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. ahemahem

    Where's Lennon when you need him?

    February 7, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
  2. Jeffision

    How ugly. Envision a post-religious era.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
  3. YBP

    Religion really is venom.

    I vote for more science and reason, and less hocus and pocus.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
  4. Not Me

    Was it the lutheran god or some other god that "allowed" this to happen ?

    February 7, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
  5. mstone

    I have had run-ins with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod before, all of them unpleasant. Parents with children, please beware, this "church" (LCMS) has schools all over the United States. Don't let them indoctrinate your children with this kind of nonsense. Be very careful to not let your children into this cult!

    February 7, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
    • Puzzled in Peoria

      LCMS is not a cult. I belong to a LCMS church and do not see any of the problems you cite. Just because LCMS is too conservative for your tastes, it is not brainwashing anyone.

      Your stereotyping is as repulsive as racism. One of the biggest offenses in today's America, it seems, is to worship Jesus Christ and use his name in a respectful way. People are free to choose whatever religion they want in the U.S. The LCMS doesn't force anyone to do anything.

      February 7, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Get a dictionary – all religions are cults. Deal with it, or leave your cult.

      February 7, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
  6. Joni

    And it's crap like this that have me running far and wide away from organized religion. That vigil was lovely and that leaders of all faiths were there to participate was heart warming. Pastor Morris had NOTHING to apologize for, nor did the NYC pastor who participated after 9/11.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
  7. Viper

    So I clicked on the article, expecting to read that this Pastor said something stupidly offensive that he needed to apologize for, such as, "God punished the people of Newtown because they do not accept Jesus as their savior".

    Then I come to find out that he's apologizing because he was praying with a bunch of people who have different faiths! WHAT?? What is wrong with these people??

    Even when they try to do something right, they find a way to f–k it up and make it wrong. There is no hope for Christians. They're all worthless.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
    • Mom

      Yep. This is why we can't have nice things, kids...

      February 7, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
  8. S1N

    Disclaimer: I am a "devout" atheist. That being said, it seems absurd to force a pastor to give a public apology for offering a prayer for a group of slain children, especially when that group includes a member of his own congregation. This is idiocy.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
    • S1N

      Edit: I am aware that he participated in an interfaith vigil. Still, the fact that he is unable to express his sympathies because other religious leaders are present is absurd.

      February 7, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
  9. SharedCompassion

    This is more about compassion for people than some belief in a church or teaching. This coordination of efforts for understanding and support at Newtown, CT was wise and correct by all in helping bring unity to a town devastated by the horrendous killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

    Human suffering can bridge all people to action.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
  10. ranlo

    John 13:34-35
    “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
    Apparently, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod doesn't have this verse in their Bibles?

    February 7, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
  11. popseal

    43 years a Christian counselor, pastor, missionary,and chaplain have taught me to never trust religious bureaucrats, ignorant masses, or sorry politicians. They were complicitous in the crucifixion of Christ. I never did fit in well with the mainsream templates for Christian faith...I wonder why?

    February 7, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Wasn't their complicity part of the plan?

      February 7, 2013 at 11:31 pm |
  12. DD

    Religion is for morons

    February 7, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
    • veritas

      So is bigotry, so what does that make you?

      February 7, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
  13. Jennifer

    Love the tolerance! and brotherhood, and compassion.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
  14. Nietodarwin

    “I am now convinced that children should not be subjected to the frightfulness of the Christian religion [...]. If the concept of a father who plots to have his own son put to death is presented to children as beautiful and as worthy of society's admiration, what types of human behavior can be presented to them as reprehensible?”
    _ Ruth Hurmence Green, The Born Again Skeptic's Guide to the Bible

    February 7, 2013 at 10:58 pm |
    • popseal

      No greater love has anyone than to lay down his life for his friends. Christ's death paid a debt He did not owe, because we owe a debt we can not pay. 43 years ago Christ's resurrection life began a change in me that continues today.

      February 7, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
  15. Nietodarwin

    “What I have a problem with is not so much religion or god, but faith. When you say you believe something in your heart and therefore you can act on it, you have completely justified the 9/11 bombers. You have justified Charlie Manson. If it's true for you, why isn't it true for them? Why are you different? If you say "I believe there's an all-powerful force of love in the universe that connects us all, and I have no evidence of that but I believe it in my heart," then it's perfectly okay to believe in your heart that Sharon Tate deserves to die. It's perfectly okay to believe in your heart that you need to fly planes into buildings for Allah.”
    _ Penn Jillette
    (OK this shooting only killed 20 kids and 6 adults, but religion breeds murder. Religion survives the centuries because of murder, not virtue. I can only say this on here because as a non-believer I don't have to worry about being killed for being a non believer, as I would have to without the anonymity of the internet.)

    February 7, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
  16. William Miller

    So man of faith apologized because he participated in a religious ceremony, the purpose of which was to provide comfort to those who suffered great pain and emotional anguish. How dare him!

    February 7, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
  17. 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 10:52 pm |
    • William Miller

      And what does any of this have to do with this particular news story?

      February 7, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
    • ¿¿lol

      "You can't deny that his life was prophesied 100's of years before his birth"

      Many people deny that – even non-atheists, fool. Of course it doesn't help that early Christian apologists were making excuses for the gospel stories looking much like earlier pagan stories by saying "it was as pre-emptive strike by Satan – he planned it all in advance". Right. Okee dokee. wink wink.

      Christians are their own worst enemies sometimes when they start claiming absolutes.

      February 7, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
  18. MarkinFL

    Ahh religion. Love it or hate it. It never ceases to be a source of tension, division and utter hypocrisy.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
  19. Kemi

    I'm a Christian and I believe this church totally took that bible passage out of context.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "If a bible verse furthers the cause, it is to be taken literally. If a bible verse is detrimental to the cause, it is either: taken out of context; is allegorical; refers to another verse somewhere else; is an ancient cultural anomaly; is a translation or copyist's error; means something other than what it actually says; Is a mystery of god or not discernible by humans; or is just plain magic."

      February 7, 2013 at 10:58 pm |
  20. Theresa

    Please do not lump all Missouri Synod Lutherans with just one man. It was his interpretation of the by laws. It saddens me that Harrison could not follow Matthew 18 about dealing with his concern. I personally will be happy and honored to pray for anyone who is in need of it, no matter where I am or what others are doing around me. I know that God asks us to pray unceasingly, and loves each of us deeply. I am thankful for the grace God has given us through what Jesus has done for us all. God's grace is available for all who would receive it.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
    • Theresa

      This is attached link is to the letter of the last president (one before Harrison) of the Missouri Synod church. There are a wide variety of views in the church body on this topic, please don't judge the whole church from one person's actions.. http://www.icontact-archive.com/BLfgmhzNAinjEDvhgKWsUlcib5clKGYU?w=2

      February 7, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
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