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
[twitter-follow screen_name='DanMericaCNN']

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. Mark Peterson

    The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has turned in on itself, perverting the Christian core message of unconditional love. God help them. They obviously can't help themselves. They really don't have a clue about the character of grace. Or, of Jesus' ministry. I do believe that this behavior of a so-called mainline Christian denomination is one of the presenting reasons for the increase in the number of "nones" in the U.S. Too bad. Really too bad. Harrison gives such a bad name to Christian.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • Really now

      Unconditional love? Sorry, bub, but God/Jesus have a hell of a lot of conditions, and intend to torture you forever if you don't obey.

      That is the opposite of unconditional.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • actual reader of the Bible

      @Really Now – Only if you interpret it a certain way – the way that the loudest Christians in America like to interpret it, yes.

      February 8, 2013 at 3:20 am |
    • Check

      We can tell so much about a person's character by how he says his fantasy god behaves (without a scintilla of verification for any of it).

      February 8, 2013 at 3:29 am |
  2. Chris

    "After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011..."

    I think they are off by a decade on that. Someone edit?

    February 7, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    • Travis Bickle

      In keeping with their religious beliefs, the Belief Blog uses invisible editors in the sky to check the articles. The results speak for themselves.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
  3. Susan

    Do not lump ALL of us Lutherans together with the LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod).

    February 7, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
    • Dan

      I am not a Lutheran, but I have had the pleasure of working closely with our local Lutheran Church when they created a home for the orphans of the Sudanese genocide. The Lutherans I have met were among the finest and most inclusive people I have met. The LCMS is not the Lutheran community I know.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
  4. Lifehiker

    Be a Christian in spirit; just avoid the organized religions that don't have it, which is most of them, especially this Lutheran exclusivist cult.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
    • mama k

      If you want to stay Lutheran and sane, check out the ELCA; then there won't even be a fuss when gay marriage is all over the place as they already perform them! Get inclusive and tolerant people!

      February 7, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
    • Kenneth

      You cannot be free of organized religion and be a Christian (or any other specific religion). The Christianity IS the organization. It organizes what you believe, and how, whether you go to a building or not.

      I find it so interesting that even religious people try to dissociate themselves from religion to some degree. Says a lot, actually.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  5. Wes Scott

    This Harrison guy is anything BUT the fine example of Christianity to which I want to aspire! Rob Morris should have told him to take it up with god and stood by his convictions. It never ceases to amaze me how otherwise moral and upright men will cede their ethics and morals to be a part of some religious order that uses hate and ignorance as its cornerstone.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
    • Over 30,000 denominations of insanity

      "the fine example of Christianity"

      that's the problem – no such thing. It might help to start being honest about that.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
    • Limping Bob Moosemilker

      I haven't found any religions that DON'T use hate and ignorance as their cornerstones.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
  6. chsA

    I now see that MOST Atheists don't really have a problem with God or Jesus Christ. It's organized religion that their really opposed to. I'm familiar with the passage in the Bible that says not to mix faiths. And I completely agree with it. But at the same time, Jesus spent the most time with the hurting and unrighteous.

    I don't see anything wrong with praying for the children and other people killed. As long as, he's not worshipping with them. There shouldn't be a problem.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
    • Over 30,000 denominations of insanity

      "I now see that MOST Atheists don't really have a problem with God or Jesus Christ. It's organized religion that their really opposed to."

      well that's the ticket for me, as an agnostic atheist

      –mama k

      February 7, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Without meaning to speak for anyone else, atheists don't have a problem with gods or jesus because we don't believe they exist. We have a problem with religion and believers when they bring their silliness into the public forum or expect special dispensation because they are members of some cult following unsupported myths.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
    • chsA

      I've talked with a couple atheists, and at the end of the discussion I've always realized that they don't truly believe that God doesn't exist. It's more that they don't want to believe he does. They want to be completely autonomous, and the idea of God stands in the way of this desire.

      Because for you to truly believe there is no God. You have to accept other things as fact as well. And those "other things" are a whole lot more difficult then "believing something came from nothing"... That's easy.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      I'm sure you intended to make some point somewhere in the middle of all that, chsA, but sorry, you didn't pull it off. Care to try again?

      February 7, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • chsA

      Sure Moby Schtick.

      If you don't believe in God, then why?

      February 7, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      I have no opinion about god's existence one way or the other. Perhaps one does; however, none of the ones described to me so far make one bit of sense, so I'd have to become stupid in some way to believe in any of them. When I am convinced of some being's existence, I believe it exists.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
    • leonid7

      Rather like Santa Claus: I simply have no reason to believe he exists but I don't have to prove he doesn't for peace of mind. And as far as it being hard to believe that everything came from nothing, maybe it is for many, but then again they have to make up imaginary beings that created everything to explain it, which I find even more unbelievable without any shred of evidence. It seems conceivable that since we as a species cannot imagine anything outside of spacetime, we really don't know what "nothing" actually means in this case.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
    • chsA

      Ok fair enough. So would it be safe to assume that your the type of person who needs evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt", before you accept something as fact?

