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. That's why I no longer attend church

    Raised in a major Christian denomination, I no longer endorse any organized church and will not participate or support one in any way. This news story goes to the heart of the problem, and I can't help wondering "What Would Jesus Do" in this situation. Surely he wouldn't take the position of the Missouri Synod.

    Christianity sounds like a wonderful idea. Maybe someday people will try it.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • TANK!!!!

      Believe some crazy story about god forcibly impregnating some girl so that the child could grow up to be hung on a tree,( which in turn is necessary because god apparently can't forgive human sin without seeing his own son tortured and killed) or roast in a burning lake forever no matter what good deeds you do.

      Christianity is nonsense any way you look at it

      February 7, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  2. Mike

    I wonder if the Lutheran "leadership" realizes this sort of thing makes them appear to be unfeeling, uncaring, bigots. "What would Jesus do?" Probably -not- chastise his ministers for supporting people in time of crisis regardless of their personal beliefs.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
  3. nobikiniatoll

    So much blood has been shed by the Church because of an omission from the Gospel:
    Ye shall be indifferent as to what your neighbor's religion is. Not merely tolerant of it,
    but indifferent to it. Divinity is claimed for many religions; but no religion is great enough
    or divine enough to add that new law to its code. - Mark Twain

    February 7, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  4. rational minnesota

    What Harrison should have said (using a segment of his comment):

    In an event like this,
    "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."

    That would have been much more fitting. We – all of us – have many more commonalities than differences. Imagine how the world would be if people could only realize and embrace that.

    But who am I kidding. Religion will never allow that. We have to be divisive and hateful to show our love for a god who probably doesn't exist and that we most certainly can't agree upon.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
  5. Dr. Rick Stoppe

    Insanity reigns similar to your firing of all your intelligent seminary professors some years ago. I had conversations with some of these good men who were honest with facts and evidence.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
  6. Granny

    This is just the ultra conservative Missouri Synod. Most Lutherans are "allowed" to participate in all kinds of inter-faith services. Maybe the Missourians have a different god – I don't know. The God I worship isn't afraid of "false teaching," and His Son, Jesus Christ, gave us two commandments, the second of which tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. I'm pretty sure that the people of Newtown qualify for that love.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
  7. bostontola

    The genius of christianity at it's birth was to be completely inclusive. As it grew, it took on pagan rituals to be more inviting. Interesting that this sect has gone back to be more like the jewish progenitors with exclusivity.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:48 pm |

    seriously, that's the problem with religion and why it is the root cause of most violence in the world......

    February 7, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
  9. SkipF

    After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011...
    How soon we forget a simple date.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
  10. Jeff Orlando

    This type of ignorance drove me to embrace agnosticism.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
  11. Randy

    I certainly understand the principle. Why should a Bible-believing Christian lend endorsement to false teachings by participating in one of these hokey multi-faith ceremonies?

    February 7, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • 4qu1n45

      Because you're equally hokey. More so, because you think you aren't.

      February 7, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Bet

      I completely agree. Most thinking people certainly prefer that you religious nut bags keep to yourselves as well.

      February 7, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • independant jim

      the lutheran missouri synod is the same christian church that endorsed a mormon for president ..the leadership must believe that mormons are more christian than any democrat no matter what the democrat says his faith is... I believe that had Obama not been present this far right SO called Church would have never raised the issue.. .

      February 7, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
  12. Daremonai

    So... they avoid division by being divisive?

    February 7, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      It's christian logic, no further explanation required.

      February 7, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • YeahBut

      I stopped being blown away by the irony a long time ago.

      February 7, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
  13. Christianity is a form of SEVERE mental illness

    "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."
    But gawds word is perfect, there is no confusion. lol

    February 7, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  14. boyamidumb

    Get a life you religious losers

    February 7, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
  15. lance corporal

    a god would never be so closed minded, these religions and their rules are the making of man.

    no I'm not an atheist but the absolute arrogance to say you can define and codify god is of course absurd.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
  16. Gary

    How ridiculous. Nobody cares about this crap. Too much political correctness. Anybody who would condemn this has got to get a life.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  17. Mindstorms

    Don't you just love religion?

    February 7, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  18. The Other Bob

    Paul was a grumpy old man, and LCMS follows in his pathetic footprints. The leadership must have had a stroke when LCA, AELC, and ALC merged. Or maybe not, since they probably considered them to be heathens anyway.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
  19. jason

    God; yes , Jesus; yes, organized religion; not so much....

    February 7, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
  20. Ken Gross

    So so called Followers of Pacifist Jesus say you can only hang out with fellow Lutherans. Sounds like a crappy bigoted nutjob theology. I am glad I am a Buddhist and I can mingle with all and every faith.

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

      Yep, Christians and Muslims have only themselves to blame for their bad reputations where they say one thing but does another....

      February 7, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
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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.