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Evangelical Lutherans tell openly gay clergy to ignore celibacy requirement

compiled by Q-Notes staff

Rev. Bradley Schmeling of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Atlanta was defrocked because he was open and honest about his relationship with his same-sex partner. Regrettably, the new directive will not reinstate his credentials, but it it will keep him on the pulpit.
CHICAGO — The leadership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) stopped short of voting to change the denomination’s policy to remove the requirement of celibacy for openly gay clergy during its biennial assembly in Chicago on Aug. 11. They did, however, fully authorize Lutheran bishops to ignore this policy in their synods and went so far as to urge bishops to refrain from invoking the policy until after the Churchwide Assembly in 2009 votes on the measure as part of an extensive commissioned study on sexuality.

The vote was spurred by the removal of the Rev. Bradley Schmeling from the ELCA clergy roster on July 2 for being open and honest about his relationship with his same-sex partner. Schmeling is the popular and dynamic pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Atlanta, one of the fastest-growing ELCA congregations in the Southeast. Unfortunately, the ruling will not retroactively reinstate Schmeling in the ELCA, but it will keep him in the pulpit, at the request of his supportive congregation.

“We are encouraged and empowered by the decision reached today,” Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Religion and Faith Program Director Harry Knox said following the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly in Chicago. “Our feelings are mixed, but this is a substantive change in the direction of full inclusion. On the one hand, the ELCA’s formal urging of bishops to lean on the side of inclusion and flexibility shows that they are listening to the Holy Spirit and have recognized the abundant ministerial gifts of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in their midst. They witnessed firsthand in Chicago the prophetic witness of 82 pastors who have come out as LGBT people within the Lutheran denomination and they saw the reform spirit of Martin Luther working through LGBT people of faith and allies. On the other hand, we are saddened that they did not summon the courage to fully overturn a clearly discriminatory policy and we grieve for the congregations and pastors who continue to suffer because of this unjust policy.

“HRC commends our colleagues at Lutherans Concerned and the Goodsoil Coalition for their consistent, strategic and thoroughly loving leadership,” Knox added. “God’s beloved community is working through this mighty coalition and the whole church and GLBT people everywhere have been strengthened and encouraged by their efforts. The seeds of change have taken root in Chicago and with faith and hard work we will see them blossom.”

Schmeling also commented on the situation from the Churchwide Assembly in Chicago, saying “this has been an incredible learning and growing experience for our faith community. Ultimately we will be stronger and more whole as a community because of these hard won lessons about faith and fairness.”

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