Residents greet each other before an interfaith vigil for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012 at Newtown High School in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
A conservative Lutheran group is reprimanding its pastor in Newtown, Connecticut, for participating in an interfaith vigil after the Sandy Hook massacre.
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod said the Reverend Rob Morris inadvertently gave the impression that he was involved in joint worship with clergy from other religions. The denomination bars joint worship because it doesn't want to appear to mix its beliefs with those of other churches.
“Pastor Morris took specific and commendable steps to mitigate the impression that this was joint worship. He asked for an announcement before the event to make it clear that those participating did not endorse each other’s views. He read from Scripture when he spoke,” Pastor Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, wrote in a letter posted online on Feb. 1. “Nevertheless, the presence of prayers and religious readings, as well as the fact that other clergy were vested for their participation, led me to conclude that this was in fact joint worship with other religions (as previously defined by the Synod). I could draw no conclusion other than that this was a step beyond the bounds of practice allowed by the Scriptures, our Lutheran Confessions, and the constitution of our Synod, which seeks to uphold both.”
The vigil on Dec. 16, two days after the school shooting that killed 20 first graders and six staff members, included Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other leaders. President Barack Obama and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy attended.
The church said Morris has apologized for taking part in the event and Harrison accepted the apology.
“(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. 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 wrote in a letter posted online on Jan. 31. You can read the full letter online.
“Firstly, my source of ultimate comfort as I reflect back on everything in the last six weeks – that event included – is that no sin, even my own sinful failures, can destroy the Church or the Gospel. Jesus taught us that even the gates of hell cannot prevail against His Church which is built on the rock of true confession,” he wrote.
Harrison wrote that the church supports Pastor Morris, his family and his congregation.
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is one of the smaller U.S. Lutheran groups. The denomination reprimanded another pastor in 2001 who was part of an interfaith vigil after the September 11 attacks.