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. me

    This is a perfect example of why I refuse to have anything to do with organized religion... the God I know loves all and gives each of us the opportunity to go through life to prove our worthiness... what we choose to do is our own choice, but at the end of life we must accept the consequences based on such choices... the bickering and wars created by religion here on Earth are not the fault of God but the fault of man... it's just that, generally speaking, we don't see it... meanwhile, people continue to twist the Bible to fit their beliefs... how about instead you do what is naturally right? I can't believe my creator who has given me such a beautiful thing such as life would be insulted by men coming together to pray for children who were slaughtered by another man...

    February 7, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • Dave

      Bingo!! Yahtzee!! Amen!!

      February 7, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  2. Rev

    Wow, really?!? This amazes me. I've done this a dozen times while clergy from another denomination and I've never seen this as an issue with any of the ministers / imams / rabbis etc. I never

    February 7, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • cynthia

      The Missouri Synod is the most conservative and narrow-minded denomination within the Lutheran Umbrella. My in-laws are Missouri Synod, are very loving grandparents and for most part very kind hearted. . My experience with their church: they are bigoted, prejudiced and arrogant. Once, when an Hispanic woman and her children were at a service their reception was awful, making obnoxious comments so that they were sure she heard. They approve shooting abortion clinic employees. I couldn't be the godparent to my niece/nephew because I was a heathen (Baptized in Congregational church..oh my!). I tried to keep peace by going to their church, just couldn't continue based on many horrible acts and sermon contents. Not all Lutherans behave as they do, some are very welcoming to all, but the Missouri Synod is racist (my husband was bad for his 'mixed marriage'..just because I wasn't Missouri Synod), narrow-minded, prejudiced/bigoted, verbally aggressive, etc. Most in in-laws congregation are Tea Party members/supporters.

      February 7, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
    • Fact

      " (my husband was bad for his 'mixed marriage'..just because I wasn't Missouri Synod), narrow-minded, prejudiced/bigoted, verbally aggressive, etc. "

      That is what happens when the apples that fall close to the tree decide to just fvck eachother...

      February 7, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • Free from the BS

      no cynthia, the wisconsin synod is worst, even more conservative. i used to be missouri synod, a pastor in fact, and left the church years ago. i know of a wisconsin synod pastor whose niece got married. he and another of her uncles were pastors, and she asked them to do her wedding together. he did so, and he was almost ex-communicated for the same reasoning as this story. praise jeebus! lol.

      February 13, 2013 at 10:52 am |
  3. John Stefanyszyn

    But The Lutheran Council does respect the human rights of all Christians denominations, Muslims, and all religions saying this “includes the freedom of religion—to be able to worship in safety without fear, and to be able to build houses of worship.”
    ...they believe in freedom of all religions which professes that it is right to be free to worship any god.
    BUT CHRIST said that we are to worship the Lord God and SRVE Him ALONE.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • Steve

      God yes. Religions no!

      February 7, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  4. rock woman

    "I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way.." seems like a passage that should be applied to the synod, which with ideas like this puts obstacles in the way of its own pastors. Morris, after all, was exhibiting a willingness to set aside divisions and conquer obstacles to achieve a greater good. He should not have apologized, nor been asked to.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
  5. Willow

    This man did absolutely nothing wrong. The Christian church needs to do more to build relationships with other religions, and not widen the gap between them.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
  6. Catherine

    Scripture contains nothing that would lead a Christian to believe they can't pray with other believers = even if those believers understand Scripture differently than another Christian might. Violating the law of love is the big thing – not whether or not this pastor should have prayed with others for the families and children lost in this bloodbath.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • bigboxes

      You are so right. Jesus talked about living for God and not for the law. What the synod is quoting is from Paul and needs to be understood in the context of the day. Fundamentalists often cannot see the forest for all the trees.

      February 7, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
  7. BSH

    I thought Jesus taught reaching out to people in need, and bringing God's healing to them. Is that not what LCMS stands for? Or are they a cloistered sect that is inwardly focused?

