Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Pastor Bradley Schmeling case

Here is an update on the Atlanta situation from the Lutherans Concerned/North America website (

"November 21, 2006

Update on the Pastor Bradley Schmeling case

Many of you have expressed interest in the progress of the case that Bishop Ronald Warren of the Southeastern Synod has elected to bring against Pastor Bradley Schmeling seeking Bradley's removal from the roster of ELCA clergy. As you know Bradley asked that I serve on his team of legal advisors. I will continue in this role through the disciplinary proceedings. At this point in the case and while pre-hearing negotiations are underway there are still a few things I am able to share with you that I think will be of interest.

The hearing officer (judge), technical and facilities advisors, and the disciplinary hearing committee (jury) have been chosen. The hearing committee is made up of 12 members, 6 from the ELCA and 6 from the Southeastern Synod elected rosters of disciplinary committee members. Bishop Mark Hanson chose the hearing officer and advisors. The Executive Committee of the ELCA chose the 6 members of the committee from the ELCA roster. The synodical members were selected according to elected term with those most recently elected chosen first. In accordance with the rules, Bradley was allowed to select one clergy and one lay person from the ELCA roster of potential committee members.

Although Bradley preferred that the disciplinary proceeding be held in open hearing, Bishop Warren has elected to close the proceedings. When the accused is an individual, as in this case, the ELCA Rules Governing Disciplinary Hearings give the Bishop, as the accuser, an absolute veto over whether the hearing is open or closed. This means that visitors will be denied access to the proceeding. I understand that many of you may want to come to Atlanta during the hearing to support Bradley and his congregation and to see for yourselves what unfolds.

Since the hearing is closed visitors are invited to join St John's for services and prayer around the cross. St John's Lutheran has posted on its website the following dates and times for Prayer at the Time of Trial:

Thursday, January 18, 2007 7:00 pm EST
Liturgy of Prayer and Footwashing
The Rev Barbara Lundblad Preaching

Friday, January 19, 2007 7:00 pm EST
Prayers at the Cross

Sunday, January 21, 2007 10:30 am EST
Festival Sunday Worship
The Rev Gladys Moore Preaching

The liturgies for these services will be available on the St John's website by mid December. Individuals and congregations, not in Atlanta, are asked to convene services using these liturgies in their own locales. Services in support of Bradley and St John's held all over the ELCA and perhaps even in the ELCIC will send a message to the wider church and to the public that the church universal is watching and waiting and calling upon the Holy Spirit to be present in the hearing helping the hearing committee to discern the will of God in this case.

The Bishop's counsel has expressed concern about possible media attention to the case, and has asked that Bradley and his team agree to total media silence. Bradley and his counsel have not and will not agree to media silence. Ironically, the Bishop's own announcement on the synod website of his filing of charges against Bradley prompted the first media inquiries about the case.

Because Bishop Warren is asking that the most severe form of discipline, removal from the clergy roster, be imposed on Bradley in the name of, and on behalf of, the entire ELCA, and because the larger church has been engaged in discussion of the ELCA policy concerning gay clergy, the entire church has an interest in knowing what is being done in its name. In contrast to the Bishop's desire for secrecy, Bradley's counsel have expressed their interest in transparency in this process, pointing out the larger church's interest in knowing how these matters are being handled and its need to have confidence in the integrity and fairness of both the process and of decisions made on behalf of the whole denomination.

The ELCA rules limit each party in a closed hearing to only two official representatives, usually counsel. Bradley's counsel asked the hearing officer to permit the attendance of a limited number of additional people, but the hearing officer indicated that he would leave the parties to reach their own agreement on this matter. Bradley's counsel requested that the Bishop agree to the attendance of members of Bradley's immediate family, including his partner Pastor Darin Easler, another close friend and myself. The Bishop's counsel has responded that the Bishop's agreement on the attendance of family members would be conditioned on an agreement to total media silence. If media silence is the only option, then Bradley and his counsel will be entering the hearing room alone.

Bradley and I know that his case is about much more than whether one pastor is removed from the roster. We know the filing of charges has caused deep pain for most if not all of you, the members of LC/NA. This case is about every gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person, called to ministry or not. It is about parents, siblings, children and allies. The ELCA and Bishop Warren said "yes" to Bradley time and again, and in so doing said "yes," in a way, to us. Bradley kept his promise and came forward with the news of his partnership with Darin. Many of us have done the same, choosing authenticity and integrity to the church closet. How the ELCA will act in this process and what it will decide impacts Bradley most of all. Still we stand with him, knowing that the verdict and the penalty, if imposed, are just as surely directed at all of us. God watches with us, longing for justice. "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus." Rom 8: 37-39.

In this time of preparation, I ask that you keep Bradley, his legal team, Bishop Warren and his counsel, the hearing officer, advisors, the hearing committee and the members of St. John's Lutheran in your prayers. May the Holy Spirit infuse this process that all members of the ELCA will find ways to live together faithfully in the midst our disagreements, ways that are life giving rather than life taking, ways that celebrate ministry and the good gifts of the creator, ways that confirm the call of God empowering all to answer Amen, let it be so.

Emily Eastwood
Executive Director

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