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. MK

    If you're not suppose to be with those that think differently than you, then how are you supposed to converse and debate teachings and beliefs in order to "win over the sinner"... this whole situation is ludicrous.... as is most organized religion. Get spiritual not religious.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
  2. EatMorReligion

    There is no god. Watch the religious nuts running around pointing fingers at each other. It's all so very silly.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
  3. leonid7

    So your debating my lack of belief in imaginary beings by invoking a reductio ad absurdem impossible hypothetical that uses an imaginary being in an imaginary scenario with imaginary scientists? I think your attempt damages your point more than helps it, as we know Santa is imaginary because we know for a fact he was made up in the first place.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
  4. hungryghost123

    This pastor was reprimanded by his church for praying with people from other religions! So, I guess, Christian teachings like "Love thy neighbour as thyself" (Mark 12:31) or "Judge not lest ye be judged" (Matthew 7:1) are overridden by Jesus's famous edict "Hate those who disagree with you." Oh wait, that last one isn't in the Bible.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
  5. steve9930

    What happened to go out and teach all nations?

    February 7, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
  6. Skeptacular

    Unfortunately, organized religion, in embracing it's expansive belief in a nurturing higher power, tends as a whole, to stigmatize beliefs that differ. While we can find numerous connections between the peoples of different faiths, the history of clashing faiths has shown repeatedly that the human principal tends to hew along substantially narrower corridors. The statements of Lutheran clergy in leadership positions differ not at all from those in similar positions in what is termed the Church of Scientology. Without overlaying my own convictions in this forum, I will simply offer the rejoinder that when Scientologists restrict members' access to pervasive media, I'll wonder about Lutheran doctrine. How does it differ? If it would wish to differ, how might it do so? These are hard questions and I waste no time supposing they are being ignored within the religious heirachies involved, but I still wonder.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
    • Dave

      We in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) would never condone such an admonishment. Not all Lutherans are like this.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
  7. 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 9:08 pm |
    • leonid7

      Of course, because overwhelming evidence exists. Fallacy of false equivalency. We actually have the presidents words in their own handwriting.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
    • mama k

      We probably have all their bodies as well.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
  8. Human

    Ludicrous and pathetic. An example of religion definitely not being part of the solution.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
  9. Jeff

    Write to his synod at http://www.lcms.org/page.aspx?pid=704 and tell him what an ass he is!

    February 7, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
  10. Kansas Slim

    Just another case where one needn't say anything because the action (in this case the Synod) speaks volumes for itself. It reveals its narrow-minded idiocy, thereby destroying its own credibility.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
  11. sue zehner

    Please do not lump all Lutherans into one sect...the missouri synod has long been known for their intolerance. The ELCA, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America is a very loving, inclusive, welcoming and reverant church. The Missouri Synod does not speak for most Lutherans.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
  12. Yeoomala

    Gotta laugh at these religious "folks". Hold beliefs before humanity!

    February 7, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
  13. PDWadler

    It is on these occasions I think, like Gandhi: I like your Jesus, it's those who pretend to follow him I can't stand.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
  14. Lori

    Dr. Kieschnick has a much more informed reaction. He is President emeritus of the Lutheran Church – MO Synod. That the President of the Synod would think anyone would see a prayer vigil as condoning other religious views is ludicrous.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
  15. Proud Atheist

    I have a dream ... that one day ... this great nation of ours will not allow the Babble to influence our legislation and policies. I have a dream ... that one day ... a human will be judged not by the beliefs which they hold regarding a deity, but of their moral character and actions. I have a dream ... that this day of which I speak ... will be a day that I live to see in my lifetime. I have a dream.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
  16. Mike557

    So sad how Christian religions have become so anti-Christ-like.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
    • ibarnett64

      I couldn't agree more with you!

      February 7, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
    • Dental Hygenists Gone Wild!!!!

      It's fun to imagine you know better than anyone else, isn't it? That's the fun of imaginary friends.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
  17. vinster76

    I am sorry to hear of the rough treatment some of you have undergone.....today I read an article from an openly gay man and his meeting with Dan Cathey of Chick-Fil-A.....I think it was the Huffington Post. I would urge all of you, non-believer and believer to read this article.....Mr. Cathey was an example of the type of christian i aspire to be........I wont belabor you with the details, you can read it for yourself.......but before you classify all christians as intolerant bigots, check out the story for an incredibly wonderful example of christian discipleship, written by the man who once opposed all Mr. Cathey stands for,............

    February 7, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  18. Steve

    This is a perfect example of what is wrong with many of the so-called "religious" people.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
  19. Julie

    I grew up in the Missouri Synod Lutheran church and was told in my 20's that I was no longer welcome to take communion in the church that I was baptised and confirmed in because I had taken communion in a Lutheran church of another synod. The response of the church to this pastor's actions does not surprise me after the manner in which I was basically kicked out.

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

      They did you a favor.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • Julie

      Agreed. I have become a Buddhist and give credit to my former pastor in leading me to this path.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
    • Andrews

      Good choice. Though atheist myself, I find the Buddhists have the most humane philosophical underpinnings, much better than Middle Eastern religions. And they tend to be easier to get along with.

      February 7, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
  20. DamnUfools

    If Pastor Rob Morris were a true Christian he would tell Dictator Harris to shove it where the sun doesn't shine. I now have a better understanding of my mothers religious insanity over the past 30 yrs... she is LCMS & I truly can not believe the ignorant, narrow minded & bigoted person she has become since joining them.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:30 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.