    I wish the article made it clear that the LCMS is a small Lutheran sect that is very, very different from the much larger and mostly liberal ELCA.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • cm

      Yes, thank you for mentioning this, I too was wishing that they had differentiated between the ELCA and this group. I am a Lutheran (ELCA) and my church would never carry on this crazy stuff.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • trebor delk

      yup small and getting smaller the people of Hot Springs hope that soon they will close their school and get on with life . Too strange for South Dakota

      February 8, 2013 at 3:38 am |
  8. craig

    In the movie Angels and Demons, a cardinal observes "Religion is flawed...because man is flawed." Yup, he's right.

    While the Official Rules of this church say this man did something wrong, I'm quite certain Jesus wouldn't have given it a second thought. Too bad religion founded by Jesus pays so little attention to the lessons he tried to teach. Maybe that's part of the reason so many people have no use for the "church."

    February 7, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • bobk52

      I could use a church cos I poor & cold & need sammach!

      February 7, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
  9. Surthurfurd

    Is the Lutheran Church dreaming of the "good old days" of the Reformation Wars?

    February 7, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
  10. brandon

    I dont get it. What he do wrong?

    February 7, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • Sly

      This religions beliefs are that you can only hang out with people from the same religion, or God gets mad.

      And we mock the Muslims.

      Ho ho ho ... I really like that each of the several hundred religions in the world are right, and all the other several hundred are wrong. Best of all, it's true for all of them, so they are all right ... and apparentely all wrong.

      Ok, I guess I'm confused as well.

      February 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • sixin

      Same here. Confused..

      February 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot


      It seems that he broke the clubhouse rulez. Associating with other clubhousez is not permitted by Lutheran clubhousez, lest people think that the rulez of the others are thereby being endorsed.

      February 7, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  11. Ryan

    Jesus was FURIOUS that this pastor was praying among other clergy with different colored vestments.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  12. Sly

    Ho ho ho ... it must be very sad to be religious.

    So many really stupid rules about rather uneducated beliefs in the first place.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  13. Jack F

    It's no wonder so many people say they are spiritual but not religious. Why do the Christian churches that practice "exclusivity" (anti-gay, anti-ordination of women, anti other denominations) get all the press when Jesus practiced "inclusivity"? We're not all that way, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). When any religious group thinks they have the full understanding of God, it is likethey are trying to put the ocean in a tea cup. God is soooo much vaster than any of our denominations. The mark of authentic spirituality is not correct doctrine. Rather it is in the words of Jesus–How have you born fruit? Do you seek peace and justice? Are you loving? Are you kind? Are you non judgmental?

    February 7, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
    • Bob

      Do you preach repentance because the kingdom of God is at hand?

      February 7, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
  14. TimR

    And God looks down on this "controversy", and weeps. The prayers and anguish of ALL those who lost loved ones in the shooting are honored by God with profound promises of comfort and consolation, regardless of their personal theological perspective. And the rediculous notion that anyone can stand in judgment over someone else's heart-felt belief, and label it as "false", refusing to join in seeking God's comfort for ALL who suffered loss, is the height of arrogance and hypocrisy. Romans 16:17 is directed at those who cause "divisions and offenses". I think Paul would put Pastor Harrison in the group that we need to "keep and eye on" because he is dividing God's children from one another.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
    • bobk52

      As my god & I gently weep!

