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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
August 17, 2007

 

 

Lutheran assembly votes to halt ejection of gay pastors

 

Chicago--Treading an odd middle ground, the national assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on August 11 told bishops to stop ejecting queer pastors who violate the celibacy requirements, but stopped short of altering church policy to allow full inclusion of LGBT ministers.

The vote, 538-431, was on the final day of a weeklong meeting and reflects conflicting views on gay issues in the denomination.

The issue of ordaining openly gay, sexually active clergy, as well as whether or not to bless same-sex unions, is currently before an ELCA task force that has almost completed its eight-year study of human sexuality. The task force’s report is due in 2009.

The assembly was the site of a demonstration by LGBT and allied Lutherans, who released a list of over 80 openly gay current and former clergy members in the denomination, urging change in the church’s policy. Currently, Lutheran doctrine requires clergy to abstain from same-sex sexual activity.

“This is huge,” said Phil Soucy of Lutherans Concerned of North America, a pro-gay group in the denomination. “More than half of the people in the Churchwide Assembly have said don’t punish anyone for what is a simple violation of the policy, where the offense is simply that they have a partner.”

The vote had an immediate effect on St. John’s Lutheran Church in Atlanta, where the Rev. Bradley Schmeling was censured by his bishop after speaking about his partner.

The congregation had defied the bishop, refusing to allow Schmeling to be forced out of his role as their pastor.

Schmeling’s name will still be stricken from the clergy roster of the denomination, but that will only present a problem if he decides to seek a position at another church, and he said he has no plans to leave St. John’s.

“On a day-to-day basis, nothing changes here,” he said.

Their bishop, Ronald B. Warren, said he will take no further action against Schmeling or the church.

Both in the congregation and in the denomination, pro-gay forces acknowledged that it was a very small step forward.

“I felt real pain and rejection of us and what we’ve been fighting for, for years,” said Barbara Arne, chair of the committee that hired Schmeling in 2000. “But I’m really hopeful pastors and congregations will be at less risk for going through what Pastor Brad and all of us have.”

 

 

 

 

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