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Pastor on Trial
Aug 11, 2006

St. John's Lutheran, Atlanta
where Pastor Schmeling serves

These words aren't coming easy. I've been trying to share the news of Bishop Ron Warren's charges against Pastor Bradley Schmeling since I heard of it last Thursday.

I'm surprised by the emotion an event like this still brings up in me.  I went through my own getting kicked out of seminary in 1989, back when I was studying to be a pastor. Mostly now, I find that experience easy to talk about.  I shared the story in Straight Into Gay America. 

Something's stuck inside me.  I couldn't get these words out all weekend. I'm having a hard time again now. So I spent many hours this weekend creating a PASTOR ON TRIAL resource center on the Straight Into Gay America website. 

I'm realizing right now that the reason for creating this resource center is fear.  I have memories of the complete impersonality of my own getting kicked out of seminary, of having no voice in the matter, no story that made a bit of difference to the ones who passed judgment on me.  How can I speak up about this now when the rules are the same, still so crystal clear?   The line that got me from The ELCA Visions and Expectations document states:

Single ordained ministers are expected to live a chaste life. (Anne and I were engaged and living together when I got the boot.)

And the line being used to charge Pastor Bradley Schmeling is:

Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships.

Pastor Bradley Schmeling found his life partner (another ELCA pastor who has already been removed from the ELCA roster for being gay.)  Pastor Bradley Schmeling is no longer in compliance with Visions and Expectations.  Case Closed.  Another pastor cleansed from the ELCA roster.

This is what will happen, unless the situation is humanized.  As long as the church can create categories and judge categorically, we'll keep losing human pastors. 

Crazy.  I went out last summer and gathered people stories for five weeks, and spent all the long winter doing the research and writing encounters, and steeping myself in those stories.  Those are my credentials.  And yet, in these trials of the past, and now of Pastor Schmeling, story credentials are worthless.  Maybe that's what's stuck in me, creating this Resource Center so I can add my voice to that arena of categories, and rules, and impersonal judgments.

Will institutions ever understand compassion?  Or will they always rest in their rules?  Maybe the best we can do is stand up and say to the church,  "These aren't the right rules to play by."

Part of my fear in writing this note is simply acknowledging that all the beautiful stories I heard last summer, all these human encounters from Straight Into Gay America, each of them stands at the same risk of judgment currently laid upon Bradley Schmeling.  Whether it happens by an individual, or a religious leader, or a community leader, or a political leader, there is always the risk of condemnation simply for "living while gay."

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It scares the hell out of me that we live in this kind of a world, where categories and condemnations continue to wreak havoc in religious arenas and in domestic and international politics.

I know we won't all get involved in advocating for Pastor Bradley Schmeling, and that's okay.  Some of us have other things that call our passions.  But...if enough get involved in advocationg for Pastor Schmeling, we can change the rules. 

Voices for LGBT justice have been speaking in churches for decades.  Just as in South Africa and apartheid, we never know the tipping point. But if gay activist Desmond Tutu's example is correct, and I believe he is, then ultimately, the stories change the rules. 




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