On the Church and Society
February 22, 2007
At first glance, it might seem like a stand for orthodoxy and Holy Scripture. A closer look points to a further undermining of God's Word.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) ranks as the largest Lutheran body in the United States. Unfortunately, it also ranks as the most conflicted and confused (and that's saying something among Lutherans these days).
In the summer of 2005, the ELCA churchwide assembly rejected a push by homosexual activists to allow for church blessings of same-sex unions, and the ordination of non-celibate gays. However, some unfortunate wiggle room was left for local congregations regarding same-sex unions, and the vote on gay ordination was basically split down the middle among delegates, with a two-thirds majority needed to allow for ordaining sexually active gays and lesbians. Neither was a bold endorsement of Holy Scripture, but at least some basics of Christian teachings seemed to be upheld.
But now we have a decision from an ELCA disciplinary committee regarding Pastor Bradley Schmeling. Schmeling, the pastor at St. John's Lutheran Church in Atlanta, told Bishop Ronald Warren in March 2006 that he was in a sexual relationship with Darin Easler, now a former ELCA pastor. Bishop Warren knew Schmeling was gay when he became the pastor at St. John's in 2000. But Schmeling assured Warren that he was in compliance with ELCA requirements. And if not in compliance in the future, the bishop would request Schmeling's resignation.
Warren requested the resignation, but Schmeling refused. A disciplinary hearing committee was held to consider the charges from January 18 to January 24, 2007.
This should have been an open-and-shut case. As explained in the committee's decision, the ELCA's Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline declares: "Practicing homosexual persons are precluded from the ordained ministry of this church." And the church's Vision and Expectations-Ordained Ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America provides: "Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual relationships." In turn, of course, these prohibitions are firmly rooted in what Holy Scripture and Christian teachings say about sexual matters, that is, sex is sinful outside of marriage. These days, tragically, we must add: that is, marriage traditionally defined as between a man and a woman.
However, Schmeling, as the committee decision pointed out, countered that "the traditional Biblical basis for the policy is suspect." He apparently brought in revisionist theologians who, in pushing gay theology, proclaim that the Bible really doesn't mean what it clearly does means.
The committee correctly concluded: "The stipulated facts leave ... no choice but to determine the Rev. Bradley E. Schmeling is a practicing homosexual person ... and is therefore precluded from the ordained ministry of this church."
But as it turned out, the committee was pretty annoyed with its own conclusion. The decision declared that the committee was "nearly unanimous" that the church's teachings were "bad policy."
Indeed, if they didn't have to follow these pesky policies, the decision declared, "then this committee would find, with near unanimity, that there is nothing about Pastor Schmeling's acknowledged and stipulated homosexual relationship that would impede the proclamation of the gospel or the right administration of the sacraments. If relieved of the specific requirements of Definitions and Guidelines and permitted to decide this case under the standards of the constitution chapters seven and twenty, this committee would find almost unanimously that Pastor Schmeling is not engaged in conduct that is incompatible with ministerial office, and would find with near unanimity that no discipline of any sort should be imposed against him."
Then the committee went on to lecture the entire ELCA on how its policies should change: 1) "remove the language that specifically precludes practicing homosexuals from service as ordained ministers of the church," 2) "remove specific prohibition against homosexual sexual relationships," and 3) reinstate to clergy rosters "persons who have resigned or have been removed ... solely because they have entered into a loving, lifelong partnership with another person of the same sex." Translated: Ignore Holy Scripture; after all, it's bad policy.
The committee postponed Schmeling's removal from the pulpit until August 15. Why? Well, the ELCA holds its next churchwide assembly earlier that month, and the obvious hope is that church policy will be changed.
But recent controversy in the ELCA reaches beyond the Schmeling case. Betsy Carlson reported the following in a February 9 article on the WordAlone Network website: "Also sure to bring discussion and attention to the dispute over homosexual behavior is a document received in the mail by leaders in the New England Synod the first week in February. That synod's council had approved the document in December 2006. In this document, 'Guidance for Pastors and Congregations of the New England Synod, ELCA, Regarding the Blessing of Unions of Same-Sex Couples,' the New England Synod not only gives explicit approval to pastors and churches to do the blessings, but also provides an order of service for the blessings."
WordAlone is a much-needed traditional reform movement within the ELCA. The piece quoted the group's president, Jaynan Clark Egland: "ELCA leaders in the New England Synod, and in ... churchwide discipline committees, have with these actions, shown their complete disregard for the authority of the Word of God in all matters of faith and life. They are determined to take the place of God and decide what is sin and what isn't." WordAlone Director Mark Chavez added: "This intentional disobedience shows little care for all the members of the body of Christ in the ELCA. The leaders in New England and on the hearing committee that met in Atlanta do not want to be accountable to the rest of the ELCA and their actions will contribute directly to the further decline of the ELCA."
Indeed, the so-called "bad policy" bemoaned by the ELCA disciplinary committee and ignored by the New England Synod is God's policy. What is left if a church turns its back on the Bible, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, and embraces sin? The ELCA creeps ever closer to such apostasy.
Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, is the editor and publisher of the "On the Church & Society Report." This column is from the latest issue of the "On the Church & Society Report," which also features "Message for Catholic Politicians," "Subway Condoms," "Episcopal Sunset," "Creepy, Flaming Biker Dude," "Bridge to Where?" and "Saintly Assasin?" To receive a free four-issue trial of "On the Church & Society Report," send an e-mail request to ChurchandSociety@aol.com.