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. midnitemgt

    A interfaith service of compassion and healing is no place for specific religous rules to be adheared to
    shame on the leaders of the Lutheran church for making the pastor feel the need to apologize just for providing a word of comfort and hope.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
  2. Sue Thom


    "Man of God", my anus! What a vile degenerate, a typical Christian who hides his hatefulness behind a sickening facade of piety! That freak should be fired as Lutheran president immediately!!

    February 7, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
  3. Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

    Ahhh – religion! Is there nothing you can't fukk up?

    February 7, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
  4. albert moore

    When will reason trump dogma?
    If only spiritual thoughts and feelings could bring people together and create understanding, mutual caring and bonding rather than being channeled into religious bureaucracies which divide and alienate people.
    These kinds of small-minded, pointless, sanctimonious, self-righteous rules are what make a mockery of religion and its relevance to God.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
  5. Pan3

    Typical Christian hypocrisy! Shame on them!

    February 7, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
  6. ExLutheran

    Grew up in the Lutheran church MO synod. 12 years of parochial school. My pastor was a Nazi when it came to pushing the dogma. This just convinces me I left for all the right reasons.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
  7. greg sevos


    February 7, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
    • ¿¿lol

      Welcome to Christian extremism.

      February 7, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
  8. Chocolate Frosting w/ just a tiny bit of Poop in it...

    Okay, so who wants a cupcake? Anyone?

    I can't understand why no one want's my religion, er, i mean my cupcakes... most of them are really good... and you can barely taste any poop...

    February 7, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • End Religion

      If it's less than $2 I will take one.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
    • End Religion

      truth be told, I made you a cupcake as peace offering. Can we be friends?

      February 7, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
  9. GailScott

    Chastised for offering a prayer? How sickening.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
  10. Observer


    Sorry. Meant to address that to Christians in general.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
  11. jae

    Shame on you, Missouri Synod! You want to know why no one wants to be part of your synod? This is it! I am a Christian first and a Lutheran second! You should be, too. You need to read your Bible. Jesus would NOT approve of you!

    February 7, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
    • Observer


      Read the Bible sometime and try to find the Golden Rule that you might not know about.

      February 7, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
  12. greg arnold

    Right! The foolish Lutherans are the only ones with a passport to heaven!?? I have heard it all now. SO unlike what Christ stood for. I was going to tell the Lutherans that I will see you in Hell, but to get there, I would have to join their church.so, I will refrain.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
  13. vboni

    No apology needed for doing the right thing and showing you care for all.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
  14. Over 30,000 Denominations of Insanity

    Thomas Jefferson (POTUS #3, principle author of the Declaration of Independence)

    Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

    John Adams (POTUS #2, Patriot of the American Revolution)

    I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved – the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! With the rational respect that is due to it, knavish priests have added prostitutions of it, that fill or might fill the blackest and bloodiest pages of human history.

    James Madison (POTUS #4, chief architect of the U.S. Constitution & the Bill of Rights)

    During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

    Thomas Paine (Patriot of the American Revolution)

    I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
  15. denis

    religious earthlings brains have all been deprived of too much melotonin but this will change soon

    February 7, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
  16. Patrish

    Don't you just love religion? Such narrow, petty, bigots people. No wonder, I lost interest in church and religion a long time ago.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • Pan3

      AMEN! – pun intended...

      February 7, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
  17. MysteriaKiito

    This is why I dislike associating myself with any organized religion. While I believe, I can't follow any of these churches because they tend to over react. This for example. They take something that was nice and well meaning in a time of heart ache, make it about them and b**** about it!

    February 7, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • Gary

      Well said & I totally agree

      February 7, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
  18. Gdawg

    Wow... and we think Taliban are loonies... or the fundamentalist Mormons... these Missouri folks rank right up there... and rank in this case can be taken in the context of something malodorous...

    February 7, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
  19. volsocal

    If I were the pastor, after exercising my First Amendment rights to President Synod, I probably wouldn't be a Lutheran anymore.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
  20. Mike

    I was a member of the LCMS for 50 years. Thankfully I saw the light and ran the other way. Nothing but a bunch of hypicritical, self rightous, religious bigots. If you ever think about going to a Lutheran church, make sure it's an ELCA congregation and not WELC or LCMS. Better yet, avoid all religions that don't preach the LOVE and acceptance that Jeasus spoke of and practiced.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • greg arnold

      Right on, Mke! Thank you.

      February 7, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
    • YeahBut

      Jesus also taught and stressed non-judgement. Oh, the irony...

      February 7, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
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About this blog

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.