[Lutheran CORE is a coalition for reform that includes several groups that are working to prevent the ELCA's departure from the Scriptures or the Lutheran confessions. The WordAlone Network is one of the member groups of Lutheran CORE. The Lutheran CORE steering committee recently sent this open letter to ELCA leaders in response to the discipline process in the Southeastern Synod, where Pastor Schmeling has said publicly that he is living outside the boundaries set by Vision and Expectations. — Mark Chavez, Director]
Lutheran CORE [Coalition for Reform]
Open Letter to the Rev. Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA; and the Rev. Lowell Almen, Secretary
October 16, 2006
Dear Bishop Hanson and Secretary Almen:
The recent action taken by Bishop Warren of the Southeastern Synod in filing formal charges against Pastor Bradley Schmeling for "behavior incompatible with the character of the ministerial office" has set the disciplinary process of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in motion. This process, which is outlined in chapter 20 of the ELCA constitution, provides the ELCA with an orderly procedure for dealing fairly with disciplinary charges brought against ordained clergy serving under call. The crucial importance of following this process in an evenhanded way that adheres strictly to the constitution cannot be overstated, particularly when the charges involve issues of sexuality.
Pastor Schmeling, in writing to his own congregation, has said, "I think the policy of the church is wrong, and it needs to be changed." However, this policy regarding sexual conduct for rostered persons was clearly upheld by the 2005 Churchwide Assembly, which is the highest legislative body in the ELCA. All bishops and synods are held accountable when it comes to following the constitutional stipulations regarding the definitions and guidelines for rostered persons. Only confusion and increased distrust of our elected leadership will be the result if a disciplinary hearing decision seeks to overturn the work of a properly constituted Churchwide Assembly. Indeed, confusion and distrust already exist due to the widespread perception that some bishops have refused to enforce the constitution and instead allow pastors to remain in service even though they are and plan to remain in violation of the guidelines.
However, our concern goes beyond a desire for constitutional proprieties. The constitution of the ELCA is only a tool to be used by the people of God in the work of living out the teachings of the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. Since the time of the New Testament, Christians have understood the Scriptures to speak clearly and with authority on matters of sexual behavior, particularly for those in leadership positions in congregations. "Vision and Expectations" reflects this understanding when it states, "The ordained minister is to be an example of holy living, so that the ordained minister's life does not become an impediment to the hearing of the gospel or a scandal to the community of faith." This example of holy living is not limited to but certainly includes the ordained minister's sexual conduct. To expect those serving the ELCA in the Office of Word and Sacrament to live in fidelity to one's spouse if married, to live a chaste life if single, and to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships is nothing new in the history of the Christian Church. What we expect is for the leadership of the ELCA faithfully to uphold the teachings of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions on the issues of human sexuality as on all other doctrinal matters.
We wish to assure you of our continued prayers for all who are involved in these proceedings, including Bishop Warren, Pastor Schmeling, the members and congregations of the Southeastern Synod, and the twelve members of the Disciplinary Hearing Committee. The concern we express here comes from our deep commitment to the mission that we in the ELCA share with the whole Church, to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in faithfulness to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. May the guidance of the Holy Spirit continue to lead and support you in the decisions of your office on this and all matters.
Lutheran CORE Steering Committee
cc: The Rev. E. Roy Riley, chair of the Conference of Bishops; The Rev. Ronald B. Warren, Bishop of the Southeastern Synod