As conservative congregations ponder leaving the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America over its decision to give the green light to noncelibate gay clergy, one minister says there are Lutherans returning to the denomination because of the gay-affirming vote.
"I hope the story of people returning to the church gets told," the Rev. Bradley E. Schmeling told the ELCA News Service. "We hear a lot about those who are in pain because of the changes and talk about leaving."
Last month, during the churchwide assembly of ELCA's chief legislative body, delegates voted 559-451 to approve a resolution allowing gays and lesbians in "life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships" to be ordained.
The vote disappointed many who felt the denomination was abandoning the authority of Scripture. But while some are asking themselves whether they should leave or withdraw funding, Schmeling says he has been receiving letters from Lutherans who left the church years ago and say they intend to return.
Schmeling, pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Atlanta, is no stranger to the homosexuality debate. He announced in 2007 that he found a lifelong gay companion. He was removed from the clergy roster but later that year the churchwide assembly voted to encourage its bishops to practice "restraint" in disciplining gay ministers who are in "faithful" same-sex relationships and suggested that such clergy who were removed be reinstated.
This year, Lutheran delegates took it a step further to allow noncelibate homosexuals to be ordained. Schmeling expects the church to enter a difficult period as it moves through the ministry policy changes. But he believes the church will be strengthened through this and hopes they can "figure this out together."
Meanwhile, for conservative Lutherans, Dan Biles, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Spring Grove, Pa., encourages "loyal opposition."
Although he believes the ELCA has erred in its decision last month, Biles reminds like-minded Lutherans that their loyalty is to the ELCA.
"It is still the Body of Christ, even though right now it is diseased, suffering from an infection of postmodernism," Biles stated.
And in remaining loyal, they must oppose the current direction of their denomination and work to return it back to catholic and orthodox teaching and practice.
"Being the loyal opposition is the harder road to take. It is the way of the cross. It is so much easier to walk out with our heads held high, proud and sure of the rightness of our cause," he noted. "But the Lord Jesus and the witness of the Scriptures tell us this is not the way God's people operate.
"The path of loyal opposition will require of us patience, persistence, and a high degree of civility. Ranting at the ELCA will not serve our cause. We shall have to walk the narrow road of maintaining respectful contact with our opponents, even while honestly disagreeing with them and refusing to cooperate with the direction they are taking the ELCA."