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


Rev. Steven Paul Sabin (Pastor Sabin) submits this offer of written proof in connection with the scriptural arguments that were the subject of a request for exclusion by Bishop Hougen.

If permitted to testify, Pastor Sabin would testify as follows:

The purpose of this proceeding is to pass judgment on the assertion of Bishop Hougen that I have engaged in and continue to engage in a pattern of conduct incompatible with the character of the ministerial office in that I have a relationship with Karl von Uhl. I, of course, deny the charge of incompatible conduct emphatically.

Before we can establish what constitutes conduct incompatible with the ministerial office, something needs to be said about the nature of the ministerial office itself. On June 30, 1985, I began my ministerial service. At that time, questions were asked and promises were made that were intended to outline and shape my service to Christ and his Church for the rest of my life. Bishop Werger, then Bishop of the Iowa Synod of the LCA asked, "Before almighty God, to whom you must give account, and in the presence of this congregation, I ask: Will you assume this office, believing that the Church's call is God's call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament?"

I responded, "I will, and I ask God to help me."

Bishop Werger continued, "The Church in which you are to be ordained confesses that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and are the norm of its faith and life. We accept, teach, and confess the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds. We also acknowledge the Lutheran Confessions as true witnesses and faithful expositions of the Holy Scriptures. Will you therefore preach and teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and these creeds and confessions?"

I responded, "I will, and I ask God to help me."

Again, Bishop Werger continued, "Will you be diligent in your study of the Holy Scriptures and in your use of the means of grace? Will you pray for God's people, nourish them with the Word and Holy Sacraments, and lead them by your own example in faithful service and holy living?"

I responded, "I will, and I ask God to help me."

Finally, bishop Werger asked, "Will you give faithful witness in the world, that God's love may be known in all that you do?"

I responded, "I will, and I ask God to help me."

Bishop Werger then said, "Almighty God, who has given you the will to do these things, graciously give you the strength and compassion to perform them."

I am happy to say that in the exercise of my office I do not fear to render my accounting to almighty God. Nor, for that matter, do I have any hesitation in rendering an accounting to you, the hearing panel in this matter. I shall do so on your request. But it is important to note that Bishop Hougen makes no accusations against the content or tenor of my ministry. Indeed, even after Bishop Hougen asked for my resignation, he continued to make use of my expertise as Synodical Ecumenical Representative, he assisted at a liturgy when I was the Presiding Minister, and has received the Sacrament of Holy Communion from me.

Bishop Hougen's accusation against me rests solely on his claim that I am in violation of the "Definitions and Guidelines" document of the ELCA. This is a handy document in its function, as it states, "to assist in the processes of consultation, discipline, and appeals." It is not however a statement of "this church," as the phrase is so often used. It is not part of the authoritative documents set out in Chapter 2 of the ELCA Constitution; it is not part of the ordination vows.

Some will argue that any organization needs the freedom to establish rules and procedures to safeguard itself. I would not disagree with this suggestion. But, more importantly, the Church is not like other organizations. It is truly a mixed organization of Law and Gospel, but it exists solely for the service of the Gospel. As Chapter 3 of the ELCA Constitution so rightly asserts, "All power in the Church belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ, its head. All actions of this church are to be carried out under his rule and authority."

The only definitive way to know the rule and authority of our Lord is through the words of Holy Scripture and the declarations and interpretations of Scripture made by creeds and confessions. "Definitions and Guidelines" makes no reference to any of these touchstones of the faith. The document contains not a single reference or footnote.

In seeking to press his accusation in this disciplinary process, Bishop Hougen states, "Evidence with respect to one's theological understanding of the correctness of [this] church's position is not only without 'questionable relevancy' but is clearly and totally irrelevant to the issue before this committee." This is not consistent with the constitutional affirmation, "All power in the Church belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ, its head. All actions of this church are to be carried out under his rule and authority."

On repeated occasions, Bishop Hougen has been asked to explain the policy of the ELCA regarding gay and lesbian clergy. On January 19, 1997, at the Annual Congregational meeting of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Ames, IA, Bishop Hougen stated that there is reputable biblical scholarship on both sides of the issue of whether or not homosexual relationships can be God pleasing. Indeed, this is the case.

