- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007

ATLANTA (AP) — The homosexual pastor of Atlanta’s oldest Lutheran church has been removed from his denomination’s clergy roster in an appeals committee decision, ending a case that began when the pastor disclosed he was in a same-sex relationship.

But the Rev. Bradley Schmeling said yesterday that he will not leave the pulpit of St. John’s Lutheran Church, a decision that could open the 350-member congregation to disciplinary action from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

“The congregation issued a call to me in 2000, and as far as we are concerned, that hasn’t changed,” Mr. Schmeling said. “I’m disheartened [the decision] gives the impression the church is more interested in rules than in compassion.”

The appeals committee decision, issued Monday, overturns a ruling from an earlier panel, which had allowed the pastor to stay on the roster until Aug. 15.

Mr. Schmeling told St. John’s and his bishop that he is homosexual before he was chosen as pastor in 2000. But last year, when he announced that he had found a lifelong companion, Bishop Ronald Warren of the ELCA’s Southeastern Synod asked the 44-year-old pastor to resign.

When Mr. Schmeling refused, Bishop Warren started disciplinary proceedings against him, leading to a closed-door January trial in which a disciplinary hearing committee basically served as the jury.

In their decision, seven members of the 12-member disciplinary committee said they felt the church rule left them no choice but to defrock Mr. Schmeling, effective Aug. 15. But the committee also wrote that, if not bound by the rule, it “would find almost unanimously that Pastor Schmeling is not engaged in conduct that is incompatible with the ministerial office” and would order no discipline.

The committee suggested that the ELCA should remove its rule and reinstate homosexual clergy who were removed or resigned because they were in a same-sex “lifelong partnership.”

Both Mr. Schmeling and Bishop Warren appealed the committee’s decision, and the appeals members sided with the bishop on Monday.

The appeals committee ruled that the first committee had no right to delay Mr. Schmeling’s removal until after the ELCA’s biennial meeting churchwide assembly Aug. 6 to 12 in Chicago. It also said the first panel exceeded its authority by suggesting the church should change its policies.

The acceptance of homosexual clergy has been at the core of a heated debate in many Protestant denominations. The ELCA, which has 4.9 million members, allows openly homosexual clergy, but only if they are celibate. Still, many Lutheran churches support ordaining partnered homosexuals and perform same-sex blessing ceremonies despite the policy.

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