Refrain and restraint gets a real test

It’s been awhile since I have written a post on LGBT people and the ELCA. Three months have passed since the 2007 Churchwide Assembly in Chicago. Recently, there has been some notable news surrounding this issue.

One of the resolutions passed at the assembly was to allow Bishops to exercise restraint in disciplining LGBT clergy. In the ELCA a Bishop has the power to remove a pastor from the clergy if the pastor is in a committed LGBT relationship. This has happened numerous times over the past 10+ years. This resolution allows a Bishop under his/her discretion to refrain from removing the pastor from his/her call if they are a LGBT person.

This is both a blessing and a troublesome dilemma. A pastor’s call is in the hands of their Bishop. Under a Bishop supporting the inclusion of LGBT clergy, a pastor is typically “safe”. If a supportive bishop is replaced with a less supportive one, LGBT clergy serving faithfully under the prior Bishop could lose their call. Other LGBT clergy in synods headed by more conservative Bishops who are not supportive of inclusion remain at risk of losing their call at any time.

The above scenario was recently spotlighted in a NY Times article about Pastor Katrina Foster of the Bronx. Her Bishop, Rev. Stephen P. Bouman, is fully supportive of her ministry and has said he would not take any action against her. He is assuming a churchwide position in Chicago this spring. This leaves Pr. Foster’s future in the church in question.

Another interesting development is the ordination Pr. Jen Rude in Chicago as reported by the Chicago Sun Times. The openly lesbian woman was recently installed as associate pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Lake View. Bishop Wayne Miller of the Chicago Metropolitan Synod has only been in office since September. His predecessor, Rev. Paul Landahl, criticized the celibacy rule and didn’t discipline gay clergy in committed relationships. He led the effort at Churchwide Assembly to pas the refrain and restraint resolution. No one is certain of what action Bishop Miller will take. What also adds interest to this ordination is the fact that many ELCA Churchwide employees are members of this congregation

It will be interesting how the above stories develop over the coming months. They are truly going to test the “refrain and restraint” resolution. I believe that how they are handled will have a great influence on actions at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis. Given the history of the ELCA, there will be good news to report on how refrain and restraint works well for synods and congregations. There is also bound to be stories of pastors being defrocked and forced to leave their calls under their congregation’s protests because a Bishop has decided he will not refrain from taking action. The bottom line is that being a LGBT person in a rostered position is still a risky situation that appears to be improving as time moves on.

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