A visible sign of the wondrous changes in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America ( ELCA ) is the reinstatement of Pastor Bradley Schmeling and Pastor Darin Easler to the roster of ministers of the ELCA. Both had been removed from that roster for being in a committed, same-gender relationship.
As a committed, same-gender clergy couple they will serve openly on the roster of ELCA ministers under the now-revised policy. The new policy is the result of the decisions of the August 2009 Churchwide Assembly directing the removal of the barriers to service in the church by ministers in committed, lifelong, same-gender relationships. That new policy was implemented by the actions of the ELCA Church Council in early April 2010.
Schmeling was on the roster of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA at St. John's Lutheran Church in Atlanta. In 2006, he told his previous bishop that he had found his partner for life. That bishop filed ecclesiastical charges for violation of the-then policy that required celibacy of gay ministers. Famously, at the end of the 2007 trial, the Discipline Hearing Committee's ruling said that they found nothing wrong with his ministry or commitment to the work of the church, that they would hold him up as exemplary, and that they thought the policy was wrong and ought to be changed. But, they said that, obedient to the law, he was to be removed from the roster.
Schmeling's congregation, which had thrown a celebratory party when first told about his commitment to Darin Easler, informed the bishop they were keeping him as their pastor, as they have done for the last three years. No formal charges were filed against the congregation. However, from that time, the ELCA officially considered the pulpit at St. John's to be vacant. But, no more. Pastor Schmeling's ministry will be officially recognized by his reinstatement to the roster.
Darin Easler was on the roster of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA, successfully came out to the congregation he had served for five years in Zumbrota, Minnesota, but because of the previous policy, chose to leave his call in 2003. He was later dropped from the clergy roster solely because of his committed relationship with Schmeling. Subsequently, he received ministerial standing in the United Church of Christ, who welcomes gay ministers in committed relationships. His ministry in Atlanta is as a chaplain and grief counselor to patients and families in hospice care.
Pastor Bradley Schmeling says, "One of the stones of injustice has been rolled away from the door, and Christ now lives more fully in the life of the church. The old policy, a dead end for so many for so long, has fallen in the face of Easter's gracious power. It's been striking how deliberately and how clearly the church has moved forward to make the assembly's witness a reality. These are exciting days to be part of the church, and I'm looking forward to years ahead in ministry both with the church I love and with the partner that God has given me. To be on the roster together makes Isaiah's vision of an everlasting place within God's house a wonderful, living reality in our lives."
As part of our mission to raise visibility for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ( LGBT ) people and issues in the media, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation ( GLAAD ) occasionally disseminates press releases for organizations that support equality for LGBT people.