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National Religious Leadership Roundtable condemns Lutheran church decision to remove gay pastor

WASHINGTON, July 6 — The National Religious Leadership Roundtable condemns the July 2 decision by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) Committee on Appeals to immediately remove the Rev. Bradley Schmeling from the clergy roster because he has a same-sex partner. By a 10–2 vote, the committee reversed an earlier panel's ruling allowing the pastor to remain on the roster until Aug. 15. Under ELCA rules, Schmeling is now a layperson within the denomination and should not wear a stole or perform sacraments. Schmeling reportedly has the support of his congregants and said he will defy the decision and stay as pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Ga.

Responses from National Religious Leadership Roundtable Members

"We are deeply saddened, angry and more determined following the artless and callous treatment of Pastor Bradley at the hands of the Committee on Appeals. The decision was delivered by e-mail, no pastoral call was made or human contact given. The committee actually noted as positive that they limited themselves to the transcripts of the hearing. They never met Pastor Schmeling or the members of St. John's.

"There are no scriptural precedents for such behavior in Christ's life. Jesus was moved with compassion and broke the religious laws of his age, time and again meeting and embracing outcasts in their contexts. There are others in the Gospels, the Scribes and the Pharisees who, according to Jesus, kept the letter of the law but neglected the weightier matters of justice and mercy. Jesus goes on to say to the Pharisees, 'blind guides, you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.' Matthew: 23. Pastor Schmeling has been treated by the church like a gnat to be swatted away and forgotten. Christ would not recognize the behavior of the Committee on Appeals, and by default the ELCA in this case, as his own.

"This is what happens when human law becomes an end to itself. The judicial process has proven to be an ecclesiastical dry hole. It started with an unjust, discriminatory policy and decided that it had been rightly and justly executed.

"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 percent 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."

— Emily Eastwood
Executive Director
Lutherans Concerned/North America

"One day the Protestant churches of America will surely recognize that sexual diversity is part of God's blessing. Unfortunately today is not yet that day for the ELCA and other mainline churches. God bless the people of St. John's for refusing to remove Bradley Schmeling from their pulpit and speaking truth to power. May the General Assembly of the ELCA later this summer do the same."

— Rev. Debra W. Haffner
Director
Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

"Bradley trusts love; we pray this blessing for the Lutheran church as well."

— Rev. Troy Plummer
Executive Director
Reconciling Ministries Network, United Methodist Church

"We are outraged at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and are hurting for the St. John's community. The powers that be in the ELCA have struck the most Faustian of bargains. Presented with a loving and community-based alternative, the Committee on Appeals chose instead to willfully sacrifice the few, in this case the beloved Pastor Bradley Schmeling and his spirit-filled congregational family, St. John's Lutheran Church, on the altar of expediency. The committee has acted to hurt lesbian and gay people and those who love us in the cynical belief that we will simply go away. They obviously don't know us and have forgotten God's constant love and God's call to justice. We will not go away. In fact, we will be present with Goodsoil and Lutherans Concerned at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly and at every Churchwide Assembly from now until the gifts and graces for ministry of all people are both recognized and celebrated."

— Harry Knox
Director
Human Rights Campaign Religion and Faith Program

"The struggle to realize the vision of God's beloved community is often an arduous, painful journey which requires much courage and perseverance. The witness of Rev. Schmeling and the congregation he serves is like so many congregations in the welcoming church movement, a testament of grace enriched by the many blessings of God's gifts for mission and ministry. They remind us that faithful discipleship is not without cost and I pray they may know they are supported by a great cloud of witnesses through this challenging time."

— Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer
Minister for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns
Wider Church Ministries, United Church of Christ


St John's Lutheran church

July 5, 2007

Pastor Bradley Schmeling Removed from Clergy Roster Immediately by Action of Appeals Committee

Rev. Bradley Schmeling

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Committee on Appeals has denied the appeal of Pastor Bradley Schmeling and removed him from the clergy roster, effective July 2, 2007.

