ATLANTA (AP) - A disciplinary hearing ended Tuesday in the case of a gay Lutheran minister who could be defrocked for announcing he has a partner, and the hearing committee now has up to two weeks to make its decision.
When the Rev. Bradley Schmeling was chosen in 2000 to lead St. John's, Atlanta's oldest Lutheran church, some worried that his sexuality could threaten the church's standing with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Last year, when Schmeling announced he had found a lifelong companion, the congregation threw them a party. But Bishop Ronald Warren of the ELCA's Southeastern Synod asked the 44-year-old pastor to resign.
When Schmeling refused, Warren began disciplinary proceedings against him for violating church rules barring sex outside of marriage.
The hearing, which started Friday, was structured much like a trial, with testimony heard by a committee of 12 ELCA members who will decide whether Schmeling can remain an ordained minister.
If the committee rules against the pastor, he could face suspension or no longer be recognized as an ordained minister in the ELCA.
The committee includes clergy and lay people, and two members were chosen by Schmeling.
The ELCA maintains it is simply following its own rules, which bar unmarried clergy - whether gay or straight - from having sex and reserve marriage for heterosexual couples.
But Schmeling and his supporters say they hope his case will make the church more accepting of pastors in same-sex relationships.
Nobody who gave testimony at the hearing is allowed to comment until a decision is reached.
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