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Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA)

Events in 2007 and 2008, including
 the Churchwide Assembly of 2007

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2007-FEB-07: Rev. Bradley E. Schmeling expelled:

Rev. Schmeling was the pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, in Atlanta, GA. He had reported to his bishop that he was in a loving committed relationship with another man.

The Rev. Ronald B. Warren, bishop of the ELCA Southeastern Synod in Atlanta, GA filed charges against Schmeling on 2006-AUG-08. Warren issued "A Pastoral Letter of Disclosure," stating that Schmeling had admitted to being in violation of the ELCA's "Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline" for ordained ministers.

Warren's letter said, in part:

"Specifically, Pastor Schmeling disclosed to me that he is in a sexual relationship with an adult male. He has declined my requests for his resignations from his call to St. John Lutheran Church and the ELCA clergy roster."

The discipline hearing committee of the ELCA met from JAN-18 to 24 to hear the case. Seven of the 12 committee members voted to remove him from the roster. The committee also recommended that the Churchwide Assembly revise its "Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline" in order to allow gays and lesbians in loving committed relationships to serve the church. 5,6

Rev. Schmeling appealed the decision to the Committee on Appeals. He lost and was immediately removed from the ELCA roster.

2007-AUG-6: ELCA Churchwide Assembly:

The denomination started its week-long biennial assembly in Chicago, IL. The theme was: "Living in God's amazing grace. Thanks be to God." 1

bulletThe presiding bishop gives news conference: Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, spoke at a news conference on the opening day of the Assembly. He said that the church will continue its conversation on human sexuality and "... the place of gay and lesbian people in ministry. ... We are still in the process of developing our social statement on human sexuality." That report is scheduled to be brought before the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

Rev. Hanson was later re-elected to a second six year term.

bulletBible study: Rev. David L. Tiede, former president of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, and professor at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, led a Bible study for the delegates. He asked them to consider:

"How in heaven?s name are we as a church going to develop and adopt a 'social statement' on sexuality in the midst of disputes about what is moral or just? If it?s all just sexual politics, as the media suspect, our congregations and our families are split."

"Sex is harder to discuss than money. So what if your politics are liberal or conservative? 2

bulletShower of Stoles: Goodsoil, a LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) group within the ELCA, held a "Shower of Stoles" display at the Assembly. This involves:

"... a collection of over a thousand liturgical stoles and other sacred items representing the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people of faith. These religious leaders have served in thirty-two denominations and faith traditions, in six countries, and on three continents. Each stole contains the story of a GLBT person who is active in the life and leadership of their faith community in some way: minister, elder, deacon, teacher, missionary, musician, administrator, or active layperson." 3

bulletMinisters go public: Eighty-two lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Lutheran ministers went public at the Assembly. Those in loving, committed same-sex relationships courageously risked expulsion from the Church. A devotional booklet titled "A Place Within My Walls" was given as a gift to each of the approximately 1,000 voting members of the Assembly. It contained the names and biographical details of each of the 82 LGBT ministers.

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bulletChanges to church policy: The Assembly appeared to be in a mood to coast for another two years without making any formal changes to church policy either on gays and lesbians in the ministry, or union ceremonies for loving, committed same-sex couples. A number of memorials (resolutions) were proposed that would have changed church policy; all were defeated.
 

Following the vote, Rev. Hanson said:

bulletOne of these memorials was proposed by 22 synods. It would have eliminated restrictions against ministers in loving, committed same-sex relationships. The Assembly rejected the memorial by a vote of 450 in favor and 581 opposed. 6
 
bulletA memorial was proposed to ask the synods and bishops to "... refrain from, or demonstrate restraint in, disciplining" people and congregations that call otherwise-qualified candidates who were in mutual, chaste and faithful committed same-gender relationships. It also called for restraint in disciplining existing rostered leaders who are in committed same-gender relationships. The resolution passed comfortably 538 to 431.

"These are words of counsel. They are not words that change the standards of the church. They reflect the mind of this assembly as it seeks to give counsel to the leaders of this church." 4

bulletConclusion: The church still officially bans gays and lesbians from the ministry, even as some synods allow openly gay candidates to be ordained and openly gay pastors to remain on the roster. This is, in effect, a kind of local option. Otherwise qualified LGBT individuals who are lucky enough to be in a synod sympathetic to LGBT equality might be able to become ordained or remain ordained. Otherwise they would be out of luck.

2008-MAR-13: Draft human sexuality report issued:

The Task Force for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Studies on Sexuality released its "Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality" for review by the ELCA.

Rev. Rebecca S. Larson, the executive director of ELCA Church in Society said:

"We are sexual creatures from the moment of birth to the time of death. This draft social statement takes that seriously and addresses sexuality in relation to the various situations of our lives. The common question at all times is what serves the good of the neighbor, what creates and sustains trust, and what protects from harm."

"It is the hope of the task force that this draft social statement will invite this church into continued conversation. This draft forms the best thinking of the task force to date, although not all members of the task force agree with all parts of the document. The task force hopes to learn what in the draft is helpful, what might be changed, and what is missing."

The report's four main chapters are titled:

bullet"Theological and ethical foundations for understanding sexuality";
bullet"Sexuality as part of God's creative activity";
bullet"Trust at the heart of faith active in love"; and
bullet"Social trust and the common good."

The draft statement concludes that after:

"... many years of study and conversation, this church does not have consensus regarding loving and committed same-gender relationships. This church has committed itself to continuing to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment and pastoral care."

Most of the ELCA's 65 synods planned to hold meetings to discuss the draft document. Responses were accepted by the Task Force up until 2008-NOV-01. The task force then revised the statement for submission to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. 7

2008-NOV: Churchwide Assembly voting procedures:

The Constitutional and Legal Committee of the ELCA Church Council recommended that:

"... any motion to come before this Churchwide Assembly regarding changes in this church's current policy and practice for the rostering of ordained ministers, diaconal ministers, associates in ministry, and deaconesses shall require a two-thirds vote by the assembly for adoption."

Later, the ELCA Church Council itself voted 19-10 to delete this provision. This means that only a simple 50% plus one vote would be required to change ELCA standards to allow pastors and other rostered leaders who are in loving, committed same-sex relationships to remain in their positions.

This development was momentous, because it greatly lowers the bar for any memorial (resolution) that proposes equal treatment for ministers, associates in ministry and deaconesses of all sexual orientations. 8

Subsequent responses from the synods were not positive. Only three synod councils supported the simple majority decision, while 15 synod councils asked the Church Council to revert to the two thirds majority. 9

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "2007 Churchwide Assembly: 2007-AUG-06 to 11," at: http://archive.elca.org/
  2. "Pier Review - Thursday," 2007-AUG-09, at: http://archive.elca.org/
  3. "Shower of Stoles Project," Institute for Welcoming Resources," at: http://www.welcomingresources.org/
  4. "A brief summary of actions, 2007 Churchwide Assembly" at: http://www2.elca.org/ This is a PDF file.
  5. "ELCA Discipline Hearing Committee Rules in Atlanta Case," ELCA, 2007-FEB-08, at: http://www.wfn.org/
  6. "A Timeline of Important Events Leading Up to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis," Goodsoil at: http://www.goodsoil.org/
  7. "ELCA 'Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality' Now Available." ELCA News Service, 2008-MAR-13, at: http://archive.elca.org/
  8. "Resolution - Super Majority," Northern Texas Northern Louisiana Synod, undated, at: http://www.lwlc.com/ This is a PDF file.
  9. "Composite resolution to the Lower Susquehanna Synod...." undated, at: http://www.lss-elca.org/  This is a PDF file.

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Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-AUG-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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