Newtown, Connecticut — A Lutheran minister that appeared at an interfaith prayer vigil last December in memory of those who lost their lives during the Newtown massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School has issued an apology for his participation.
Pastor Rob Morris of Christ the King Lutheran Church recently issued a letter explaining his regrets after he was reprimanded for participating in a service that included those of other faiths. Morris’ church is a part of the Lutheran Church-Missouri synod, which prohibits its pastors from participating in interfaith worship. The service, attended by Barack Obama and Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy on December 14th, featured Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, B’hai and Christian prayers.
“[S]ome have expressed concern and, in some cases, public rebuke that my participation in the televised prayer vigil on Sunday night has hindered our ability to speak this Christian truth into a pluralistic culture,” he wrote in the letter, which is posted online on the synod’s website. “The fear is that by sharing the stage with false teachers, I have diminished the proclamation of the truth which is ours by grace through faith in Christ.”
Morris then acknowledged that Christians “do have a God-given responsibility to be on our guard against all kinds of false teaching.”
“Prior to the events of 12/14, I had already spent hours with my own congregation, catechizing them as to the differences between our Lutheran understanding of Scriptural teaching, the various other denominations’ teachings, and the teachings of false religions such as Islam or B’Hai,” he explained. “I had likewise spent time with my fellow clergy in Newtown clarifying the ways I can and cannot engage in events like joint clergy dialogues (which are good to engage in), joint caring efforts (only within limits), and joint worship (not possible).”
“Thus, 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 continued. “If any of you know church members or friends or family who are now confused because of my participation, believing that the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod fully endorses the doctrine of anyone else who was on that stage, please correct this confusion lovingly, and I will personally be happy to help in any way that I can.”
He states that he consulted with others about whether or not to participate in the service, but ultimately made the decision himself as there was no consensus among those he sought for counsel.
“I took the action that I took. I and no one else,” Morris candidly admitted. “In the end, I believed my participation to be, not an act of joint worship, but an act of community chaplaincy. Chaplains are expected to give faithful witness under circumstances which are less than ecclesiastically perfect, even as their fellow chaplains may proclaim a different witness.”
“Thus, with a disclaimer at the outset (which I requested) having stated that participation did not mean endorsement of the other religions represented, I said I was sharing ‘a final blessing of the hope which is ours through faith in Jesus Christ, using the words of St. John and St. Paul,'” he explained. “I did not believe my participation to be an act of joint worship, but one of mercy and care to a community shocked and grieving an unspeakably horrific event. However, I recognize others in our church consider it to constitute joint worship and I understand why. I apologize where I have caused offense by pushing Christian freedom too far, and I request you charitably receive my apology.”
Lutheran Church-Missouri synod president Matthew Harrison also wrote a letter about the issue. He stated that he asked Morris to issue the public apology as he had already done so to the leadership. Harrison asked others to accept that apology as well.
“If you are upset that such an otherwise fine young pastor offered his apology for something for which you do not believe he should have had to apologize, I would simply respond by stating that we have the apostolic injunction ‘to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,'” Harrison wrote. “To those who think his apology insufficient, I would encourage you, as the commandment enjoins us, to ‘put the best construction on everything,’ and to accept with gratitude and forgiveness in Christ’s name the real apology given you.'”
He also noted that while the synod prohibits mutual worship with those of other faiths, it is still working to define the acceptable boundaries. There is not a consensus at this time as to what constitutes “mutual worship.”
“I am not Jesus. I’m not omniscient. I’m not infallible,” Harrison concluded. “I simply seek the best for the synod that we may be about our chief task. I covet your prayers.”