Thursday, July 05, 2007

Defrocked ELCA Pastor Loses Appeal.

Last February, I blogged about the Rev. Bradley J. Schmeling, pastor at St. John Lutheran Church, Atlanta, Georgia, of whom an ELCA Discipline Hearing Committee had ruled he be removed from the ELCA clergy roster this coming August 15 (immediately following the adjournment of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly) because he is is a "committed relationship" with another man, former ELCA pastor Darin Easler. Read it all here. Both Pastor Schmeling and Southeast Synod Bishop Ronald Warren appealed the Committee's decision, and the ELCA Committee on Appeals rendered its decision on Monday: Pastor Schmeling is removed from the ELCA clergy roster immediately.

Here is Bishop Warren's Pastoral Letter, posted today on the Southeast Synod's website (note, that page includes Bp. Warren's other letters, and links to the official discipline documents).
A Pastoral Letter for Immediate Public Release – July 5, 2007

The Committee on Appeals of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has upheld the decision of the Discipline Hearing Committee that the Rev. Bradley E. Schmeling be removed from the clergy roster of the ELCA. The Committee on Appeals ruling was effective July 2, 2007, and therefore, as of that date, Bradley Schmeling is no longer a pastor on the roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. My decision to seek Pastor Schmeling's removal from the ministry of this church was difficult because of my deep respect for the pastor and the congregation at St. John's, but the policy of this church is clear. It was my responsibility as bishop of this synod to enforce the established standards of this church, particularly after the 2005 Churchwide Assembly decided that the church would not create a process for possible exceptions to existing behavior expectations for pastors. As this church continues prayerfully to consider the issue of clergy who are gay or lesbian and in committed relationships, both the synod and I will continue to work on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of our disagreements.

On Tuesday, July 3rd, former ELCA Pastor Schmeling and the congregation of St. John’s Church, met to share the news of the final decision of the ELCA Committee on Appeals.

In a telephone conversation with Bradley Schmeling this morning, I suggested that synod staff and I come to meet with St. John’s congregation. After continuing conversations, he and I agreed that it might be best for two visits to occur. The first would be a meeting with St. John’s Executive Committee and Bradley suggested that this meeting take place on August 2, 2007. This meeting will be an opportunity to pray together, listen and discuss options for the congregation and Bradley in the future. Then we agreed that an informal meeting with the congregation would be scheduled subsequent to the meeting with the Executive Committee with the date and time to be announced later.

Please remember all of us who are involved in this difficult and challenging process in your intercessory prayers.

Below is a link to the ELCA Committee on Appeals decision (11 pages).

Sincerely in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Ronald B. Warren
Bishop, ELCA-Southeastern Synod

Bishop-elect H. Julian Gordy
Dr. Lowell Almen, ELCA Secretary, Chicago

View a pdf version of the full 11-page decision of the Committee on Appeals
[Note: The decision no longer appears there, but does appear here. spt+ 18.11.2009]

In a press conference today, Schmeling said, "The congregation issued their call to me in 2000, and as far as we’re concerned, that call has not changed. The good news for today is that we can now return to the ministry and mission that we have been called to do . We’re going to continue to welcome everybody who comes through our doors; to work in our city for justice; to teach our children the Bible; and to be a faithful and loving voice in the larger church." Read more at St. John's "Trial Update" page.

While this ends the formal appeals process in the ELCA, Schmeling's counsel and Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned/North America both note that this action must be reported at the Churchwide Assembly next month when it meets at the Navy Pier in Chicago. Says Ms. Eastwood:
We now turn to the ELCA churchwide assembly in August seeking the legislative remedy offered by the DHC and confirmed as the only alternative by the COA. The Spirit has moved 22 synods of the ELCA to state in no uncertain terms that the policy of discrimination must be changed. These synods represent a full 40% of the membership of the ELCA. They believe that this matter must come to the floor of the assembly, be debated, and the current policy eliminated leaving a single standard for pastors more fitting to those who follow Christ and Martin Luther.

“The struggle is not over, LGBT Lutherans and their allies both clergy and lay will not relent until justice and mercy prevail.
Read the rest of her comments here.

So, as Vin Scully said when the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Milwaukee Braves in the playoff for the 1959 National League pennant, "We go to Chicago!" It's going to be another, uh, interesting CWA.

Nonetheless, this has been a good day to see faithful shepherds of the Church in action.


Anonymous said...

Despite Bishop Warren's statement that: "Bradley Schmeling is no longer a pastor on the roster" he remains so, at least online. ELCA Roster Lookup System:

Pastor Zip said...

True that Schmeling is still listed on the on-line roster. The ELCA web folk do a good job of keeping the roster up-to-date (some listings on the Episcopal Church's site, for instance, are a couple of years out-of-date!) -- but they aren't instantaneous. Plus, the Secretary's Office is more likely focussed on having everything ready for next month's Churchwide Assembly. I'm willing to cut them some slack on that.