Friday, August 17, 2007

Advocates Hail Lutheran Act on Gay Clergy Members

'The country’s largest Lutheran denomination is urging bishops to refrain from disciplining gay and lesbian clergy members who are in committed same-sex relationships.


Published: August 17, 2007

The country’s largest Lutheran denomination officially bars openly gay people from the ministry. But in a move that advocates for gay men and lesbians are hailing as a step toward changing that policy, the denomination is urging its bishops to refrain from disciplining gay members of the clergy who are in committed same-sex relationships.

A resolution to that effect was passed last weekend in Chicago by delegates to the biennial meeting of the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Church officials said it did not signal a change in policy. But they said that a denomination task force was completing “a social statement,” or theological document, on human sexuality, to be discussed in 2009, and that the resolution allowed bishops to hold off, in the interim, on taking action against gay and lesbian ministers in their jurisdictions.

Robert Tuttle, counsel to the bishop of the synod of metropolitan Washington, D.C., said, “What it changes is that it gives bishops some cover who want to exercise discretion to not bring charges.”

Supporters of the ordination of openly gay men and lesbians hailed the vote.
“Full inclusion and acceptance is still down the road, but the dam of discrimination has been broken,” said Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned/North America. “The church is on the road to acceptance.”

Lutherans who consider open homosexuality incompatible with biblical teachings played down the vote, however, saying it still left the decision to press for discipline at the discretion of bishops.

“I’ve talked to a lot of bishops about this,” said Paull Spring, former bishop of the synod of western Pennsylvania and a member of a traditionalist group, Lutheran CORE. “Many have said they have no intention of exercising restraint.”

Indeed, the resolution cannot stay the hand of a bishop intent on disciplining an openly gay or lesbian pastor. It also does not prevent disciplinary proceedings from being initiated by other sources like a group of priests that turns to the denomination’s disciplinary committee, Mr. Tuttle said.

But initiating disciplinary procedures is an enormous drain of time and energy at a synod, and that already acts as restraint on many bishops, Mr. Tuttle said.
In addition, because the resolution “prays, urges and encourages” bishops to refrain from discipline, those who do pursue such steps risk being seen as divisive, said Phil Soucy, a spokesman for Goodsoil, a coalition of groups within the church that backs greater rights for gay men and lesbians.

The vote was too late to prevent the defrocking of Bradley Schmeling as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Atlanta, who had told his congregation and his bishop that he was in a long-term same-sex relationship.

But Mr. Schmeling’s congregation intends to keep him as its pastor...

The whole article is at NY Times.

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