The Committee on Appeals said that Bradley’s removal was effective immediately with this decision, since the Discipline Hearing Committee (DHC) had no authority to delay the implementation of its February decision further than the end of the appeals process. The DHC had delayed the removal from the clergy roster until August 15. And, the Committee on Appeals said that the DHC had exceeded its authority by suggesting that the policy might violate the ELCA constitution, and further by suggesting ways to change the policy.

This decision by the Committee on Appeals will be reported to the 2007 Churchwide Assembly, which will, as they said, provide “the opportunity for revision of the Constitution, Bylaws and Continuing Resolutions by the Churchwide Assembly or of the other documents governing the discipline process by the Church Council, if such be the will of this church.”

Pastor Bradley said, “I’m deeply disappointed by the decision, although I’m not surprised. Change has always proven difficult for the church. I continue to hope that the church will be centered in God’s message of love, compassion, and justice, rather than in the enforcement of discriminatory policies. The church can only resist the Holy Spirit for so long. In the meantime, I plan to continue to follow my call in ministry at St. John’s and to pray for the day when all God’s children are equally welcomed into the Lutheran church.”

John Ballew, president of St. John’s congregation, said, “St. John’s is going to stay St. John’s. Church service this and every Sunday is at 10:30 am. We are going to go to Churchwide Assembly in August, to witness to our ELCA the costs of this decision, based on an absurd policy. This is not just about us and our wonderful pastor; this is about all those called to minister to God’s people, who lead exemplary lives, who provide a model for faithful, loving companionship with each other and with Christ.”

Bradley Schmeling is pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Atlanta, Georgia. He was charged in 2006 with a violation of the ELCA policy for living in a committed, loving same-gender relationship with his life-partner, Pastor Darin Easler. The current policy of the ELCA prohibits the service of so-named “practicing homosexuals” from the ministry of the church. An ecclesiastical trial was held in January 2007 – the result of which was the decision of the DHC to remove him from the clergy roster effective August 15.

The DHC also said that its nearly unanimous view was that the policy may violate the constitution of the ELCA, and suggested two paths to remove the policy: through the Committee on Appeals as a judicial matter and through legislation to change the policy at a churchwide assembly, the highest legislative body of the church.

The Hearing Committee also said that, based on its examination of Pastor Bradley and his ministry at St. John’s Lutheran, there was no basis in the ELCA constitution for punishing Pastor Bradley and that his ministry was excellent.

St. John's Lutheran Church is a congregation that invites freely, loves unconditionally, and serves with joy. It is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, www.stjohnsatlanta.org.


Lutherans Concerned North America

July 5, 2007

Lutherans Concerned Angry and Determined Following the Removal of Pastor Bradley Schmeling from the ELCA Clergy roster on July 2, 2007

On July 2, 2007, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Committee on Appeals (COA) denied his appeal and removed Pastor Bradley Schmeling from the clergy roster of the ELCA.

Pastor Schmeling had been charged in August 2006 for violating the ELCA policy that forbids LGBT rostered leaders from living in committed same gender relationships of mutuality, fidelity and respect. In January 2007, an ELCA Discipline Hearing Committee (DHC) conducted an ecclesiastical trial that concluded nearly unanimously that there was no reason under the constitution of the ELCA for Pastor Schmeling to be punished. In fact, they commended his ministry at St. John's Lutheran, Atlanta, Georgia. However, feeling bound by the ELCA policy, the DHC removed him from the clergy roster with an effective date of August 15th this year. The COA action changed the effective date to July 2nd.

The DHC also had said the ELCA policy of discrimination might be in violation of the constitution of the ELCA, and suggested two avenues to change the policy: a judicial appeal to the Committee on Appeals, and a legislative remedy through action by regional judicatories called synods, and by the ELCA churchwide assembly, which is the highest legislative body of the church.