      February 7, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • leonid7

      That would be the definition of a fact, after all.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
    • chsA

      @ leonid7
      The Santa Claus analogy seems like a good comparison at the surface, but when you look closer it's really not.

      Because you say you don't believe in Santa Claus, but if a group of highly educated people sweared that he existed, and then you woke up with presents under your tree, and you knew that nobody in your house put them there, you might start to second guess your first assumption. No?

      February 7, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
    • chsA

      True. I'm just making sure I'm not blindly assuming anything about your viewpoints.

      So do you believe Abraham Lincoln existed, or any of the first 20 presidents?

      February 7, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      No. In fact most of my beliefs are held with very little evidence; some with nothing more than hope. I would be foolish to demand "irrefutable evidence" before I believed something. Who claims to do that stupid sh!t?

      February 7, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
    • mama k

      We have Lincoln's body. That helps.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
    • chsA

      Judging by your sarcasm, I think you see that our beliefs really aren't just based on hope supported by "very little evidence".

      Because obviously you believe that Abraham Lincoln and the first 20 presidents existed, even though you've never seen them or heard them. And there's a lot more evidence to support the existence of Jesus Christ and God than them.

      I have no intentions of trying to make you believe that God exists. I only wanted to show you that your beliefs really aren't based on any "evidence" or "fact". They just ignore both.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
    • chsA

      @mama k

      Have you seen it?

      February 7, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
    • leonid7

      chsA, it's really hard to take you seriously when you say things like that, which are so logically and factually flawed. The evidence of the presidents existence through contemporary sources and physical evidence (including genetic) far exceeds the evidence of the existence of Christ, of whom there is only one historically confirmed mention by a contemporary.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
    • leonid7

      Unless of course you think it was some grand conspiracy to construct family trees that match DNA testing exactly even before it existed.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
    • chsA

      Yes I was being slightly facetious, and I can't speak to any supposed "DNA" evidence of Lincoln, but my point is still the same.

      You've never seen Abraham Lincoln, never spoke to him, and never heard his voice. You've only seen things written about him, by him, or maybe even clothing that someone claimed he wore. This is true for other historical figures like napoleon or Caesar. Yet you undoubtedly believe they existed.

      And your wrong when it comes to Jesus. because not one serious historian believes that he didn't exist. Why? Because we have thousands of things written about him. From Christians, Atheists, and everyone in between. We have more things written about Jesus than any other ancient work in history! And that is a FACT. So the only dispute comes down to

      "is he who he said he was?"

      February 7, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • leonid7

      There actually ZERO original copies of the writings from the time of Jesus, only one that was confirmed as being written at the time of Jesus (Josephus) in the first place. All the evidence we have, save for that one, came after Jesus' death. There are scholars who do dispute his existence, though the majority do believe he was real. However, there is still a great deal of debate regarding the books of the New Testament, involving authorship and historical accuracy, but not about when they were authored initially. The current books of the New Testament weren't even compiled until the 4th century. There are many works about Santa as well as Jesus. But not by people who met him, or by his own hand, nor was there anyone snapping photos, nor is there irrefutable genetic proof of his lineage. In other words, you may want to redefine what you consider to be evidence.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • leonid7

      So I'd say there is a vastly greater amount of evidence for the presidents than for Jesus.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
    • chsA

      Your saying we have actual photographs of George Washington. Really? Surprising since the first camera wasn't invented then.

      Anyways your getting off topic. You just agreed that most scholars believe Jesus was real. They're as sure of it as any other major historical figure. I'm not trying to debate the accuracy of the gospels because thats a whole different subject. (Even though I 100% believe in their accuracy. Based off "evidence" not just faith)

      There's obvious reasons why Jesus wouldn't write of himself. And it's even more obvious why somebody wouldn't write about him why he was alive. Paper was very expensive back then, and most people didn't know how to write. It also doesn't make sense to write about a persons life while he's still preaching in front of you. But back to the topic at hand:

      Jesus was real and he did die. Where as sure of that as we can be. The question then is; "was he who he said he was?"

      The answer: Either he was who he said he was, or he was crazy. And so where his disciples who all (with the exception of one) died horrible deaths because they believed in him. And these men weren't stupid. I would be willing to bet that Paul and John where more intelligent than you or me. They obviously believed in all the miracles he did. An even non believers agree that he did them. But they wrote things like "It was witchcraft" (and thats quoted from the Bible).

      Also wether you agree with the Bible or not. You can't deny that his life was prophesied 100's of years before his birth. And that it was depicted in vivid detail how he would die, what he would preach, and how people would receive him.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
    • chsA

      (And thats *NOT quoted from the Bible)

      February 7, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
    • chsA

      Obviously theres more to this than assuming there's 2 billion crazy christians who all pray to the air, and have no basis for their faith.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
    • Tommy

      It makes much more sense to me to believe that Jesus was just a preacher who was executed by the Romans, and that after his death his followers embellished stories about his life to make him look like the messiah. Having heard the prophecies concerning the coming of the messiah they were easily able to make it look like Jesus fulfilled them.

