National Religious Leadership Roundtable condemns Lutheran church decision to remove gay pastor

July 06, 2007

Pedro Julio Serrano, Communications Coordinator

WASHINGTON, July 6 — The National Religious Leadership Roundtable condemns the July 2 decision by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) Committee on Appeals to immediately remove the Rev. Bradley Schmeling from the clergy roster because he has a same-sex partner. By a 10–2 vote, the committee reversed an earlier panel’s ruling allowing the pastor to remain on the roster until Aug. 15. Under ELCA rules, Schmeling is now a layperson within the denomination and should not wear a stole or perform sacraments. Schmeling reportedly has the support of his congregants and said he will defy the decision and stay as pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Ga.

Responses from National Religious Leadership Roundtable Members

“One day the Protestant churches of America will surely recognize that sexual diversity is part of God’s blessing. Unfortunately today is not yet that day for the ELCA and other mainline churches. God bless the people of St. John’s for refusing to remove Bradley Schmeling from their pulpit and speaking truth to power. May the General Assembly of the ELCA later this summer do the same.”

— Rev. Debra W. Haffner
Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

“Bradley trusts love; we pray this blessing for the Lutheran church as well.”

—   Rev. Troy Plummer
Executive Director
Reconciling Ministries Network, United Methodist Church

“We are outraged at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and are hurting for the St. John’s community. The powers that be in the ELCA have struck the most Faustian of bargains. Presented with a loving and community-based alternative, the Committee on Appeals chose instead to willfully sacrifice the few, in this case the beloved Pastor Bradley Schmeling and his spirit-filled congregational family, St. John’s Lutheran Church, on the altar of expediency. The committee has acted to hurt lesbian and gay people and those who love us in the cynical belief that we will simply go away. They obviously don’t know us and have forgotten God’s constant love and God’s call to justice. We will not go away. In fact, we will be present with Goodsoil and Lutherans Concerned at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly and at every Churchwide Assembly from now until the gifts and graces for ministry of all people are both recognized and celebrated.”

— Harry Knox
Human Rights Campaign Religion and Faith Program

“We are deeply saddened, angry and more determined following the artless and callous treatment of Pastor Bradley at the hands of the Committee on Appeals. The decision was delivered by e-mail, no pastoral call was made or human contact given. The committee actually noted as positive that they limited themselves to the transcripts of the hearing. They never met Pastor Schmeling or the members of St. John’s.

“There are no scriptural precedents for such behavior in Christ’s life. Jesus was moved with compassion and broke the religious laws of his age, time and again meeting and embracing outcasts in their contexts. There are others in the Gospels, the Scribes and the Pharisees who, according to Jesus, kept the letter of the law but neglected the weightier matters of justice and mercy. Jesus goes on to say to the Pharisees, ‘blind guides, you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.’ Matthew: 23. Pastor Schmeling has been treated by the church like a gnat to be swatted away and forgotten. Christ would not recognize the behavior of the Committee on Appeals, and by default the ELCA in this case, as his own.

“This is what happens when human law becomes an end to itself. The judicial process has proven to be an ecclesiastical dry hole. It started with an unjust, discriminatory policy and decided that it had been rightly and justly executed.

“We now turn to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August seeking the legislative remedy offered by the DHC and confirmed as the only alternative by the COA. The Spirit has moved 22 synods of the ELCA to state in no uncertain terms that the policy of discrimination must be changed. These synods represent a full 40 percent of the membership of the ELCA. They believe that this matter must come to the floor of the assembly, be debated, and the current policy eliminated leaving a single standard for pastors more fitting to those who follow Christ and Martin Luther.

“The struggle is not over, LGBT Lutherans and their allies both clergy and lay will not relent until justice and mercy prevail.”

— Emily Eastwood
Executive Director
Lutherans Concerned/North America

“The struggle to realize the vision of God’s beloved community is often an arduous, painful journey which requires much courage and perseverance. The witness of Rev. Schmeling and the congregation he serves is like so many congregations in the welcoming church movement, a testament of grace enriched by the many blessings of God’s gifts for mission and ministry. They remind us that faithful discipleship is not without cost and I pray they may know they are supported by a great cloud of witnesses through this challenging time.”

— Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer
Minister for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns
Wider Church Ministries, United Church of Christ


The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the grassroots power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. We do this by training activists, equipping state and local organizations with the skills needed to organize broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.