Rev. Emily Eastwood

Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned/North America, said of the action by the Committee on Appeals, "We are deeply saddened, angry, and more determined following the artless and callous treatment of Pastor Bradley at the hands of the Committee on Appeals. The decision was delivered by email, no pastoral call was made or human contact given. The Committee actually noted as positive that they limited themselves to the transcripts of the hearing. They never met Pastor Schmeling or the members of St. John's.

"There are no scriptural precedents for such behavior in Christ's life. Jesus was moved with compassion and broke the religious laws of his age, time and again meeting and embracing outcasts in their contexts. There are others in the Gospels, the Scribes and the Pharisees who, according to Jesus, kept the letter of the law but neglected the weightier matters of justice and mercy. Jesus goes on to say to the Pharisees, "you blind guides, you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel." Matthew: 23. Pastor Schmeling has been treated by the church like a gnat to be swatted away and forgotten. Christ would not recognize the behavior of the Committee on Appeals, and by default the ELCA in this case, as his own.

"This is what happens when human law becomes an end to itself. The judicial process has proven to be an ecclesiastical dry hole. It started with an unjust, discriminatory policy and decided that it had been rightly and justly executed.

"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."

About Lutherans Concerned: Lutherans Concerned/North America works for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Lutherans in all aspects of the life of their Church and congregations. Lutherans Concerned provides a place of comfort and safety. Lutherans Concerned reaches out and teaches that Christ's message, the Gospel, is for everyone equally. Lutherans Concerned calls for the blessing of committed and covenanted same-gender relationships, and for the ordination of those called to minister.


More Light Presbyterians

More Light Presbyterians Decry Schmeling Decision & Stand in Solidarity

July 5, 2007
Santa Fe, New Mexico

We are deeply disappointed by the recent decisions of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Committee on Appeals to deny the appeal of Pastor Bradley Schmeling and to remove him immediately from the clergy roster of his denomination.

We stand in solidarity with the vision of full participation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in the life, ministry and witness of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and our sisters and brothers of Lutherans Concerned North America who are faithfully laboring to make that vision a reality within the ELCA, one of the denominations that the Presbyterian Church (USA) is in communion with.

We stand in solidarity with our brother in Christ, Pastor Bradley Schmeling and Pastor Darin Easler, his life-partner, their families, and the congregation of St. John's Lutheran Church, Atlanta, Georgia, a Reconciling in Christ congregation where Bradley has served with distinction. Reconciling in Christ is an affiliation similar to the affiliation as a More Light Presbyterian Church.

We are inspired by the faith, character and commitments to the Gospel of Jesus Christ evident within Pastor Bradley Schmeling and St. John's Lutheran Church, Atlanta. We lift up two quotations from today's press release that tell the story of a faithful pastor and an open church. The text of the entire press release follows this statement.

Pastor Bradley said, “I’m deeply disappointed by the decision, although I’m not surprised. Change has always proven difficult for the church. I continue to hope that the church will be centered in God’s message of love, compassion, and justice, rather than in the enforcement of discriminatory policies. The church can only resist the Holy Spirit for so long. In the meantime, I plan to continue to follow my call in ministry at St. John’s and to pray for the day when all God’s children are equally welcomed into the Lutheran church.”

John Ballew, president of St. John’s congregation, said, “St. John’s is going to stay St. John’s. Church service this and every Sunday is at 10:30 am. We are going to go to Churchwide Assembly in August, to witness to our ELCA the costs of this decision, based on an absurd policy. This is not just about us and our wonderful pastor; this is about all those called to minister to God’s people, who lead exemplary lives, who provide a model for faithful, loving companionship with each other and with Christ.”

The parallels within and between these two major Protestant denominations are striking, and the opportunities that Lutherans and Presbyterians have to do the right thing. It is the prayer of More Light Presbyterians that discrimination against LGBT persons and their families will end in both our sister denomination of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Together We are Building a Church for All God's People!


February 8, 2007

Pastor Bradley Schmeling disciplinary committee challenges church policy

In August of last year, formal charges were filed with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) against Pastor Bradley Schmeling of St. John's Lutheran Church (Atlanta, GA) because of his committed relationship with Rev. Darin Easler. The trial was held last month, and the decision was released on February 8.