      February 8, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
  7. doug

    This action by the leadership of LCMS was very much in keeping with their beliefs. However, there are many different churches that dissagree with them. For some of the writters here to say that this is representative of all christianity is foolish and not correct. No point can be proven about all faith by this one example. What is being said is akin to saying "I saw one white horse and there for all horses are white."

    February 7, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
    • Over 30,000 denominations of insanity

      Uhh right – just keep fooling yourself....

      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.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  8. Larry Mandrell

    The Word who became Flesh, "a clear case of trying to remove a speck in the eye of our Neighbor when we ourselfs are blinded by the dirt in our own heart".

    February 7, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
  9. joe

    Romans 16:17 in modern English: "Now that we've got you brain washed, we don't want you talking to anyone else."

    February 7, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
  10. Miriam

    Wow, He is not a Christian.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • mama k

      Every other Christian thinks that every other Christian is not a Christian. Conflict built right in from the ground up.

      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.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
  11. dennis heath

    I have been a Lutheran Pastor, in my past, and I find the Lutheran Churdch Mo. Synod need to take a closer look at what they believe. I find their out look and behaviors on the Newtown event to be a disgrace.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
    • Dana Trom, Russ Melby, and Bill Koslofsky

      You rock. Remember us from Peace Lutheran?

      August 22, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  12. lulz

    Ah yes, religion, even when there is a tragedy they still bicker about if it is ok to offer some comfort to people. Now I think religion is for weak minded folk, but wow, those lutherans are idiots.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  13. GTA

    So, the Lutheran leadership is more concerned about their own rules than they are about bringing comfort to a community.
    That's an odd brand of Christianity.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  14. Reggie from LA

    Let's no longer wonder why so many young people are so often uninterested in church and religion. While so many zealots profess to know God or His son Jesus, quite frankly their behaviors are ridiculously contra to biblical teachings. Pastors and priests and other leaders tend to "own" their religions and their congregations, herding them into intimidated enslavement and separating them from God. Seems God and Jesus get in the way of their agendas. When believers try to expand their relationships with God by reaching out to others, they are often reigned in by these vampire doctrines that have managed to morph biblical teachings into preacher's preferred programs. It ain't the heathens that are turning the world upside down, it's the profits that aren't giving people a place of God to turn to. Did I spell prophits correctly? Yeah, I think I did.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
    • edweird69

      It's spelled Prophets.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
  15. joe

    What a bunch of self righteous bigots. They have discovered the one and only magic "way" and everyone else is so "wrong" you can't even pray with them?

    February 7, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • wo

      When I saw what a real christian is like, I worship my toad. It's more human.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
  16. NotHappy

    So, in the eyes of Lutherans, it is better to IGNORE the suffering of a community than to share the stage with others?

    February 7, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
  17. edweird69

    A little late to be praying for the Newtown victims now. As usual, the Xtian god was asleep on the job that fateful day. Why don't Xtians pray in cemetaries?

    February 7, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
    • chsA

      What is a Xian??? I've never heard that before.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
    • edweird69

      An "Xtian"... I take the "Christ" out of the word Christian. Kinda like Xmas.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • chsA

      Why? Why not just say Christian, so people at least know what your talking about?

      February 7, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
    • mama k

      Shorthand, chsA, that's all. Just to save typing.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
    • Julie

      FYI – The "X" used in X-mas that so many people equate with "taking the Christ out of Christmas" is actually based on an early Christian symbol and was first used by Christians in abbreviating Christmas.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
    • corrections department

      you sort of didn't take the christ out of christian. X is the greek letter standing for the sound CH, which has often used to represent the word Christ. is why people put merry x-mas....its because it means christmas

      February 7, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • chsA

      I don't have a problem with them taking "Christ" out of Christmas. Infact I prefer it because X-mas is based off a pagan holiday. It has nothing to do with Jesus Christ at all. It's just manufactured to look that way. All you have to do is take a quick look at history to see this is true.

      That being said, I still enjoy the holiday seasons and people are still a lot more open to hear about Jesus on X-mas, so I guess it's still good in that respect.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
  18. Common Sense Blogger

    Wow, I grew up Roman Catholic and I still believe but to take ANY belief to the point that you persecute another human for doing something kind is just too much. How can you live with so much hate? I would not have apologized. The same goes for politics; it is fine to disagree but this proliferation of outright hate for fellow Americans is sad and has the teeth to destroy...

    February 7, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
  19. Tinsley Stewart

    That borders on insane

    February 7, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
  20. midnitemgt

    Mr Harrison has no compassion and is a poor excuse for a man of the cloth.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
    • Over 30,000 denominations of insanity

      but then which kind is ?. . .

      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 8:00 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.