Pocatello Grapples with Gay Clergy Issue

Small towns can be remarkably resistant to change. New ideas that rock the foundation of long established cues, values, morays, and perceptions are not easily tolerated.

Pocatello is no exception.

Some have said that the gate City has never progressed past the 1950s, which is the reason for the area’s lack of economic growth when compared to cities of similar size.

Others hail Pocatello’s warm and friendly social climate (after all it is the smile capital of Idaho). They say that its Normal Rockwell traditional American flavor, low crime, beautiful countryside, and lack of urban sprawl and crass-commercialism are what makes the town great.

But change is inevitable, even in a land seemingly suitable for a Leave it to Beaver episode.

In August, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America announced it would open the ministry to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships, the Idaho State Journal reports.

The topic has been a hot-button issue during the past decade. Among Pocatello’s faith-based communities, opinions also vary. While the ELCA represents 4.9 million Lutherans in the U.S., it does not reflect the sentiments of all Lutherans in the Gate City, said Jonathan Dinger, pastor at Grace Lutheran Church on Baldy Avenue .

According to Journal reporter Debbie Bryce, Grace Lutheran, part of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, maintains that homosexuality is still a sin. “In this area, I think it’s fair to say most of us are opposed to this,” he told the Journal. “For us the question is what is sin and what isn’t.”

“Anyone with a repentive spirit is welcome,” Dinger said. “We don’t claim that we are without sin, but the Bible is pretty clear on this issue. Homosexuality activity is outside of the word of God.”

Dinger clarified the church’s position during a recent sermon that was well received by the congregation. “You need to strike a balance between being faithful to the Bible and gracious to the community,” Dinger said. “Christ’s message was I forgive you, now stop sinning.”

Pocatello has strong numbers of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A quote from late President Gordon B. Hinckley says the church’s opposition to same sex unions should not be interpreted as hatred or intolerance of homosexuals:

“As I said from this pulpit one year ago, our hearts reach out to those who refer to themselves as gays and lesbians,” Hinckley said. “We love and honor them as sons and daughters of God. They are welcome in the Church. It is expected, however, that they follow the same God-given rules of conduct that apply to everyone else, whether single or married.”

On the flip side, the story also quotes Pastor Janie Gebhardt at the First United Congregational Church of Christ as saying their church is an “open and affirming” denomination, which has been welcoming gay and lesbians to the ministry for the past 25 years.

“To me, you receive the whole person,” Gebhardt said, adding that the church has also been ordaining women since the late 1800s. In response, on the Idaho State Journal website, “Biblical Lutheran” wrote:

“Notice how Janie Gebhardt and Michael Blaess (pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran, who said in the Journal story that opinions among his members vary) don’t want to deal with what the Bible says on this issue. Both of them are out of God’s will and have no place preaching the Bible to other people. They put their opinions above the Word of God, thus they are false shepherds who only tell the people what they want to hear. God does offer forgiveness to all sinners, no matter what sin they are practicing. God’s love extends farther than Michael and Janie want to believe. Their ministry is only hurting homosexuals. They preach tolerance in the name of ‘love,’ but really they are intolerant of what God says about the issue. ”

What do you think?

See: Locals and gay pastor issue