Division in the Church

This past week, the ELCA removed Pastor Bradley Schmeling of Atlanta from its clergy roster. Pr. Schmeling, a gay man in a same sex committed relationship, was tried at an ELCA discipline hearing in January. He was found to be in violation of the ELCA Visions and Expectations document.

The verdict was for him to be removed from the roster after the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August. The panel’s ruling was that the policy was indeed unjust and illegal. It is used to govern and is treated as a constitutional document which it is not. The dicipline panel wanted to give the ELCA a chance to revise the document in August and thus allow Pr. Schmeling to remain in the pulpit. The Bishop of the Southern Synod (Atlanta) appealed the decision on the basis that the panel did not have the power to delay the pastor’s removal. The ELCA ruled with the Bishop on the appeal and called for Pastor Schmeling to be immediately removed from the roster.

The above paragraph illustrates what is wrong in the mainline Christian denominations today. In today’s Akron beacon Journal, a syndicated column by Rev. Lauren R. Stanley, a missionary in the Episcopal Church, talked about division in the Church. She tackled the issue head-on. Division is not that bad. Division is why we have Christian churches. If not for Martin Luther and the Reformation, most of us would all be Catholics today. Division has lead to multi-cultural congregations and female pastors. Division has led us to many other positive changes.

Pastor Stanley summed it all up very nicely.

…Because instead of focusing on the mission and ministry that Jesus commanded all of his followers to do, too many in the Church are focusing on getting what they want when they want it, whether that be the final say on how to interpret Scripture, on who is in and who is out, on who owns what property…

As Pastor Stanley went on to talk about diverse people never coming to agreement on these and other issues. I believe that she was asking if agreement on EVERYTHING is necessary for us to function as a single body in the Church. She saw it correctly as only needing to agree on the single core Christian issue…

…The key here is to see whether, even in the midst of all this disagreement and despite all the lawsuits, we can stay focused on Jesus’ mission and ours. To do that, we don’t have to agree on all the issues, and quite frankly, I don’t think we ever will. We do have to agree on the core issue, which is Jesus’ mission in the world…

I believe the bottom line is that change is coming in the Church. Conservatives are trying hold back the tide, but it will overtake them. Does this seem vaguely familiar to stories from the Bible to you?

The sad news is that many LGBT turn away from the church and its unwelcoming messages. If only we could embrace a congregational view of the Church and allow local congregations to focus on the work that benefits their community. Churches could chose to be more conservative; others more liberal. This does seem to be a way to love one another and preach the Gospel to all as Jesus told us to do.

Back to Pr. Schmeling, little will change in his congregation. They have already committed to retain him as their pastor. They will leave the ELCA and continue to grow as they have been under Pr. Schmeling’s leadership. The ELCA will most likely not fair as well as they will.

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