Lutheran pastor apologizes for taking part in Sandy Hook service
I thought we were a 'Christian' Nation, and we have the religious freedom to attend whatever service we need. To make this Pastor apologize for attending an interfaith service for a community grieving and confused after losing 26 lives, 20 of whom were children, is also confusing. I guess that is why I quit going to 'church', they are all hypocritical. Do as we say, or get kicked out especially if you do not apologize, for what we decide you can do. Forget what Jesus has taught 'Do unto others the way you would want others to do for you'. Appalling, utterly appalling. I am sorry that this Pastor had to apologize for what his heart and his God told him to do.
Pastor Rob Morris of Newtown's Christ the King Lutheran Church provided the closing benediction at an interfaith event following the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 16.
A Lutheran pastor who participated in an interfaith prayer service inNewtown, Conn., in the days after the Sandy Hook massacre has apologized after being criticized by the leader of his denomination for violating its prohibition against joint worship with other religions.
The Rev. Rob Morris, a new pastor who lost one of the members of his congregation in the shooting, defended himself in an open letter published by the church, saying that before the tragedy, he had spent hours with his congregation educating them about the differences between Lutheran teaching “and the teachings of false religions such as Islam or Baha’i,” both of which had representatives at the interfaith service. He also noted that, in his own prayer at the service, he had spoken about Jesus and quoted from the Bible.
“I believed my participation to be, not an act of joint worship, but an act of community chaplaincy,” he wrote.
But he also apologized.
“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,” he wrote.
Mr. Morris, serving his first year of ministry as pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Churchin Newtown, attracted attention within his denomination when he gave the benediction at the high-profile memorial service on Dec. 16 that was attended by President Obama, the families of the dead, and clergy members from many religions, including the Muslim and Baha’i faiths.
In the days after the interfaith service, criticism of Mr. Morris mounted within his denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a 2.3-million-member church that is more conservative theologically than the larger Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The Missouri Synod bars joint worship with other religions, because, it says, participation could be seen as an endorsement of faiths that do not regard Jesus alone as savior or as a suggestion that differences between religions are not important.
The Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Missouri Synod, called on Mr. Morris to apologize, which he did.
“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,” Mr. Harrison wrote in an open letter on the Web.
Because it was not Mr. Morris’s intention to give the impression that the other faiths were equally valid, Mr. Harrison called on Lutherans upset by what had happened to accept Mr. Morris’s apology and support him and his congregation “especially in providing funding for Christ the King as it continues to care for victims,” he wrote in his letter.
A spokeswoman for the denomination, Vicki Biggs, added words of support on Thursday.“We are proud of the work Pastor Morris has done in Newtown and how he has served the community in so many ways,” she said.
The Newtown reprimand was not the first time a pastor from the Missouri Synod has been chastised for taking part in an interfaith service after a national tragedy. In the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Rev. David H. Benke, the pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Brooklyn and the equivalent of a bishop in the church hierarchy, was suspended from ministry for taking part in a huge interfaith prayer service held at Yankee Stadium.
Mr. Benke had broken the First Commandment — “I am the Lord thy God” — by worshiping with “pagans,” including Muslim, Sikh and Hindu clergy members, the Rev. Wallace Schulz, a senior official of the church, said then. Mr. Benke refused to apologize, and was cleared by a church panel in 2003 and permitted to return to ministry.
Asked for comment on the Newtown situation on Thursday, Mr. Benke said he did not agree with the denomination’s decision to ask Mr. Morris to apologize. “I am on the side of giving Christian witness in the public square and not vacating it,” he said. “If we don’t show up, who can receive our witness?”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 17, 2013
An article on Feb. 8 about a Lutheran pastor who, facing criticism, apologized for participating in an interfaith prayer service in Newtown, Conn., after the school massacre there referred incorrectly to the type of representatives of the Baha’i faith who participated in the service. While representatives of the group took part, the Baha’i religion does not have clergy; it is not the case that Baha’i “clergy members” participated. (The error was also in an On Religion column on Dec. 29.)