This year the attention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, including ELCA communications, has been focused on a discipline case in the Southeastern Synod involving Pastor Bradley Schmeling, who went public with his relationship with another man. The hearing committee ruled that he should be removed from the ELCA clergy roster on Aug. 15. Last week Schmeling filed an appeal and a couple of days later Bishop Ronald Warren of the Southeastern Synod also filed an appeal. The ELCA Committee on Appeals will consider the appeals and make a decision within 60 days of final statements. You can read more about this at: www.elca.org/news/Releases.asp?a=3535
However, the ELCA churchwide organization has not reported on two other ELCA pastors who had announced that they were living in sexual relationships with their male partners. Yet the news of their relationships was made public as much as seven months prior to March 2006 when Schmeling informed Warren that he was not in compliance with ELCA standards for ordained ministers.
Pastor James Boline at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Santa Monica in the Southwest California Synod announced in August 2005 that he was a practicing homosexual. Several weeks later another pastor in that synod, John Kauffman at Christ the Shepherd in Altadena, Calif., announced that he was a practicing homosexual. Boline made his announcement at the 2005 ELCA churchwide assembly where he was a delegate. Kauffman's was reported by the secular media in Southern California.
Boline and Kauffman are both listed on the ELCA website as being on the ELCA's clergy roster a year and a half after public revelations of their homosexual relationships. The ELCA has reported nothing about either man - whether or not discipline charges were even being considered by their bishop, Dean Nelson, whether or not charges were filed or if they were filed, the outcome of the process.
The silence of the ELCA on these two situations seems to send a message. Regardless of the 2005 churchwide assembly's defeat of a recommendation to allow exceptions to the ELCA's ordination standards so practicing homosexuals could be ordained, a local option appears to exist with regard to these standards. In one synod the standards prohibiting ordinations of non-celibate homosexuals may be upheld and in another they may be ignored or disregarded.
The southern California churches are not the only two in the ELCA where the ELCA's ordination standards are almost meaningless. There are pastors in other synods who have not announced their homosexual relationships as publicly, yet within those synods it is common knowledge among other pastors.
Two churches in Minneapolis ordained practicing homosexuals a couple years ago and there's been no news about those churches. Other than not recognizing the ordinations, there is no known discipline of those churches. When asked in August 2005 about the churches, Bishop Craig Johnson said that one of his four options was to do nothing about it.
How things have changed since 1995 when two San Francisco churches were expelled from the ELCA for ordaining three practicing homosexuals.
The final outcome of the Schmeling case will be a significant factor in determining the ELCA's future. However, even if Schmeling is removed from the roster, a bigger scandal remains - bishops already disregard the ELCA's stated standards in numerous situations where pastors are practicing homosexuals.