Sunday, February 11, 2007

ELCA Pastor Defrocked

An ELCA Discipline Hearing Committee has ruled that The Rev. Bradley J. Schmeling, pastor at St. John Lutheran Church, Atlanta, Georgia, be removed from the ELCA clergy roster this coming August 15 because he is is a "committed relationship" with another man, former ELCA pastor Darin Easler. For more details, see the February 8 ELCA News Release and the Southeastern Synod's web site, which includes the actual committee report. [Note: The report no longer appears there on the Southeastern Synod's site. It can, however, be found here or here. spt+ 18.11.2009]

In reaction to the report, that evening I wrote the following to some colleagues:
Well, reading these things is always interesting.

The committee states that in 2000 Pastor Schmeling refused to answer the question on his compliance with Vision and Expectations, but Bishop Warren put him in the call process, and then approved his call, anyway. So immediately we have the very Bishop later filing charges on this basis putting the propriety of the ELCA's standard in question.

The descriptions of Pastor Schmeling's "partner" include at least 2 obviously verifiable mis-statements of fact: he was removed from the roster by SE Minn Synod Council actions; he did not resign. Also, he has already been credentialed as a minister by a UCC conference.

The latter doesn't have a significant place in the committees decision, but both of these raise the question of the integrity of those involved in this process.

I should think that the statement that "St. John’s membership includes several pastors who are on the ELCA roster, in either active or retired status, several teaching theologians, and several graduate students in theology" would ring loud alarms for all concerned, especially since this is taken as their support of his continuing as their pastor, and an ELCA pastor.

The description of Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline attributed to Bishop Chilstrom completely ignores the history of the development of Vision and Expectations in the ELCA which which was a major development under his watch as ELCA Bishop (and a matter of extreme importance to those of us who were ELCA seminarians during its development and initial implementation).

Once again, an ELCA disciplinary committee, while judging (IMNSHO) appropriately the consequences of a pastor (or congregation) violating ELCA standards, notes that the ELCA's advocates bring no theological testimony to defend the rules (which would, at the very least, note that Pastor Schmeling's public "partnership" would never have been deemed compatible with the Office of the Ministry until a generation ago), but merely speak to the violation of the rules themselves.

Finally, the Discipline Hearing Committee proposes 3 memorials for Synod Assemblies to act upon that would remove language about practicing homosexuals in Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline, remove it also from Vision and Expectations, and proceed to reinstate former ELCA pastors removed for being in "a loving, lifelong partnership with another person of the same sex that is mutual, chaste, and faithful." You can be sure that many Synod Assemblies will be presented such memorials, and that they would easily pass in at least a dozen ELCA Synods.

It looks like homosexuality has just become, next to the election of Bishop and Secretary, the key issue for this summer's CWA. Will the ELCA's "traditionalists" on marriage and sexuality be prepared?

For the record, I have learned since writing the above that Bishop Warren has been clear in expressing his opposition to the church "blessing" of same-sex unions or to changing the ELCA's standards for clergy to permit us to enter into "committed" same-sex unions -- see his Pastoral Letters here and here. For that, this pastor offers a hearty Amen! -- if only more ELCA Bishops were willing to publicly say the same.

Meanwhile, the next question is will St. John's and Pr. Schmeling accept this discipline and what might happen if they, like several other ELCA congregations, do not.

Yes, the ELCA still needs our prayers.


P.S. an after-thought said...

I'm all in favor of practicing homosexuals not being pastors UNTIL I start to contemplate my on-going sins, which I don't choose to announce.

And that is assuming that is sin...which I don't want to debate.

The section, I think is in Romans, which may refer to homosexuality, mentions lots of things that I have struggled to overcome, but continue to do in my life. How do we deal with that for pastors? (I'm not a pastor.) Does anyone ask pastors to be if they have done this or that?

Pastor Zip said...

One of our ordination vows is to "pray for God's people, nourish them with the Word and Holy Sacraments, and lead them by your own example in faithful service and holy living." At issue for us in the ELCA (and in many other denominations) is, can a pastor in an public same-sex "committed relationship" be an example of "holy living."

Vision and Expectations seeks to flesh "holy living" out a bit more than was once necessary, since we now live in an age that seeks to make some homosexual relationships to be God-pleasing. While I wish I could say otherwise, I've not found the pro-gay arguments I've heard for the last quarter-century remotely convincing.

As for whether or not praciticing homosexuality is sin, that has been the Christian understanding of biblical teaching for 2 millenia. Note that the ELCA Task Force on Human Sexuality did not offer in its report to the Churchwide Assembly theological grounds to change that understanding when discussing the ordination of "practicing" gay clergy (which the Task Force recommended), or for the churchly "blessing" of committed homosexual relationships (which most of the ELCA's leaders are currently weaseling on).

Nevertheless, this isn't about a struggle with sin. We all do that in one way or another, including pastors. As St. Paul struggled with sin, so do we. One way to seriously deal with this is through Individual Confession and Absolution -- a practice of the Church for centuries, one commended to us by the Lutheran Reformers. That would be genuine pastoral care. Blessing or otherwise encouraging sin is not.


cbaggettjr said...

I enjoy your blog. This is a dilemma that continues to be a struggle for me. Though I agree that pastors in a committed same-sex relationship should be removed from service and same-sex unions should not be blessed, where is the balance when it comes to pastoral care in the homosexual community?