In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against the Rev. Steven Paul Sabin SOUTHEASTERN IOWA SYNOD


Pursuant to Chapter 20 of the Constitutions, Bylaws and Continuing Resolutions (CBCR) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the undersigned synodical bishop, the Rev. Philip L. Hougen (Bishop Hougen) does hereby charge that the Rev. Steven Paul Sabin (Pastor Sabin), while serving as pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church (Lord of Life) in Ames, Iowa, has engaged in and is continuing to engage in a pattern of conduct incompatible with the character of the ministerial office in that Pastor Sabin has persisted for more than five years in an active homosexual relationship with a male partner. These charges are based upon the following facts and circumstances:

  1. Section 20.21.01., of the CBCR provides that ordained ministers shall be subject to discipline for, among other things, conduct incompatible with the character of the ministerial office. On November 19, 1989, and again in a revised version on December 5, 1993, the Church Council of the ELCA, under the authority of CBCR 20.71.11., adopted Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline of Ordained Ministers (Definitions and Guidelines), a document which defines conduct incompatible with the character of the ministerial office.
  2. Definitions and Guidelines is a juridical document that describes the grounds on which ordained ministers may be subject to the disciplinary process of this church. With regard to sexual matters, Definitions and Guidelines states as follows:
    The biblical understanding which this church affirms is that the normative setting for sexual intercourse is marriage. In keeping with this understanding, chastity before marriage and fidelity within marriage are the norm. Adultery, promiscuity, the sexual abuse of another, or the misuse of counseling relationships for sexual favors constitute conduct that is incompatible with the standards for the rostered ministries of this church.
    Practicing homosexual persons are precluded from the rostered ministries of this church.
  3. On October 22, 1990, the ELCA Church Council adopted another document entitled Vision and Expectations...Ordained Ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (Vision and Expectations). Vision and Expectations is a document that states both the vision for ordained ministry in the life of this church and the high expectations its members have of those who serve in this ministry. With regard to sexual conduct, Vision and Expectations states as follows:
    The expectation of this church regarding the sexual conduct of its ordained ministers are grounded in the understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that ordained ministers are to live in such a way as to honor this gift. Ordained ministers are expected to reject sexual promiscuity, the manipulation of others for purposes of sexual gratification, and all attempts of sexual seduction and sexual harassment, including taking physical or emotional advantage of others. Single ordained ministers are expected to live a chaste life. Married ordained ministers are expected to life in fidelity to their spouses, giving expression to sexual intimacy within a marriage relationship that is mutual, chaste, and faithful. Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships.
  4. Pastor Sabin was ordained on June 30, 1985, into the ministry of the Lutheran Church in America, one of the predecessor church bodies to the ELCA. Pastor Sabin is presently on the clergy roster of the Southeastern Iowa Synod (Synod) of the ELCA.
  5. Pastor Sabin's first and only call was to be pastor of Lord of Life in Ames, Iowa. He accepted that call and began serving Lord of Life in June of 1985. He continues to serve under call to Lord of Life, which is a congregation on the roster of the Synod and the ELCA.
  6. During his service at Lord of Life, Pastor Sabin began dating a man who lived in San Francisco. That homosexual relationship continued and in 1995, Pastor Sabin's gay lover began living with the pastor in Ames, Iowa. Pastor Sabin and his gay partner, Karl von Uhl, attempted to keep their sexual relationship and their living arrangement a secret from Lord of Life and from the Synod and the ELCA.
  7. On January 14, 1997, Bishop Hougen met with Pastor Sabin to discuss ecumenical issues and so that Pastor Sabin could inform Bishop Hougen that Pastor Sabin was interested in receiving a new call to another congregation. In response to Pastor Sabin's indicating that he was open to receiving another call, Bishop Hougen asked whether the rumor was true that Pastor Sabin was living in a gay relationship with another man. Pastor Sabin reluctantly admitted that it was true, at which point Bishop Hougen asked Pastor Sabin if he would resign from the clergy roster of the ELCA. Pastor Sabin indicated he needed time to consider the matter.
  8. On January 16, 1997, Pastor Sabin wrote a letter to Bishop Hougen admitting that Karl von Uhl is his gay partner and asserting that Uhl is also his "spouse". Pastor Sabin further indicated that his understanding that ELCA clergy who are homosexual are expected to abstain from participating in homosexual relationships. He refused to state that he was willing to live in compliance with that requirement, and he refused to resign from the clergy roster. A copy of Pastor Sabin's entire letter to Bishop Hougen is attached hereto as Exhibit A.
  9. The very next Sunday, January 19, 1997, Pastor Sabin, for the first time, admitted to his congregation at Lord of Life that he is a homosexual and is living with his gay partner. During services at Lord of Life that morning he introduced Karl von Uhl to the congregation as his "spouse".
  10. After announcing to his congregation that he is a practicing homosexual, Pastor Sabin again met with Bishop Hougen and reasserted his refusal to resign from the clergy roster of the ELCA. Bishop Hougen attended a meeting of the Lord of Life congregation on January 26, 1997, at which time Pastor Sabin again reasserted his refusal to resign despite being in violation of the policies and procedures of the ELCA. On August 25, 1997, Bishop Hougen attended a conference meeting of the area clergy, which includes Pastor Sabin's congregation. Pastor Sabin was also in attendance at that meeting and publicly discussed his homosexuality and his same-sex relationship with his gay partner.
  11. Pastor Sabin has participated in a publicity campaign proclaiming his status as a practicing homosexual and his disagreement with the policies and practices of the ELCA concerning homosexual clergy. Photographs of Pastor Sabin with his gay lover, accompanied by lengthy articles, have appeared in gay and lesbian publications and in general circulation newspapers, such as the Ames, Iowa, Daily Tribune.

WHEREFORE, the Rev. Philip L. Hougen, bishop of the Southeastern Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, requests that a discipline hearing committee, in accordance with CBCR 20.21.02.c., impose upon the Rev. Steven Paul Sabin, the disciplinary action of removal from the ordained ministry of this church.