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. De Odorizer (boy, it smells bad in here... move that harrison guy out..)

    "Participation could be seen as endorsing "false teaching"
    Woweeeee. Another illustrious example of why 'organized religions' are a cesspool of hatred, bigotry and yep money and turf wars.
    WWJD?? eh, little man harrison, would Jesus have refused to pray for 20 innocent and dead children because he was in a "scripturally wrong" crowd????

    February 8, 2013 at 10:50 am |
    • massbytes

      I agree. What a joke organized religion has become.

      February 8, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • snowboarder

      massbytes, organized religion has improved immeasurably as increased access to education has blunted the majority of the intolerance.

      February 8, 2013 at 11:19 am |
  2. J

    What? How annoying! You get in trouble for saying a prayer. Shame on Harrison. This is the reason why people don't want to join religions anymore.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  3. Steve

    The spineless apologizing to the witless and heartless. This is the same organization, I think, that won't let women vote on church issues. It's long past time to start ignoring all these people and their medieval theology. I feel sorry for them.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:32 am |


    February 8, 2013 at 10:30 am |
  5. Thoth

    More evidence of the divisive nature of religion.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • lol??

      Nuthin' gets past you..............."Luk 12:51-52 Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three."

      February 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • LOL!

      "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages." William Shakespeare

      February 8, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  6. James Berry

    This is exactly what is wrong in America today, Religious Dogma and it permeates the conservative movement. The thought that this religion is so wary of its own beliefs it can't bear to pray with any other is really telling. Who would Jesus ban from praying?

    February 8, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • lol??

      Is that one of them thar strawman questions fit fer burnin'?

      February 8, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
  7. emp

    And what better way to stifle intelligence and creativity than to warn people against the evils of any newness or differing opinions...

    February 8, 2013 at 10:27 am |
    • snowboarder

      BINGO! because we all know that the old interpretations are always the best.

      February 8, 2013 at 11:26 am |
  8. Keith

    When are we going to stand up to these bullies and realize that the greatest danger to mankind is the enslavement of the minds of the weak and feeble minded by the forces of evil otherwise known as ORGANIZED RELIGION.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  9. charlie828

    Don't these so called religious people have any shame. Praying with other religions in the time of grief, is forbidden. this is why main stream religion and their ridiculous beliefs is slowing dying, thankfully.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  10. Rachael

    Here we go again! All religious faiths are preaching segregation. It is disgusting. People are supposed to mix and learn new things. This segregation ethic is gone way too far. It has me thinking that our entire society has become borderline-separate seek out and divide! When will people learn! Only when they greet and invite each other to share a meal together, regardless of race religion, ethnicity, etc etc.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:26 am |
  11. JayneQP

    We could turn this into something negative and find ways to divide ourselves by demanding that he apologize or.... we could be thankful for his thoughts and prayers and move on.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:24 am |
  12. Lee

    That is a shame that a Pastor would need to apologize for speaking at a service where so many children lost their lives and so many families were in such pain. I am in shock. He should be praised for what he did. Does that mean if you are Lutheran and I lost a loved one in that situation, and the service for them was at a different faith my Lutheran pastor could not participate in a service for me. That is wrong.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:24 am |
  13. M. G.

    Every religion should adpot this philosophy... maybe then we can stop all public prayer... keep it on a leash people.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:22 am |
  14. martha nelson

    good lord. this is just one more reason why traditional, mailine religions are stepping into obscurity in the world. Does any thinking person truly believe there is only "one way" and "one teaching" that is the way to eternal truths? Get thee behind me.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • BeadlesAz

      Martha – so true. This is the type of action that made me leave organized religion.

      February 8, 2013 at 10:23 am |
  15. GOD

    I don't give any damn about Lutherans because they cannot love their neighbour.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  16. Paul

    Misery synod, say no more.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  17. tony

    "Death to all those who do not follow my personal religious beliefs" – Isn't that one of the ten commandments? Certainly worked out that way over a few thousand years.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  18. ellid

    What century is the Missouri Synod living in? Because it sure doesn't bear much resemblance to this one.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  19. KT

    Now, I have heard everything.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  20. Dave

    We must have organized religion in order to be told whom to hate. Otherwise, if people worshiped in the privacy of their own souls and minds, they might end up loving everyone and religious and political leaders couldn't have that.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:16 am |
    • tony


      February 8, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • mk

      Very true...

      February 8, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      That's why I can't stand Unitarians.
      Get off the fence dammit!
      What's the point of a religion if you can't condemn this and that from a fiery pulpit?

      February 8, 2013 at 10:32 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.