      February 7, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
  15. vueltzen

    I am a born and raised member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod who, personally was a bit offended by someone referring to any portion of my denomination as "craziness masquerading as Christianity" We believe wholeheartedly that Jesus came to earth, lived a sinless life, and died and rose to achieve our salvation. It is only by his sacrifice we are saved, not anything that we can do to earn it. If that's not Christianity, I'd like to know what is. That being said, I know I am going counter-synod here, but I interpret Romans 16:7 referenced in the article to mean that those who are weak in their faith should avoid those who would pull them away. I would assume that a pastor is strong enough in his faith, and convinced firmly enough in his beliefs as to be salt and light in a dark world and to, in his words, provide "community chaplaincy" in this devastated community, including a family from his congregation. I think President Harrison's determination that this was an inter-faith worship was off base. This was a community of people coming to offer prayers on behalf of a grieving community. As a somewhat conservative Lutheran, do I believe that all participants were praying to a god who exists, hears, and works in this world? No. Allah will not comfort these people, he is not the one, true, living God. Those prayers are empty, unfortunately. Do I believe that all representatives of Christian denominations (Catholic and Protestant alike) offered prayers that will be heard and answered by the God who created them, redeemed them, and keeps them today. Absolutely!! If we avoid these opportunities all together, than Lutheranism continues to be a "closed door" denomination that serves itself rather than the church at large. I think that is so counter to Matthew 28:20 that it makes me a bit nauseous. OK, soap box over.

    February 7, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • vueltzen

      Pardon me, Romans 16:17 ( I had the reference wrong). I also wanted to add that my response to this article is strictly my opinion and my beliefs based on what Scripture has taught me. I am firmly rooted in my faith, and do not intend to offend those of non-Christian denominations, but I must speak what I feel to be right

      February 7, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • Thunk

      There is not the slightest evidence anywhere in the universe that your god exists. Not a shred, not a hint. Nothing.

      So let me guess: you believe because mommy and daddy drummed it into your head, totally immersed you in it until you cannot do anything but obey.

      It's called "indoctrination", and if done intensely enough, it's called "brainwashing."

      February 7, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • Hunter

      That's not craziness masquerading as anything. It's just craziness. Now I've got a blizzard to prepare for. Apparently, the gods are displeased at the gays again. I guess we didn't toss in enough virgins in the volcano or something. So he's sending a monster blizzard or releasing the Kraken or something.

      February 7, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • brandon

      Mr Thunk(lol),

      I agree, if done intensely enough, it is brainwashing. But if done right, its enlightment.

      February 7, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • GB

      Try to get a clue – If you could prove God exists it would be scientific fact. Having faith means you believe in something when there isn't a logical argument supporting it. And I believe the bible is pretty clear about the folly of man trying to understand the intention of God. None of this proves God exists or does not, just that some people don't even have a rudimentary understanding of what they're poking fun at.

      February 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • Odds

      You're right. To call your beliefs "craziness" was offensive. Although not nearly as offensive as claiming that yours is the one true God and that another religion's prayers are empty and will never be answered. I know that's what you believe, but that doesn't give you a pass. You can believe what you like, but remember that others will believe what they like about you and your beliefs. Deal with it. It shouldn't be a problem for a person to whom only God's judgment matters, right?

      I almost wish you would be there to feel regret when you discover that the God you've chosen to revolve your entire life around is a fabrication, but I don't wish you that kind of agony. It's irrelevant, in any event, because when you die you won't be around to regret any of the decisions you've made in life. And that should comfort you, because for all that you're certain that you're correct, there are others who are a mirror of yourself. And while all of you could be (and almost certainly are!) wrong, only one of you at most can possibly be right! The rest, apparently, can go to...

      February 7, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • Vicky

      I am a long standing member of the LCMS church and well aware of their beliefs. However, I am ashamed of the response by our president and not to proud of the paster either for his apology.

      February 7, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • Hello

      Read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill.. There never was a Jesus.... The Roman Flavian myth was created to control the masses the Roman's had concord. The bible was written as a joke book.

      February 8, 2013 at 6:03 am |
    • Miriam

      Sorry, but the Missouri Synod is completely around the bend. I should know, I was raised in it and (because a close relative had been a minister) tried for years to find a LCMO church I fit into...they are becoming increasingly crazy. Finally gave it up.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  16. Jane

    I think the president needs to move around and see how many interfaith events happen every time and not to wait to get a cheap publicity on big events only. Here in Nj we have often and never saw a letter to our paster also I'm a preacher kid grew up in South Africa we have so many of these and not even on tragedy events only but Opening/closing ceremon of many things they have Muslim leaders, SDA, Hindus, buddies etc etc all worship together ....that is why so many young ppl don't go to church anymore...what you believe in your heart is very important that being told this and that... When the economy was high ohhh do not take communion on this domination and that... Now the economy is down, ppl can't afford to drive 30 min to get to church now we receive letters from them ... After the meeting now you are allowed to go on this church and that... Why now, what was wrong then? They are scared many churches to be closed and not abt the faith and this president just looking for a cheap publicity...,

    February 7, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Where in New Jersey does someone have to drive for 30 minutes on a Sunday morning (or Saturday for those so inclined) to get to their nearest local church?

