CHICAGO – Flouting what they call a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, more than 80 gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered Lutheran ministers declared their sexuality on Tuesday in hopes of changing a church rule that excludes gay and lesbian clergy who do not live chastely.
The activists donned hand-knit, multicolored scarves to hand out booklets titled “A Place Within My Walls” at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s biennial national assembly. The booklet features testimonies by gay ministers including the Rev. Bradley Schmeling, an Atlanta pastor removed from the church roster last month after telling his bishop he was in a relationship with a man.
The booklet also includes a list of more than 80 clergy who are serving, are awaiting a call from a congregation or were removed from the roster because of their sexual orientation since the last attempt to change the church’s policy failed in Orlando in 2005.
Many ministers on the list are part of the Extraordinary Candidacy Project, a group of ordained gay clergy who are excluded from the church rolls but serve congregations that call them.
“Forcing people to lie and hide lacks integrity for a faith that has as its core message: Tell the truth in public in a way that sets us free,” said the Rev. Erik Christensen, who is part of the group. “I think this particular moment is pivotal. It really calls the church to accountability for its ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.”
The Rev. Patrick McGuire, interim pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Chicago Heights, said he added his name because “we need more witnesses to the larger church body.” Although McGuire is not in a relationship, he said he would be honest about it if that time comes.
“If I do fall into a relationship, I’ll be honest about that and we’ll see where the spirit leads us,” he said.
That’s precisely what Schmeling did in 2006 when he told his bishop he was in a committed relationship with a former Lutheran pastor now serving in the United Church of Christ. Since then he has become a poster child for the call to change the church’s policy before the scheduled release in two years of a broad social statement on human sexuality.
Almost a third of the church’s synods, or regional governing bodies, have endorsed a proposal that would permit gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships to serve congregations and would reinstate those who have been removed because of a same-sex relationship.
The church will debate the resolution this week.
But the Rev. Paull Spring, chairman of Lutheran CORE, a conservative Lutheran coalition, said the church should draft the social statement first. Regardless, he hopes the policy on gay clergy remains in place. He fears lifting the celibacy rule may split the church.
“Is this a stand-or-fall issue for the church? I admit, I’m struggling with this question,” Spring said.
“I’d like to help them in anyway I can,” he said of the ministers on the list. “But I also run up against biblical teachings. I am in pain on a different level.”
The 4.8 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, separate and more theologically conservative denominations, do not ordain gay people or women.