In a decision made public today, the hearing committee in the disciplinary action against Pastor Bradley Schmeling overwhelmingly affirmed the ministry of Pastor Schmeling and challenged the validity of the policy precluding pastors in same-gender relationships saying it is "at least bad policy, and very well may violate the constitution and bylaws of this church." The hearing committee called for the removal of the policy giving two pathways to do so: through the judicial process of the committee on appeals or through the legislative process of the churchwide assembly. Consequently, the hearing committee delayed the effective date of a decision to remove Pastor Schmeling until after the next ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

Lutherans Concered North America

Emily Eastwood, Executive Director of Lutherans Concerned/North America, said "This decision is courageous and unprecedented in the history of the ELCA. For an official judicial body of the church to call for removal of the discriminatory policy marks a tremendous shift in the ongoing struggle for equality. Pastor Schmeling and St. John's presented a compelling case. Peter met Cornelius and the Holy Spirit became the wind of change. The hearing committee of elected and faithful Lutherans heard the witness and acted accordingly within its purview. While seven of the committee members felt that they did not have the authority to set new policy, the group was nearly unanimous in calling for swift and complete removal of the old. The decision has taken the case of one fine pastor in the deep south to the national stage. Unintended advocates, Pastor Schmeling and St. John's now stand squarely at the center of the ongoing conversation. LC/NA continues to accompany and support them in this process."

As a result of this decision, two tracks of action will proceed immediately. Pastor Schmeling has 30 days to decide to submit an appeal. Within 24 hours LC/NA and its collaborative partners under the banner of goodsoil.org will release the legislative package requested by the hearing committee in its decision. LC/NA calls on its members and RIC churches to answer the call of the hearing committee and bring the recommended motions to their conference and synodical assemblies. Organizing for the ELCA Churchwide Convention, August 6-12, 2007 at Navy Pier in Chicago, is already underway.

The full text of the decision of the Hearing Committee can be found on St. John's website, www.stjohnsatlanta.org. [The decision is also available as a PDF file on the LC/NA website.]


Human Rights Campaign Hopeful After Lutheran Church Ruling

Disciplinary Committee Asks Denomination to Accept Same-Sex Relationships for Clergy

WASHINGTON — Today the Human Rights Campaign called “encouraging” a disciplinary committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s (ELCA) call to strike a discriminatory policy from the denomination’s constitution that prohibits clergy from entering into same-sex partnerships.

The jury of 12 Lutheran clergy from across the country recommended that the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly, the denomination’s highest legislative body, “remove the language that specifically precludes practicing homosexuals from service as ordained ministers of this church” and “remove the specific prohibition against homosexual sexual relationships.” The committee also recommended that the denomination take steps to immediately reinstate clergy that resigned or were expelled from their churches for entering into committed same-sex relationships.

The ruling came Wednesday during a closed-door church trial of openly gay Rev. Bradley Schmeling, pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Atlanta.

‘We are encouraged by this decision that Pastor Brad’s leadership and ministry should be affirmed and the discriminatory policy overturned,” said Human Rights Campaign Religion and Faith Program Director Harry Knox. “It would be tragically irresponsible to rob the St. John’s family of their loving pastor and his proven ability to grow this outstanding ministry because of a bad policy that needs to change.”

Despite the continued vocal support of St. John’s members, Rev. Schmeling was brought before a disciplinary committee in January on charges that he had violated the denomination’s pastoral conduct guidelines after disclosing to church leaders last August that he had entered into a committed same-sex partnership. The ELCA currently allows only celibate gay people to serve as clergy.

The disciplinary committee will forgo further proceedings on Rev. Scheling’s trial until August 15 following the 2007 Churchwide Assembly in Chicago. Unrefuted evidence at the trial showed that the congregation has grown and thrived under Schmeling’s leadership and the committee’s strong recommendation to the Churchwide Assembly is that the discriminatory policy be changed.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against GLBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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