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Pastor in same-sex relationship taken off roster

by Betsy Carlson (Editor, WordAlone Network)

July 16, 2007


photo of Betsy CarlsonAn appeal from a homosexual pastor not to be removed from the ordained roster because of his same-sex relationship was rejected in early July by the Committee on Appeals of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Former Pastor Bradley Schmeling of St. John's of Atlanta, Ga., in the Southeastern Synod was brought before a discipline committee last winter after he told his bishop, Ronald Warren, that he was in a relationship with another man. The discipline committee ruled in early February that Schmeling was in violation of ELCA Visions and Expectations for Ordained Ministers and of Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline because he was a non-celibate homosexual.

However, the discipline committee stayed his removal from the roster until Aug. 15, which is about a week after the Churchwide Assembly to be held in Chicago, Ill. The national appeals committee overruled the stay and said that Schmeling was to be removed July 2.

In addition, the discipline committee suggested that the present standards might be in conflict with the ELCA Constitution and--apparently with an eye to this summer--asked synods across the country to pass memorials to the churchwide assembly to start a process to change the standards for ordained persons so that practicing homosexuals could be ordained.

"The decision by the committee on appeals to remove Schmeling from the roster is welcome news in this present time when ministry standards of a denomination are confused with stories of personal experience," Pastor Jaynan Clark Egland, president of the WordAlone Network, said recently. "We have entered into a losing battle regarding all the debates and discussions about sexuality, definition of marriage and expectations of our clergy because we've put up for a vote that which we don't have any authority to act on or change.

"When the Word of God is considered to be the source and norm for all matters of faith and life, then one has to wonder how such matters of personal lives and faith have become the source of such confusion. We need clarity and we need sometimes to make difficult decisions such as the committee on appeals has done because we have no authority to decide otherwise."

The committee on appeals ruled the discipline committee acted beyond the "scope of its authority" in delaying Schmeling's removal from the roster. The discipline committee also exceeded its authority by its statements on the constitutionality of the present ordination standards and its call for local synod memorials to the churchwide assembly, according to the appeals committee.

Some observers have suggested these memorials may bring the question of ordaining non-celibate homosexuals to this year's churchwide assembly even though the 2005 assembly rejected a proposal to allow non-celibate homosexuals to be ordained through a special application and review process.

With regard to actions by local synods, only 22, about one-third of the ELCA's 65 synods, supported one or all of the discipline committee's memorial proposals. Fourteen others rejected the committee's proposals or voted not to change the present standards. One synod tabled them, in two others they were withdrawn and in a third not allowed to come to the floor. Another seven voted to hold off dealing with ordination of practicing homosexuals until after the social statement on sexuality, which is to come up for a vote at the 2009 assembly. Four referred the proposals to the human sexuality study task force, which is preparing the social statement. The proposals were not considered in 17 synods.