An overwhelming vote to defrock a maverick Lutheran pastor from Pittsburgh's "Rust Belt" yesterday engulfed the church's Western Pennsylvania-West Virginia Synod in the kind of disruption that cost D. Douglas Roth his ministerial standing.
After yesterday's 499-to-33 vote to discipline Roth, which came at the Lutheran Church in America's regional convention at Thiel College in Greenville, Pa., he grabbed a microphone, demanded another hearing and condemned "great corruption in the church."
"Out! Out! Out!" the delegates chanted, but Roth refused to leave the stage. With delegates and Roth's supporters shouting at each other while Roth refused to relinquish the microphone, Bishop James R. Crumley Jr., national head of the denomination, recessed the session.
Police arrested Roth, 33, and a colleague, the Rev. William Rex, who had joined him on stage. They were released with a warning to stay away from the college.
Roth is a member of a militant labor-clergy coalition called Denominational Ministry Strategy (DMS), which was formed by the church in 1980 to train ministers to attract new members but which broke with its founders as it became more involved with the unemployed. DMS members blame the unemployment of many of their steelworker parishioners on "corporate evil," and have protested with such actions as placing dead fish in bank vaults and spraying skunk oil at church services attended by steel company executives.
Rex was dismissed from his congregations May 31 over his involvement with DMS.
Roth was suspended last fall as pastor of Nativity Lutheran Church in Clairton, a depressed steelmaking community near Pittsburgh, after some of his parishioners complained to Bishop Kenneth May about Roth's tactics for helping the unemployed. When Roth refused to leave his church, he was arrested and spent 112 days in jail.
Roth and two other DMS members who are pastors have filed charges against May in church courts, accusing him of blocking their ministries and dividing their congregations. The charges are being considered by the synod's executive board.
Because May is recovering from surgery, Crumley, top official in the 3 million-member denomination, presided over yesterday's meeting.
Roth, the second minister in the church's 23-year history to be defrocked, has vowed to continue his ministry, outside the church if necessary.
Earlier this week, Roth and about 30 supporters demonstrated peacefully outside U.S. Steel's headquarters in Pittsburgh, holding a communion service on the sidewalk.
Then they went to the office of Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.) to seek his help in obtaining a permit to blow up the headquarters.