MAINLINE PROTESTANTS have spent decades debating homosexuality. The debate is vast and complex, involving biblical interpretation, ancient history, the disputed meaning of certain Greek words and the incomplete findings of biological and social sciences. Sometimes obscured in this protracted debate are the lives of homosexual persons who are already part of the church--and, indeed, are already ministers of the church.
The reality that gay people are already serving the church in powerful ways was hard to deny at the August assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Delegates in Chicago were offered booklets, produced by Lutherans Concerned, that featured stories about gay clergy (some of whom have partners) and their ministries. On many delegates' minds was the case of Bradley Schmeling, a gay pastor in Atlanta who was defrocked last year after he told his bishop he was in a sexual relationship, but who, at the request of his congregation, continues to serve as pastor.
Giving visibility to gays who are practicing clergy helped attach names and faces to the standard questions of whether the church should bless same-sex partnerships and ordain noncelibate gays. Their visibility also brought to the fore a different, very concrete question: Should the church expend its energies to root out people who are clearly gifted for ministry and who serve faithfully, solely because they are in a gay relationship? …