REPORT OF THE DISCIPLINE HEARING COMMITTEE
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
In the matter of the Discipline Proceedings Against the Reverend Steven
A Discipline Hearing Committee was convened February 1, 1998, in Des
Moines, Iowa, pursuant to Bylaw 20.21.08., Constitution, Bylaws, and
Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
[ELCA] to conduct a hearing on the charges brought November 11, 1997, by
Bishop Philip L. Hougen of the Southeastern Iowa Synod, ELCA, against the
Rev. Steven Paul Sabin, a member of the Clergy Roster of the ELCA.
Bishop Hougen has charged "that the Rev. Steven Paul Sabin, while serving
as pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church 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
Nine (9) of the appointed Discipline Hearing Committee members and the
appointed non-voting Hearing Officer were present throughout the entire
Hearing February 1 and 2, 1998.
The Hearing was a closed meeting. However, it was agreed that both the
accuser and the accused could have two (2) additional persons as
observers during the Hearing. The accused, the accuser, and their
representatives were present during the entire proceedings.
The Hearing was conducted by the Hearing Officer in accordance with the
Rules Governing Disciplinary Proceedings approved by the Church Council
of the ELCA pursuant to ELCA Bylaws 20.21.16. and 20.23.04.
- FINDINGS OF FACT
- Pastor Sabin was ordained on June 30, 1985, into the ministry of
the Lutheran Church in America and remained on the Clergy Roster of the
LCA until January 1, 1988, at which time the LCA merged into the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Pastor Sabin became a member
of the Clergy Roster of the ELCA.
- Since July 1, 1985, Pastor Sabin has served as pastor of Lord of
Life Lutheran Church, currently a member congregation of the Southeastern
Iowa Synod of the ELCA and of the ELCA.
- ELCA Bylaw 20.21.01. states that "Ordained ministers shall be
subject to discipline for... b. conduct incompatible with the character
of the ministerial office; ...
- The Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline of Ordained
Pastors, approved by the Church Council of the ELCA, pursuant to the
authority granted to the Church Council according to ELCA Bylaws
14.21.01., 14.21.09., and 20.71.11., state "These definitions and
guidelines describe the grounds for which ordained ministers may be
subject to discipline according to the practice of this church. Their
purpose is juridical: to assist in the processes of consultation,
discipline and appeals." These Definitions state, within item b. 4),
"Practicing homosexual persons are precluded from the ordained ministry
of this church."
- At a meeting between Pastor Sabin and Bishop Hougen on January
14, 1997, Bishop Hougen asked Pastor Sabin whether he was living in a
homosexual relationship with another man. Pastor Sabin indicated that he
was. Bishop Hougen asked Pastor Sabin if he would resign from the clergy
roster of the ELCA. Pastor Sabin indicated he needed time to provide an
- By letter to Bishop Hougen dated January 16, 1997, Pastor Sabin
provided his answer. Pastor Sabin's letter states in part:
Karl von Uhl, a man, is my partner and spouse. He shares my house and my
life. My relationship with Karl is "biblically informed and consistent
with the teachings of this church." "My spouse and children are regarded
with love, respect, and commitment." "Within the family, forgiveness,
reconciliation, healing, and mutual care are expressed." "I live in
fidelity with my spouse, giving expression to sexual intimacy within a
marriage relationship that is mutual, chaste, and
In his testimony, Pastor Sabin affirmed that the above text, including
the quoted portions from Visions and Expectations, is an accurate
description of his relationship with Karl von Uhl.
- Pastor Sabin further indicated in his letter of January 16, 1997
that he would not resign from the clergy roster, and is still a member of
- The testimony given and the documents introduced establish that
Pastor Sabin was in a heterosexual marriage when he accepted the call to
Lord of Life; that he thereafter became aware that his sexual orientation
is homosexual; that his separation from his wife and subsequent divorce
were a result of his awareness that he is a homosexual; that he learned
of Karl von Uhl, then a resident of San Francisco, and they began dating
in 1993; that Mr. von Uhl moved permanently to Ames in 1995 and has,
since then, been living in a committed relationship with Pastor
- Although at no time has Pastor Sabin stated specifically that he has
engaged in genital sexual activity with Karl von Uhl, neither has he
denied to Bishop Hougen at any time that he has engaged in genital sexual
activity with Karl von Uhl. During the disciplinary hearings on February
1 - 2, 1998, despite repeated opportunities to do so in response to
questions posed to him, Pastor Sabin did not deny that he was engaged in
sexual activity with Karl von Uhl.
- Members of Lord of Life congregation testified that Pastor Sabin is a
well-loved and gifted pastor, and that the awareness of Pastor Sabin' 5
sexual orientation is not a negative or divisive influence on Lord of
The Discipline Hearing Committee is constrained by the provisions of the
Constitution, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America and the Definitions and Guidelines for
Discipline of Ordained Ministers.
On the basis of the above facts, the Discipline Hearing Committee
unanimously concludes that:
- Within the plain meaning of the provisions of section b. 4) of
the applicable Definitions and Guidelines, Pastor Sabin must be
considered a "practicing homosexual."
- Although this committee acknowledges and admires the gifts for
ministry that Pastor Sabin has brought to Lord of Life congregation, this
Committee does not find that the applicable Definitions and Guidelines
permit Pastor Sabin's gifts of ministry either to outweigh or excuse the
violation of section b.4).
Based on its Findings of Fact [Section I of this Report], the conclusions
above, and the constraints within which it must make a determination, the
Discipline Hearing Committee imposes, by majority vote, the following
that the Rev. Steven Paul Sabin be removed from the Clergy Roster of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church, effective April 15, 1998.
Signed this 3rd day of February, 1998, for the Discipline
Arnold R. Mickelson, Hearing Officer.