed, cooked and ate missionaries.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:30 am |
    • richunix

      Be thankful, we don't have followers who practiced docetism.

      February 8, 2013 at 7:35 am |
  2. KMS

    Grew up in the Missouri Synad – it was amazingly intolerant then and doesn't seem to have changed a bit in the 40 years since I left it. Amazing.
    As a side note, my mother left after going to her pastor for counseling when she was helping with special-needs children. His advanced christian (well, be fair – his missouri synad) education let him explain that the children were suffering for the sins of their parents & grandparents back to the 4th generation. That was 30 years ago but it sounds like that young pastor might still be around as a church leader. Sad.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:19 am |
  3. dave

    An apology? No wonder the Lutheran church is losing numbers....how sad.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:16 am |
  4. MM

    Yea, maybe some of those at the vigil didn't need your 'keys to the kingdom' anyway, since they had the whole door who is Jesus Christ.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:15 am |
  5. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Pray without ceasing
    Prayer changes things

    February 8, 2013 at 7:10 am |
    • richunix

      OK, I’m game. To whom should I pray to …RA, AN, ZEUS, maybe Yahweh….please tell me who I should pray. Under Christian belief all possible gods exist, so I have so many possibilities.

      Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

      February 8, 2013 at 7:18 am |
    • DatPrayer LOL

      The ONLY thing prayer does is make the people praying feel better about doing absolutely nothing. It's a lie you've been tricked into believing just like the rest of your worthless religion.

      February 8, 2013 at 7:21 am |
    • truth be told

      Their is one God and thousands of idols, knowing the difference determines where you will spend eternity. Those God loves God finds.

      February 8, 2013 at 7:26 am |
    • richunix


      What is the name of your deity?

      February 8, 2013 at 7:27 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      February 8, 2013 at 8:09 am |
  6. sick of christian phonies

    If Jesus were only real he'd be turning over in his grave.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:09 am |
    • Flloyd

      You realize that Jesus was a real person, right? Even if you don't think he was the Savior, the man himself existed.

      February 8, 2013 at 7:19 am |
    • richunix

      Agree, almost serious scholars agree the man did exist, but outside of the religious over tones, the man died a criminal, convicted of treason against the state.
      Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

      February 8, 2013 at 7:26 am |
  7. sick of christian phonies

    Keep it up, lutherans (and others)! The more you show the world how ridiculous, mean-spirited, ugly, and intolerant your "religious" beliefs are, the more you will drive people away from your houses of bulls**t. Why do you think more and more young people reject ALL organized faiths? Thank you for once again showing your true side.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:07 am |
    • lol??

      Actually, times such as these are a swell time to keep your name off a church list. The gubmint god is runnin' real low on cash.

      February 8, 2013 at 7:11 am |
  8. Rob

    Let's all fight over the same non-existant god... morons.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:05 am |
    • lol??

      Don't give the mob and its gubmint god any ideas. Pwetty pwease?

      February 8, 2013 at 7:08 am |
    • dave

      Your comment makes you no better than those you complain about, you low self esteem hypoctrite

      February 8, 2013 at 7:15 am |
  9. Theron

    Good thing Jesus never participated with those who believed differently than he did.. Wouldn't want to think he was endorsing "false teaching".....................

    February 8, 2013 at 7:05 am |
  10. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    That church should be burnt to the ground for blasphamy and stupidity. Does it really matter who you pray with? Simply outrageous.

    February 8, 2013 at 6:57 am |
    • lol??

      Don't give the mob and its gubmint any ideas, please!

      February 8, 2013 at 7:04 am |
    • Pravda

      Obama is that you??

      February 8, 2013 at 7:25 am |
  11. Janeann

    If God helped us write the Bible over a few thousand years when we could not write at all, why does he not share his wisdom now when his word could reach billions in the blink of an eye? Not quite sure why he thinks it is a good thing for us to all guess at what he wants and slaughter each other in the process.

    February 8, 2013 at 6:49 am |
    • Cynic

      IMHO, it's because He gave us free will and then left us to our own devices.

      February 8, 2013 at 6:57 am |
  12. MSR

    I have one sister and her family that belongs to the Missouri synod, one sister and her family that belong to the Wisconsin synod, and one sister who is a pastor in the ELCA. We don't discuss religion much at Christmas.)