      February 7, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • Hunter

      Apparently, a lot of young people didn't go to school either.

      February 7, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
  17. Almost like

    The various factions of Christianity cannot agree on what the Bible says. They cannot agree on the character of Jesus/god. They cannot agree on what is to be practiced. They cannot agree on what

    Interesting how even the people who most want to follow Christianity cannot figure out and agree on what it is. Everyone thinks they know the true will of God, but they cannot prove it, nor can they prove the others wrong.

    God sure did a lousy job of making his will known. It's almost like there isn't a God, and that Christianity was put together by ancient hillbillies in the Middle East.

    February 7, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • bobk52

      You're almost there- a few more steps & freedom awaits u!

      February 7, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • Hello

      Read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill.

      February 8, 2013 at 6:04 am |
    • Bemused

      As Richard Dawkins said (yeah yeah he's that devil with the british accent):
      Mankind started with gods for every natural event (fire, thunder, fertility, etc), then personified gods who cast the thunder, then unified them down to 10-20 hindu gods, 1 jewish, 1 islamic and 3 christian gods. When you're down to 3 or 1, depending on your interpretation, all you have to do is discard the last one and you're down to ZERO. Ah the relief...

      February 8, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  18. bostontola

    I didn't realize that the Lutheran church was more backward than the average. To forbid joint activities indicates a profound lack of confidence in your own creed. I learned something new today.

    February 7, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Remember this is specifically the Missouri Synod Lutherans.

      February 7, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • huh

      The Missouri Synod has already fallen into irrelevance, or perhaps was never relevant, and this is part of the reason why

      February 7, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • Steve

      Same thing happened to the Lutheran minister who prayed with other religions at 9/11.

      February 7, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
  19. Brogan

    Also, please note that this was a MISSOURI-SYNOD Lutheran Church. Very different from ELCA. They have their own beliefs, rules, laws, restrictions, craziness-masquerading as Christianity, etc.

    February 7, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
    • Russ

      @ Brogan: you said the LCMS is "craziness masquerading as Christianity."
      as a non-Lutheran, the basic distinction seems to come down to this...

      Is the Bible the Word of God?
      LCMS: absolutely!
      ELCA: maybe

      February 7, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
    • huh


      for both it's more like "Is the bible the word of God?"
      "The parts I like are"

      February 7, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  20. mb54

    Whether we think this apology is completely ridiculous or not. Just remember that in judging and ridiculing someone for their beliefs because you believe yours are so much better. You are doing exactly that, which you claim is so wrong.

    February 7, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Odds

      Incorrect. You assume that all beliefs are equal in every way. They are not. For example, the belief that Christ was inclusive and preached love is a belief with only positive impact. The belief that MY God is more real than YOUR God is divisive. Its impact is negative. In fact, its impact on society on a large scale and over long periods of time is demonstrably catastrophic.

      Yet another reason Americans increasingly identify as spiritual, but not religious. They're tired of your nonsense!

      February 7, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
    • mb54

      Incorrect. Anybody who believes in a Certain God believes that their God is more real than a God somebody else believes. Even Atheist have a belief system that they cannot prove which is no different than a religion. You are saying that your beliefs are better than his, isn't that a negative? People are always gonna disagree. If he believes that Jesus is the true God and not some other God he has the right to believe that. As long as he isn't doing anything inmoral. I just find it funny to listen to people judge someone on their "beliefs" because they "know" that their own "beliefs" are MUCH better.

      February 8, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
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