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Lutheran panel drops gay pastor from roster

ATLANTA -- The openly gay pastor of Atlanta's oldest Lutheran church has been removed from his denomination's clergy roster.

But the Rev. Bradley Schmeling said yesterday that he will not leave the pulpit of St. John's Lutheran Church, a decision that could open the 350-member congregation to disciplinary action from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

"The congregation issued a call to me in 2000 and as far as we are concerned, that hasn't changed," Schmeling said.

An appeals committee decision, issued Monday, overturns a ruling from an earlier panel, which had allowed the pastor to stay on the roster until Aug. 15.

Schmeling told St. John's and his bishop that he is gay before he was chosen as pastor in 2000. But last year, when Schmeling announced that he had found a lifelong companion, Bishop Ronald Warren of the church's Southeastern Synod asked the 44-year-old pastor to resign.

When Schmeling refused, Warren started disciplinary proceedings against him, leading to a closed-door January trial in which a disciplinary hearing committee dealt with the case.

In their decision, seven members of the 12-member disciplinary committee said they felt the church rule left them no choice but to defrock Schmeling, effective Aug. 15. But the committee also wrote that, if not bound by the rule, it "would find almost unanimously that Pastor Schmeling is not engaged in conduct that is incompatible with the ministerial office" and would order no discipline.

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