Lutheran church resolves dispute about gay pastors

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A Lutheran church near Duboce Park reconciled with its estranged national affiliate Sunday, 20 years after it was expelled for coming out with two gay pastors.

The St. Francis Lutheran Church, cuddled between Blockbuster Video and Burger Meister on Church Street across from Safeway, voted 69-1 to accept the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s invitation back to the national roster.

The request came after the ELCA, which represents more than 10,000 congregations across the U.S., was enforcing gay pastors to take vows of celibacy, but decided last year to accept the their sexuality. The organization rescinded the ban because gay couples cannot be married.

“We’re not gloating,” Rev. Robert Goldstein said with his back to the pictures of the two lesbian assistant pastors who were at the center of the ECLA’s ultimatum. “But it does reinforce that we were right about the issues we stood up for.”

Lesbian couple Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart in 1990 were welcomed as assistant pastors to the church known for its leadership in gay rights amid an AIDS crisis under the leadership of Pastor James DeLange. However, they’re with a church in Minnesota now.

But since Frost and Zillhart refused the vow, St. Francis was suspended from the ELCA for five years and then expelled entirely.

It was one of two Lutheran churches in The City — founded by Danish and Finnish immigrants — with gay pastors who rejected the promise. The other was First United Lutheran on Franklin Street near Geary Boulevard — and its vote is pending.

Goldstein, who has been with St. Francis for six years, a pastor for 35 years and is also gay, compared it to when Lutheran churches expected women to maintain traditional housewife roles and would not allow them to succeed as pastors.

“People are afraid of change and they’re ignorant,” he said. “But now, half of seminaries are woman and one-third of pastors are woman. That took 40 years. … Next is gay marriage.”

St. Francis congregation President Brandee Marckmann said the church understands that not everyone agrees.

“But we accept and love everyone,” Marckmann said.

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

 

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