    February 8, 2013 at 6:41 am |
    • lol??

      At "Christmas" you should have some fun by asking them what they thought of all the cults that sprang up in the 19th century.

      February 8, 2013 at 6:47 am |
    • Cosmo

      Just celebrate Festivus. It's for the rest of us!

      February 8, 2013 at 7:13 am |
  13. danielwalldammit

    Yet another example of damned terrible priorities in Christianity.

    February 8, 2013 at 6:39 am |
    • Cynic

      Exactly! If Christians truly followed Christ, the song "They'll know we are Christians by our love" would have real meaning instead of being bull*sh * t.

      February 8, 2013 at 6:59 am |
    • Edwin

      Our community holds an interfaith celebration on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, with the proceeds donated to Women's shelters and services for the homeless. Not all christians are intolerant self-absorbed jerks... but some definitely are.

      February 8, 2013 at 7:10 am |
    • lol??

      Edwin, how 'bout usin' some of the cash and help out the older women in their mission of training the younger women to love their hubbies and children?

      February 8, 2013 at 7:17 am |
  14. Becky

    "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. Keep away from them." Romans 16:17

    God's word, but as usual twisted by man's interpretation. God teaches love, compassion, empathy for fellow man, caring for fellow man. But man in his desire to "be" god-like takes the holiness of God and loving grace he provides and twists it
    into something nasty. Wasn't it Jesus who associated with the lowly, the sinful, those who society cast aside? The teachings and "man-made law" of the Lutheran Church is the exact thing that Romans 16:17 warns against.

    February 8, 2013 at 6:38 am |
    • danielwalldammit

      How often does God's word have to be twisted before one faces the fact that it has always been that way?

      February 8, 2013 at 6:41 am |
  15. Jebbb

    "...avoid 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." Well, gee, it doesn't really matter in the end. While it's true that all those other religions, non-Lutheran, are false, Lutheranism is false as well. So, "it doesn't really matter in the end." C'mon, pray together, to your mythical sky daddies. Don't forget to pass the collection plate. Witch doctors got to eat too. And drive Caddies.

    February 8, 2013 at 6:32 am |
  16. Wayne

    This is the reason that people leave their faith behind and worship their Gods in private. So many of the churches profess to be believers in a Greater Being, but step over their line and you become on of the evid people. Organized religions are way over rated. Believe in who you want and lead a life of goodness and mercy and you will get your rewards.

    February 8, 2013 at 6:29 am |
  17. Edwin

    He isn't allowed to pray with others who believe ever-so-slightly-different than his church?

    That is the most utterly outrageous and non-Christian thing I have read in a long time. The denomination's leader is the one who should be chastised.

    February 8, 2013 at 6:23 am |
  18. The Audacity of The Donald

    Just one month ago I attended a Missouri Synod service for a young man who had committed suicide. The pastor said that if lucky, suicides are buried on the far edges of the cemetery so as not to taint the good Christians. I grew up in the Wisconsin Synod, which was known for being more strict than Missouri. And yes, praying with those of a different faith was a sin as well, something that could send one straight to hell. It is this kind of intolerance that led me far away from the church, caused me to raise my children with no religion, drives my political views (including who I will and will not vote for), and will keep me away from any kind of organized religion for the remainder of my life.

    February 8, 2013 at 6:23 am |
    • Edwin

      Not all christians are intolerant jerks. Those are just the ones that make the news.

      February 8, 2013 at 6:25 am |
    • lol??

      So you latched onto your problem even tighter?

      February 8, 2013 at 6:43 am |
  19. Brian

    "You've got to be taught to hate and fear. You've got to be taught from year to year. You've got to be taught before it's too late, before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate. You've got to be carefully taught!" - song from South Pacific on Broadway.

    Christ would be horrified at this "religious" rigidity. No, that pastor will NOT go to hell. Know why? There isn't one.

    February 8, 2013 at 6:17 am |
    • lol??

      Now there's another leap. To a conclusion.

      February 8, 2013 at 6:41 am |
  20. mdc

    To parphrase Ghandi:
    I like your Christ but, I don't like your christians.

    February 8, 2013 at 6:17 am |
    • lol??

      You'd have G in jail on s*e*x* offenses.

      February 8, 2013 at 6:40 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.