Ultimatum to Ames Pastor: No Gay Sex

by Thomas O'Donnell

An Ames pastor has two weeks to vow not to engage in homosexual 
relationships or be removed from the ranks of the ministry, a church 
committee ruled Monday.
	The decision by an appeals committee of the Evangelical Lutheran 
Church in America came as no surprise to the Rev. Steven Sabin, pastor at 
Lord of Life Lutheran Church since 1985.
	"Obviously, it's a personal blow, but I'm disappointed with the 
decision itself," Sabin said. The 10-to-1 vote takes a "rules-are-rules 
approach," Sabin said, instead of addressing deeper theological issues.
	Since Sabin said he does not plan to comply with the decision, 
the ruling means he will no longer be on the roster of ELCA ministers as 
of Sept. 28. The congregation must decide whether to seek a new pastor or 
to keep Sabin on -- and face possible disciplinary action from the Rev. 
Philip Hougen, bishop of the Southeast Iowa Synod.
	Hougen said his only option in that case would be to recommend to 
the Synod Council that Lord of Life be removed from the ELCA. Hougen said 
he's thought about the issue but hasn't decided what he would do.
	If Sabin stays on, Hougen could also merely list the church as 
having no pastor, as a California synod did in a similar case. "That's an 
option I'm not entirely comfortable with, and I don't know if anyone is 
comfortable with whether that's being faithful" to church policy, Hougen 
	The ELCA says gays may serve as ministers only if they abstain 
from homosexual relationships. Hougen learned Sabin was living with 
another man, Karl von Uhl, and asked Sabin to resign. When Sabin refused, 
Hougen filed formal charges.
	In February, a disciplinary committee said Sabin should be 
removed, but he was allowed to stay on pending a final appeal. On Monday, 
the committee upheld the decision, saying the rules are clear and Sabin 
has violated them.
	"The Committee on Appeals is not a legislative body.... 
Accordingly, (the committee) is subject to this policy and obligated to 
uphold it," the ruling said.
	Frank Imhoff, a spokesman for the ELCA, said the disciplinary 
committee last February "acknowledged that Pastor Sabin is a very 
excellent pastor and a fine person. It's just that the expectations of 
the church are one thing, and he's not living up to them."
	Hougen will meet with Sabin today, and the congregation council 
will consider a course of action at its regular meeting tonight.
	President Thomas Chacko said the council has no clear direction 
from church members. "There are all kinds of ramifications to the 
congregation, the pastor and the bigger church," Chacko said. "I don't 
think people have considered all of these."
	In a written statement, Hougen appears certain that Sabin will be 
removed. "I will be meeting with the congregation council ... to work 
with them to provide pastoral services," he wrote. "I am willing to work 
with Pastor Sabin in defining ways for him to continue to be involved in 
... the ELCA."
	Sabin said he'll meet with his lawyer next week to discuss 
whether to sue to block the church's action.
	Monday, he noted, was Holy Cross Day on many Lutheran calendars. 
The timing is appropriate, he said.
	"It's one of the crosses I have to bear," Sabin said. "but 
ultimately, it's one of the crosses the church has to bear."

The following letters appeared in the Des Moines Register, Sunday, 
September 27, under a photograph of the Rev. Steve Sabin and the 
following headline:

when a church is hostile to gays

In the midst of the current national furor over infidelity in the 
intimate relationships of our elected officials, it is ironic and sad to 
watch the continued assault on the fidelity of lesbian and gay 
relationships by many of the churches.
	A decade ago, the scene was San Francisco, where Ruth Frost and 
Phyllis Zilhart were called to ordained ministry of a congregation of the 
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Only one condition: they must 
divorce each other and terminate their monogamous, committed relationship 
of more than 10 years.
	Ten years later and the scene has shifted to Iowa. Now it is 
Pastor Steve Sabin of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Ames who is being 
forced by the ELCA to choose between fidelity to his call to ordained 
ministry and fidelity to his life partner, Karl von Uhl.
	When 1 in 2 heterosexual marriages today ends in divorce, how 
tragic that our churches continue to invest their energy and resources 
into breaking up committed homosexual relationships. It is difficult to 
maintain any committed relationship amid the economic and cultural 
stresses of today's world, but it may be doubly difficult for lesbian and 
gay couples who must look for support and nurture outside most of our 
social and religious institutions.
	At a time when we most need positive public role models of 
committed relationships, it is sad and ironic indeed that churches 
continue to target and actively oppose the fidelity of gay and lesbian 

	David T. Spencer
	assistant professor, religion and ethics
	Drake University, Des Moines

Pastor Steve Sabin has been given a deadline to decide whether he will 
vow to abstain from homosexual activity or remain in a faithful, 
committed relationship with his partner, Karl. If he chooses his loving 
relationship with Karl, he will no longer be on the clergy roster of the 
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
	It is a sad day when bishops and church leaders are more 
committed to church policy than to the Gospel.
	It is a sad day when gay and lesbian members of the church learn 
once again that their faithful, committed relationships are considered 
sexual sins and not a gift from God.
	It is a sad day when two men and a congregation are punished for 
the sin of loving one another!
	It is a sad day when, contrary to the example of Jesus, the rules 
of the church are enforced and the lives of people are denied.
	It is a sad day when the church thumbs its nose at God and tells 
God, "You made a mistake when you called a gay man to be a minister of 
the Gospel."
	It is a sad day when gay and lesbian people learn once again that 
they must deny their God-given gift of sexuality if they wish to be full 
participants in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
	It is a sad day when, contrary to the Lutheran confessions, the 
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America demands celibacy of some of its 
	It is a sad day when the actions of the church contribute to and 
encourage the discrimination and prejudice of our society against gay and 
lesbian people.
	It is a sad day when the large number of gay and lesbian people 
who have left the church because they didn't feel welcome get to see that 
they were right -- they are not welcome!
	The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is my church and today 
I am said and disappointed in my church!

	Paul Johnson
	West Des Moines

I am certainly disappointed with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in 
America ruling that Pastor Steve Sabin of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in 
Ames must choose between his call to the ministry and his monogamous 
relationship. The ELCA, of which I am a member, is putting its forces in 
place to try to destroy a loving, monogamous, gay relationship. Instead, 
the ELCA ought to have used the occasion to announce that ignorance and 
prejudice against gays would have no place in our church.
	The ELCA is playing into the hands of the hatemongers like Cal 
Thomas who said in a November 1997 column in your paper that homosexual 
sex causes physical, emotional and spiritual damage such as divorce and 
sexually transmitted diseases to ourselves and to our wider culture.
	In the not-too-distance future, the homophobic actions of the 
ELCA will be likened to those of the White Citizens Councils and 
segregationist churches of the 1950s and '60s.

	Jon Torgerson
	professor of philosophy, chair
	Department of Philosophy and Religion
	Drake University, Des Moines

(There were no letters commending the ELCA on its actions.)