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. Jeff

    Gen 1:27 "So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."

    I think more plausible that human beings created God in their own image...

    February 7, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
  2. albert

    "Participation could be seen as endorsing "false teaching" What pure and utter hypocrisy. The Lutheran church celebrates Easter, Christmas, teaches about eternal torment, uses idols. All of which are "False Teachings"

    February 7, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
  3. Charles Stensrud

    As a member of a Missouri Synod affiliated church, I fully disagree with the position of the synod. Once again, we have man bending the bible to his own distorted and judgmental delusions. This however is nothing new in the history of the synod, and fortunately there are many synod affiliated churches that maintain independent views and act on God's loving message to reach out to others. Jesus didn't tolerate cliques or cults.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      So you will be advocating Harrison's removal and an apology to Morris, the other cuts and the people of Newtown?

      February 7, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
    • TX Lutheran

      As a Missouri Synod Lutheran, I find this article embarrassing and I think it reflects an almost 50/50 split in our denomination of people who side with Harrison and those like me who think Harrison's criticism is completely unfounded and actually is counter to the Christian ideals of spreading the good news of salvation to everyone.

      I'm definitely in the camp of those who think that Harrison needs to lose his job at the next convention.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:58 pm |
  4. Liveandletlive

    This is why religion is on its way out. Good riddance!

    February 7, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
  5. Mack

    So a pastor goes and "performs" at a ceremony for a very, very important purpose after a very, very devastating national tragedy and then has to apologize because his church doesn't permit interfaith worship? I knew worship itself was a totally delusional waste of time, but this is the kicker. Wow. There's so much meaningful, important work to be done with the time/effort sink we call religion.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
  6. Brian

    I quit going to church long ago so I don't have to listen to these mindless ministers.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
  7. Wallstreetcrime

    Utter manure. This is the Lutherans saying other religions are inferior to theirs.

    They've just reinforced my belief to never believe a single thing any church has to say.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      They can't all be right. But they can all be wrong.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
  8. Clarke


    February 7, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
  9. erivera63

    I am not very religious so I honesty don't know, but don't they all pray to the same God?

    February 7, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
    • mama k

      It depends on whether, at the moment, they happen to be spreading love or war.

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

    If this isn't the definition of 'blind sectarianism' then I wonder what is...

    February 7, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
  11. Nicholas

    Well the Lutheran leadership certainly gives us a different version of Christian love don't they? Just another example of religion being used to deepen the worlds divisions and justify prejudice.
    Rev Morris deserved praise not censorship but his leadership are still living in the 18th century.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
  12. Blessed are the Cheesemakers

    More proof that christianity is devisive, not inclusive.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
  13. pazke

    I find this very disappointing. I had always found the Lutheran church to be one of the less offensive denominations. Apparently, this is not the case, at least with the Missouri Synod.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      In this case it is specifically the Missouri Synod.

      Lutheranism started in Germany – not Missouri. This is a homegrown Midwestern wacky sect.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
    • Todd

      Missouri Synod is more like a cult; an extremist, xenophobic, insular, incestuous bunch of morons... The Lutheran Church , ECLA is not any better than the average Protestant denominations, but the Missouri Synod is far worse than ordinary... absolutely insane, psycho... cult-like... closed off, hostile and strange... I DESPISE their "religion"! I spit on it, I execrate it, I castigate it, I call it anathema!

      February 7, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
  14. Elliot Carlin

    I can appreciate the Synod's position on this issue, wanting to keep their doctinal practices as orthodox as possible. On the other hand, if their pastor prayed in the name of Christ and was a witness, seems no harm no foul. If some present are offended by the Truth, the pastor has done his job in maintaining his loyalty to Christ.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
    • I prefer George Carlin


      February 7, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
  15. tony

    Wow! Nobody using 2Timothy3:16 using scriptures to teach, reprove and set matters straight w/their personal arguments!! No wonder they are in confusion not knowing the way out. (Luke 21:25) Chrst & the apostles used the scriptures to help their critics & humble people reach God's view on ALL things, not hearsay or personal intertpretations. He still knocking at your door b-4 the end comes!! (Matthew 24:14) Your choice!!!

    February 7, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
    • bobk52

      Ahhhh I love the smell of napalm in the evening! Finally God & his minions are on the run praise the humans & pass the pizza!

      February 7, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
    • Terry

      tony: Pascal's Wager. Google it and stop bothering us.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
  16. mike

    This is the reason non denomiination churches are becoming popular.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
  17. Barbara J. Ruhe

    Missouri Synod is not representative of the greater Lutheran Church either in the United States or the rest of the world. They are a cult.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  18. evinAR

    What a ridiculous but typical apology – that of a religious leader who is condemned to listen to others' beliefs. Is this petty religious sin really the lesson we should be taking away from gathering after such a tragedy? "Ooh, we better not gather all in one place, and don't participate, because the other people are WRONG!"

    Shameful behavior. I would not only not have apologized – I would have given serious thought to the moral priorities of the religion.

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


      *condemned NOT to listen

      February 7, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  19. Susan

    Really.....Romans 16:17? AND which religious views were stated to stay away from? Old Testement, New Testement both say Love your brother........BUT "stay away from him????????? I just can not picture God sitting in the heavens keeping tabs on who mingled with a person outside their own faith. Do you think he has nothing else to do? Religion is the invention of man. Interpretation of the teachings of the Bible are also a in the hands of man. How can you read one part of the Bible one way then choose another verse disclaiming the first? This type of Hypocracy is pulling us away from any religion. "My way is right, and your wrong" "I am going to heaven but because you believe something different you arn't welcome there". I hope when my time comes I can honestly answer that I believed in God based on my faith, and not based on another HUMAN's opinion. Pray for the children of Newtown, not just the ones who belong to your own faith. Pray WITH those who grieve as you do. Don't ask for their ID card.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
  20. Bhawk

    Ahh=== the problem with dealing with the only true religion. This is an example of why religions should not be given special exemptions on taxes , Obama care, or another thing. My religion says I should only follow the directions of God and all those traffic signs and paint mean nothing. I like the left side of the road–don't violate my religion.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • Elliot Carlin

      so you also think unions shouldn't get a pass on ObamaCare either, right? Right.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • pazke

      I think no one should get a pass on the Affordable Care Act. After all, the whole point is for everyone to have healthcare coverage.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:21 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.