The following is a transcript of a speech made by the Rev. Steve Sabin at a press conference held on 4 FEB 98:
I wanted to say that I am saddened and disappointed, but not really surprised, by the decision of the hearing committee that i received yesterday afternoon.
I am saddened because the Lutheran Church has been my familiy since I was born, but like so many gay and lesbian people I am now going to have to experience the rejection of that family. I am disappointed because the ELCA has demonstrated its intention to continue the unjust and scripturally indefensible treatment of gay and lesbian clergy represented by its current policy of mandatory celibacy. I was not surprised because the ELCA's fear of gay and lesbian clergy as a threat to ecclesiastical tidiness allows for no mercy in the process.
I sympathize with the members of the hearing panel in the difficult task that wsa entrusted to them. I have no doubt that they undertook their judicial functions with the greatest seriousness, fairness and personal integrity.
I regret that the disciplinary procedures of the ELCA do not rise to the same high standards. The procedure, not the judges, is totally flawed and biased. Last night I was on the phone with Dr. Krister Stendahl, the retired bishop of Stockholm, Sweden, and the Dean-emeritus of Harvard Divinity School, who has been kind enough to take an interest and to offer me some words of wisdom and advice. and he told me that the church is at its worst when it attempts to be a court. And I am afraid that I'll have to agree with that.
I found some comfort in the words of the ruling and the vote. The panel concluded that I am well-loved by my congregation and that my sexual orientation is not a negative or divisive influence on Lord of Life. That's important to me. The lack of a unanimous vote to remove me from the roster, combined with some indication in the wording of the ruling itself that members of the panel felt that they were constrained by the system and the procedures to find the way they did, leaves me with some hope that at some point the procedures might be changed and a more just system might be instituted.
Since I know for sure that Karl and I will continue to love and support each other as fiercely as we have throughout this ordeal, since I don't have to worry about that, that means that the two things I am most concerned about are my congregation, Lord of Life, and the ELCA. Lord of Life and I together will have a number of very important decisions to make in the next few weeks and months and that will require a lot of faithful consideration, a lot of prayerful discussion, and perhaps even debate. But I am humbled by the love and support that the members of the congregation have shown to Karl and me and to my daughters throughout this process. I was deeply touched by the testimony that members of the congregation offered in the hearing. And I have nothing but thanks to them for that concern.
On the other hand, I remain convinced that the ELCA is in error and has deficient understanding of the gospel. The policy toward gay and lesbian clergy and their actions in this hearing process with me are one symptom of a deeper spiritual sickness. Throughout the past year I have prayed fervently for Lord of Life parish, for my bishop, and for the ELCA and as a minister of word and sacrament I will continue to do that for all of the time to come. I continue those prayers with great diligence and great love, but I fear that the night might have come upon the ELCA.
My hope is that by going all the way through this very painful and difficult process, and by making my case in as public a forum as I have been permitted, that I will be able to encourage other gay and lesbian clergy, faithfully ministering in parishes throughout the country, to trust in the love and support of the members of their congregations. To trust that people care for them because of the faithfulness of their service. And I hope that others who might find themselves in the unfortunate circumstance of being brought before a hearing panel as I have been, in the future might not resign, but instead take a stance for themselves and for God.
There are a couple of additional things I need to say, and that is that although I am of course saddened and a little bit hardened by the process and by the ruling, that I have no personal animosity or anger to Bishop Hougen or to any of the officers of the ELCA.
Throughout this whole process, Bishop Hougen and I have both been doing what we consider to be our duty to our calls. As I mentioned at one point within the hearing process at the trial, I felt that there were many times in the event where Bishop Hougen was the person in the room I most identified with because in a sense we were both there on account of our office. We have tried to make sure that his relationship with me and my relationship with him is not clouded by personalities or anger. And I haven't been angry at all. As I said in my statement last night I was saddened that the news got out before I had an opportunity to talk with my congregation, but that was sadness only and not anger.
I am committed to continue in this process, to continue my ministry at Lord of Life but also to continue to work for change within the ELCA. Because I am not the least bit dissuaded from the conviction that the ELCA desperately needs change.
And I suppose the question that would be asked immediately, "Pastor Sabin, has it been worth it?" And I would say, "Yeah, I would do it again in a heartbeat." It's been painful for everybody. But it's been the right thing to do.