The first draft of the ELCA's statement on sexuality, "The Church and Human Sexuality: A Lutheran Perspective," offered three possible ethical positions based upon one's understanding of Scripture. Subsequent to the first draft, the Division for Church and Society published the 375 page "Collection of Responses from ELCA Academicians and Synodical Bishops to The Church and Human Sexuality: A Lutheran Perspective." This publication presented a small slice of the discussion and disagreement then rife within the ELCA. It demonstrates clearly the lack of consensus within the ELCA on the issue of homosexuality. The discussion of Scriptural texts is ongoing. As an appendix to this submission I have appended the Scriptural study adopted without dissent by Lord of Life Lutheran Church at its 25th Annual Congregational Meeting (January 25, 1998). In addition, I submit the book, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by the Rev. Daniel A. Helminiak, Ph.D. as one example of the large body of competent biblical scholarship that contests the commonly held assumptions about homosexuality as addressed in Scripture.

In the five years since the release of the first draft of the statement on homosexuality, this church has not adopted any general statement on human sexuality. In 1991 the Churchwide Assembly did pass a resolution declaring, "gay and lesbian people, as individuals created by God, are welcome to participate fully in the life of the congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America." However, at no time has the Churchwide Assembly approved the policy that the bishop wants this panel to use to remove me from the roster.

At no point, either privately, before Lord of Life, or in meetings I have attend when the bishop has been present, has he offered any explanation of the ELCA's policy. At no point has Bishop Hougen or any representative of the ELCA admonished me that I am not in compliance with this policy, explained any alleged noncompliance, or encouraged repentance and correction for such alleged noncompliance. All this is clearly contrary to Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession, "Our teachers assert that according to the Gospel the power of keys or the power of bishops is a power and command of God to preach the Gospel, to forgive and retain sins, and to administer and distribute the sacraments." The same article goes on to say that, "This power of keys or of bishops is used and exercised only by teaching and preaching the Word of God and by administering the sacraments (to many persons or to individuals, depending on one's calling)." No simple declaration that "the rules are the rules" fulfills the command to preach and teach the Gospel. Even if we were to hold, for the sake of argument, that "Definitions and Guidelines" is consistent with Holy Scripture and the historic Lutheran Confessions, Bishop Hougen and the agents of the ELCA have failed to apply the policy in a manner consistent with the ELCA Constitution in that their application of the policy in my case fails to meet the teachings of the Augsburg Confession.

Further, both "Definitions and Guidelines" and "Visions and Expectations" appear to require of gay and lesbian persons perpetual celibacy as a precondition for ordination and condition for continuance on the various rosters of this church. Completely and without exception, this requirement is contrary to the teachings of Article 23 of the Augsburg Confession. Some would say that ELCA policy does not require celibacy because gay and lesbian persons are not able to contract legal or valid marriages with persons of the same sex. Such was also the case in the time of Martin Luther. A priest or nun could not contract a licit nor valid marriage. Clearly, the ELCA imposes the burden of celibacy on gay and lesbian clergy, without offering Scriptural justification, in opposition to Articles 23 and again 28 of the Augsburg Confession.

Regardless of the differences of opinion about what specific verses of Scripture might or might not say about gay and lesbian relationships as they are experienced today, Scripture is perfectly clear about what needs to be done in situations of uncertainty within the life of the Church. In 1 John 4:1-2 we read, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God." In 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, St. Paul reminds us, "Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God's Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else's scrutiny."

Our Lord himself in Matthew 7:16-20 establishes the pragmatic test for judging authenticity of ministry, "You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits." Again, in John 15:4-5 our Lord assures us that he is present in all faithfulness and is the giver of all good fruits, "Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing."

St. Paul is in no way unclear about the exact nature of good fruit as is evident in Galatians 5:22-23, "...The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things." In the matter before this hearing panel, Bishop Hougen and the ELCA assert that my conduct is incompatible with the ministerial office, yet Bishop Hougen has conducted no inquiry into my conduct. In point of fact, the Bishop and the ELCA assert that my being gay and having a relationship of any kind with Karl von Uhl puts me outside the pall, without any further examination of any specific conduct on my part. I, on the other hand, have stated repeatedly that my relationship with Karl and my life in general is in full compliance with the hallmarks of God pleasing relationships and faithful ministry as outlined in Holy Scripture and in the ELCA's "Visions and Expectations" document.

Scriptural passages regarding gay and lesbian behavior may be in dispute. The foundation of the ELCA's policy is left unenunciated. Bishop Hougen asks you for a verdict by virtue of definition. Scripture is absolutely clear about how the Church discerns good from bad. By their failure to incorporate the Scriptural precepts of discernment, by their complete unwillingness to make any inquiry whatsoever into the fruits of either my ministerial or personal life, Bishop Hougen and the ELCA again are in violation of Chapters 2 and 3 of the ELCA Constitution and in Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession.

As St. Paul write in Philippians 1:9-11, "And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God."