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. Chicago

    I find this so upsetting. Watching that vigil on television that night, I was so moved by all of those religious leaders coming together. I thought, this is what it is all about... and what a wonderful show of unity and support for that community... and for everyone else around them. This demanded apology is offensive and I wish that this religious leader would not have apologized and stood up for his reasons more. I wish he would have stood up against what is right and the choice he made that he felt was right for the situation. This seems hateful... and being a Lutheran myself... I find it really embarrassing and honestly question what on earth this church stands for. It isn't love, it feels very much like they support the judgement of others. Well, I find that to be so sad and I wish CNN would not have given this any play. It really takes away from the night of the vigil and what that meant to see such a group come together.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:13 am |
  2. Victor Matheson

    Just to be clear, in the US there are two main Lutheran churches, the smaller Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the larger Evangelical Lutheran Church of Amrrican (ELCA). The LCMS is very, very conservative and exclusive while the ELCA is a moderate to liberal mainstream denomination that is welcoming to Christians of all dominations. In fact, ELCA congregations are explicitly encouraged to share worship and even clergy with a large number of confessing partner churches including the United Methodist Church, Presbterians, Moravians, Episcopalians, the United Church of Christ and others.

    So, not all Lutherans are the same, and don't necessarily equate the actions of this pastor with the Litheran church that maybe down your street.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:12 am |
  3. Charles Gannon

    Never apoligize, it's a sign of weakness

    February 8, 2013 at 8:10 am |
  4. JJ

    This explains how we have thousands of denominations within Christianity. Seems there's a denomination for every verse in the Bible. If Christians can't even agree among themselves on what their holy book is saying then they should understand why non-Christians don't take any of it seriously.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:08 am |
  5. LCMS Member

    God's word is clear on the godless. And there are higher expectations from Christian leaders hanging out with other godless leaders. What if your ever loving Obama was hanging out with Iran's leader at the golf course?! What if George Bush decided to invite Saddam to his Crawford ranch back in the day to watch the Super Bowl?! Even you godless folks would wince at the idea. Oh but maybe it would be ok if there was a Tsunami... then the world leaders (no matter how bad and abusive) could hang together for a hand holding event. Nah... More is expected of leaders... and that includes what settings a Christian leader is with a godless church leader.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:06 am |
    • midwest rail

      You're either trolling for reactions, or a delusional twit. Time will tell.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:07 am |
    • richunix

      He's trolling, still what s the name of your deity...since christian have to believe in so many....

      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 8:12 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Bush/Hussein might have formed a relationship or agreement that might have prevented a completely immoral war based on lies by a delusional believer president. Obama and the muslim jerk running Iran playing golf together might prevent the next stupid war. I don't have a problem with people of different beliefs communicating with each other – but then I'm not trying to maintain membership in a cult

      February 8, 2013 at 8:14 am |
    • Dan I.

      Didn't Jesus hang out with sinners and the general dregs of society?

      February 8, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • Daws

      If all that was so it would be a lot better then dropping bombs on each other and killing and blowing the limbs off of innocent civilians. If world leaders could settle their differences over a round of golf we should only be so lucky.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:18 am |
    • richunix

      Naw, according to the bible, Jesus was a convicted criminal, executed by the state for treason against the state..So I guess that mean, we should hold our state prisoner in honor, they too could be the second or third coming.

      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 8:32 am |
  6. Reality

    Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie"/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 8:04 am |
  7. Latuf Tak

    Marx was right then, and now – "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."

    February 8, 2013 at 8:00 am |
  8. Tom Knight

    Any wonder that so many people are turning their backs on organized religion?

    February 8, 2013 at 7:58 am |
  9. Conrad Shull

    Wow. I had no idea Lutheranism was so eff'ed up.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:57 am |
    • Kathy

      That is the Missouri Synod, not all Lutherans! There are many other synods in the Lutheran religion, the Missouri and Wisconsin synod are the strictest.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:04 am |
  10. dreucalypt

    As I remember, the leaders of the Missouri Synod raised the same complaint about the national interfaith service after the September 11 attacks.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:52 am |
  11. Curtis

    Not to use someone's quote against them, but it states, to avoid those who are obstacle contrary to your teachings. Well, telling a pastor not to pray & bear witness to God & Jesus is being an obstacle contrary to their teachings in the Bible. Their own rules are in violation of the scripture they are using to enforce it.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:50 am |
    • MD'er

      That is precisely what I was thinking. They are the obstacles and can't even see it.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:19 am |
  12. NorsemanIowa

    He had a member lost that day. If he did not and I was that partent, I would have left that church since they but more about their dogma,than the greatest caommandment, LOVE one another. Jesus is a live and not dead, so why are they still under the law instead of under grace. I think maybe they really need to read the bible more.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:45 am |
  13. Linda Luttrell

    Let the "holy wars" begin...once more! How stupid is that???

    February 8, 2013 at 7:40 am |
  14. LoveGod

    How can any one church be so sure of their unique interpretation of scripture that they can't even allow their fellows to pray along side those of other (very) similar faiths? I love God and trust that just about all flavors of worship are man's best effort at seeking God, but to be so exclusive of others is not Christ-like or God-driven. This makes me question the purposes of this church's leaders because of their unfaithful and intolerant stance regarding others.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:35 am |
    • Murray

      Well said. It is what repulses me about organized religion. The presumption that their understanding of God trumps mine. It is simply another form of mind control of the weak in an attempt to keep the coffers filled.

      February 8, 2013 at 7:48 am |
  15. MikeA

    Like the Buffalo Springfield song says: "Nobody's right if everybody's wrong".

    February 8, 2013 at 7:35 am |
  16. Sarah

    This is one of the biggest problems I have with many organized religion. Come on, religion is suppose to be about helping people, no matter WHO they are or WHAT religion they are. The "rules" come a far second to helping others.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:35 am |
    • Joe

      Religion is not about helping people. It is more about controlling the ignorant through fear. The best religion offers is hope (of afterlife) to people who have a need for such hope.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:03 am |
  17. Skeeve

    As always, folks religious are so entertaining....

    February 8, 2013 at 7:35 am |
    • JJ

      And depressing.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:10 am |
  18. Gallard

    This is ridiculous. There are no prohibitions against prayer at any time. In fact, we're all part of the Body of Christ, the Christian community.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:33 am |
  19. MormonChristian

    Jesus taught against hypocrisy and contention. He himself was the victim of many zealous religious rulers of his day who were so caught up in their rules they couldn't hear his message of love and goodwill.

    If you want a good picture of how Jesus thought and how he wants us to live, read Luke 10:25-37. Jesus' way of life is still valid today – love your enemies, forgive others. These ideas can change the world.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:31 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Could you try to point to something that isn't circular to prove how Jesus thought?

      February 8, 2013 at 7:34 am |
    • reality check

      That's true, unless you forget about the part in which he also says, "I come NOT in peace, but with the sword." Thank heavens I'm an atheist.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:03 am |
  20. TAK

    Holy crap, what exactly will it take for some of these right wing religious nuts to come together with fellow Americans? Newtown? 9/11? Guess not.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:31 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.