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Gay Lutheran pastor removed, but he isn't going

July 06, 2007|From the Associated Press

ATLANTA — The openly gay pastor of Atlanta's oldest Lutheran church has been removed from his denomination's clergy roster.

But the Rev. Bradley Schmeling said Thursday that he would 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.

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

In a decision issued Monday, a 12-member appeals committee ruled 10-2 to immediately remove Schmeling from the clergy roster. An earlier panel's ruling had allowed the pastor to stay on the roster until Aug. 15.

By the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's rules, Schmeling is now a lay person and should not wear a stole or perform sacraments, said Emily Eastwood of the Minnesota-based gay rights group Lutherans Concerned.

But the congregation's president, John Ballew, said nothing would change at St. John's.

"Our respect has only grown in the last 14 months," Ballew said. "For us, it means nothing."

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

When Schmeling refused, Warren started disciplinary proceedings against him, leading to a closed-door trial in January in which a disciplinary hearing committee dealt with the case.

In that earlier decision, seven members of the 12-member disciplinary committee said they thought the church rule left them no choice but to defrock 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 church group remove its rule and reinstate gay clergy who were removed or resigned because they were in a same-sex "lifelong partnership."

Both Schmeling and Warren appealed the committee's decision, and the appeals members sided with Warren on Monday.

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