Remember I said I was looking forward to a nice quiet evening at home with my husband, dogs, a good book and some Braves baseball? Well all that got flushed down the toilet when I read the following e-mail. (Printed in its entirety)
By the way this is going to be a longer piece-so to my good pastor friend and mentor who is going to yell at me, so let this be consider an essay. For the rest of you get a cup or coffee or your favorite beverage when reading, and pull up a chair and set a spell.
<<”Hi Friends, Many of you may have already heard the news that I was officially removed from the clergy roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on Monday, July 2, 2007. I lost my appeal, and Bishop Warren won on every point of his cross-appeal.
I want to thank all of you for your prayers and your amazing support during this last year. It’s been an overwhelming experience to receive such affirmation and love.
I’m including some things that I’ve written in the last couple of days, in case you’re interested. I’ve also included the full decision from the Committee on Appeals, a frightening document in its lack of grace, compassion, and vision.
Primarily, however, I simply wanted to thank you for holding me and giving me such strength to take on the challenge that the charges, the trial, the appeal, and the final judicial decision provided to me in this last year.
STATEMENT FOR THE PRESS, July 5, 2007
I’m disheartened that the Committee on Appeals would remove me from the roster without ever meeting me; without meeting the people of St. John’s Lutheran Church; or without even coming to Atlanta to experience our congregation at work in the neighborhood. Their decision was made on paper, not face to face.
I’m afraid this confirms what so many think about that church; that it’s a bureaucracy that’s more interested in following rules than it is witnessing to the compassionate love of God. I’m ashamed that this document comes from the denomination that I have served for the last twenty years. I would have hoped that it might have, at least, mentioned Jesus or offered to pray for me and for this congregation.
I want my denomination to witness to the Jesus that I know and love; a savior who is more interested in relationships more than in rules. I think that has always been the heart of the Lutheran message: God is, first and foremost, a gracious and loving God. God isn’t a heartless judge.
So I’m sad today; sad that the ELCA didn’t do the compassionate thing; sad that the journey for justice must go on longer.
But I’m also encouraged; encouraged by the love of this congregation; encouraged by our determination to continue to be faithful participants in the church; encouraged that the ELCA will have a chance to change the policy once and for all in Chicago.
St. John’s Lutheran Church has been an amazing community to serve. We have been growing and thriving these last seven years, and I expect that we will continue to do that. The congregation issued their call to me in 2000, and as far as we’re concerned, that call has not changed. The good news for today is that we can now return to the ministry and mission that we have been called to do. We’re going to continue to welcome everybody who comes through our doors; to work in our city for justice; to teach our children the Bible; and to be a faithful and loving voice in the larger church.
Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
St. John’s Lutheran Church
Atlanta, Georgia 30307
Let me start by saying the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) blew it. The local Bishop, the “Discipline Hearing Committee”, and the “Committee on Appeals” all missed the opportunity of a lifetime. They had the opportunity to do justice, act mercifully and walk humbly with God. They had an opportunity to “Walk the Talk” of Jesus the Christ but instead opted for the rule of law “by the teachers of the law and Pharisees”, the hypocrites! Right now you might be saying or thinking “Kind of strong there Reverend”? Damn right! Remember the name of this blog.
I am so sick of power and control issues in the church messing with the Gospel and doing great harm to the folks they have a charge to protect I want to throw up.
Pastor Bradley noted in a journal entry: “What struck me most profoundly in reading the document is the absence of Jesus. He is never mentioned, nor is there any reference to theology, prayer, or compassion. This decision is reminiscent of the bishop’s argument during the trial that “Theology and the Bible are not relevant to this case.” It’s astounding to me that the Lutheran church would publish a document with no biblical, theological, or pastoral language. This document is, perhaps, the most graceless writing I have ever experienced from the church.”
It is this absence or anything biblical in their considerations that strike me also. There are two stories, which fit Pastor Brad’s situation if not exactly certainly within the same framework.
The first is the story of Esther. Found in the Old Testament it is a story about breaking the rules for a far greater good. You can find the story at Esther 2:19-4. Esther did not want to break the rules even though it might save a great number of people. It was too risky cause after all she could get killed. However, she was told: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
The Bishop of the ELCA should have read this story before bringing charges against Pastor Brad considering these charges carry with them damage that will affect hundreds if not thousands in the ELCA.
I also wonder about this story of Jesus: John 8:1-11. Here is a woman who is clearly guilty of the crime for which she is charged. The punishment was also clear. Yet Jesus knew the hypocrisy in trying to carry it out and set it aside. I know people will point to the fact he said, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” But that is not the point here. The point is that Jesus saw that it was bad law and the people who wanted to enforce it were not in a good position to carry it out. When he said to the women, “Then neither do I condemn you,” the “spokesperson” for God set aside the law for the greater good, the women’s soul.
I am familiar with Lutheran polity…I really don’t think they are in a position to carry out their law towards homosexuals either. Please note I said their law not God’s.
I firmly believe I can speak on behalf of the congregation of Gentle Spirit Christian Church and the faithful of this community, to offer our affirmation and support for Pastor Brad and his community who now feeling the pain and sorrow caused by an outdated polity and an oppressive and hypocritical acts of discrimination.
Today I kneel in faithful prayer and support with the gentle folks in Christ at St. John’s. As now they will have to make difficult choices. Will they follow the law of the church or follow the voice of God who called Pastor Brad to this church to begin with. Oh don’t be fooled this is not about Pastor Brad, as it goes far deeper. The ELCA made a choice to bring to trial one of God’s greatest gifts: LOVE. As the 21st century dawns I have taken note of the irony of a denomination whose beginnings had as one of its thesis their ministers not being celibate. As I observe just this small piece of history I can see no legitimate justification for traditions that come out of ancient ignorance, prejudice and fears.
If we are to take seriously the Gospel of Jesus the Christ who came to serve and love all, then we must “walk the talk” and live the Gospel – Be the Gospel. If not, can we say that we really are following the Christian path? The keepers of the law removed from the clergy this good and decent pastor of God for his expression of God’s greatest gift to us all as a crime against the church. As my Daddy use to say, “Lord child what the hell were you thinking”?
In does fact it brings to our mind the statement of Jesus when he said concerning the leadership of his day, “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”
I would ask the ELCA how on one hand you can say that being a homosexual is not a reason to deny ordained ministry, but on the other hand the expression of our sexuality is. How is the expression of our deep love for our partner shared in the most private and intimate moments any less moral then yours? Oh wait… I know now… you have been peeking into our bedrooms and saw something you didn’t understand so it had to be immoral and you made a law against it. Shame on you! Shame, Shame, Shame! Shame on you!