Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and homosexuality
Individual cases of church discipline of LGBT clergy
1997: Aimes IA: In early 1997, Bishop Philip Hougen of the Southeastern Iowa Synod asked Rev.
Steven Sabin to resign. Rev. Sabin has been the pastor of the Lord of Life Lutheran
Church in Ames, IA for the past 12 years. He is a homosexual who lives in a committed
relationship with his partner in a rural area near Ames. Hougen said that he cannot
deviate from church doctrine; he has to follow policy. Sabin has responded "My
call as a pastor is to look out for the best interests of the church...I think the church
is wrong and in need of reformation." He wrote a letter in which he claimed to be
conforming to church policy: "I live in fidelity with my spouse, giving expression
to sexual intimacy within a marriage relationship that is mutual, chaste and
Jan Melby, president of the church's congregation council, had suspected Sabin was gay,
but said "I was unsure how widely it was known." The congregation passed
a resolution which support Rev. Sabin. None of the church's approximately 33 families have left
the congregation. Hougen appointed a "consultation committee" of 3 clergy and 2
laity to meet with the parties and discuss the issue. They have since made a confidential
report to Hougen. He later decided to lay charges against Sabin which lead to a review by
a disciplinary committee.
An ELCA disciplinary committee held a two day, closed-door ecclesiastical trial in
early 1998-FEB. They decided on 1998-FEB-3 to revoke Rev. Steve Sabin's ministry, because
he is in an openly gay, committed relationship. Church regulations only allow gay clergy
if they take and follow a vow of celibacy. He was scheduled to be removed from the roster of Lutheran
clergy on 1998-APR-15. A letter to the editor of the Des Moines Register mentioned that "A
church council member estimated that 90 percent of the church's parishioners stand behind
Entry removed at the request of the individual involved.
2002: St. Paul, MN: Anita Hill was ordained as a pastor in the ELCA during
2001 by four bishops: one active and three retired. She is a lesbian who
lives in a committed relationship with another woman. (She is unrelated to
the Anita Hill who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual
harassment.) Bishop Mark S. Hanson of St. Paul, MN, censured -- but did not
expel -- Hill's congregation.
Ironically, Bishop Hanson was elected on 2001-AUG-11 to the ELCA's
highest office, that of presiding bishop. At the ELCA Churchwide Assembly
Rev. Hill initiated an unsuccessful resolution to lift the church's ban on
gay and lesbian clergy. 3
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Thomas R. O'Donnell, "Church's Policy Needs Changes, Pastor Says",
Article, Des Moines Register, 1997-JUL-30
Molly Bates, "Church Lets go Lay Pastor," Article, The Fort Dodge
Messenger, 1998-FEB-7 (approx).
- Bishop Peter Rogness, memo sent to all congregations and rostered leaders
of the Saint Paul Area Synod, 2003-JAN-15.
Copyright © 1998 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-JUN-17
Author: B.A. Robinson