Human Rights Campaign Hopeful After Lutheran Church Ruling

by HRC Staff

Disciplinary Committee Asks Denomination to Accept Same-Sex Relationships for Clergy

WASHINGTON - Today the Human Rights Campaign called "encouraging" a disciplinary committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's call to strike a discriminatory policy from the denomination's constitution that prohibits clergy from entering into same-sex partnerships.

The jury of 12 Lutheran clergy from across the country recommended that the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly, the denomination's highest legislative body, "remove the language that specifically precludes practicing homosexuals from service as ordained ministers of this church" and "remove the specific prohibition against homosexual sexual relationships." The committee also recommended that the denomination take steps to immediately reinstate clergy that resigned or were expelled from their churches for entering into committed same-sex relationships.

The ruling came Wednesday during a closed-door church trial of openly gay Rev. Bradley Schmeling, pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Atlanta.

"We are encouraged by this decision that Pastor Brad's leadership and ministry should be affirmed and the discriminatory policy overturned," said Human Rights Campaign Religion and Faith Program Director Harry Knox. "It would be tragically irresponsible to rob the St. John's family of their loving pastor and his proven ability to grow this outstanding ministry because of a bad policy that needs to change."

Despite the continued vocal support of St. John's members, Schmeling was brought before a disciplinary committee in January on charges that he had violated the denomination's pastoral conduct guidelines after disclosing to church leaders last August that he had entered into a committed same-sex partnership. The ELCA currently allows only celibate gay people to serve as clergy.

The disciplinary committee will forgo further proceedings on Schmeling's trial until Aug. 15 following the 2007 Churchwide Assembly in Chicago. Unrefuted evidence at the trial showed that the congregation has grown and thrived under Schmeling's leadership and the committee's strong recommendation to the Churchwide Assembly is that the discriminatory policy be changed.

The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against GLBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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