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New Lutheran leader stands firm on gay pastors

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By Richard Robbins
Monday, Sept. 19, 2011

The new bishop of a breakaway Lutheran denomination says there will be "no compromise" on the issue of gay pastors with its liberal counterpart, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Bishop John Bradosky, 59, a native of Greensburg, said while he is open to dialogue between the North American Lutheran Church and the ELCA, there is a limit to what can be agreed to.

Closing the breach between the two would "require some really major changes" on the part of the ELCA, Bradosky said.

"I'm not sure there is an openness to those kinds of changes," he added.

"We're certainly open to conversations with groups that we disagree with," said Bradosky, who was installed as bishop in August after a vote by 800 NALC members at a national convocation in Hilliard, Ohio. "We're not afraid to talk about issues and our concerns."

At the same time, Bradosky said the NALC will not "compromise" its faith or its "understanding of the gospel."

In August 2009, the 1.2 million-member ELCA endorsed a statement on human sexuality that did not condemn homosexuality. Critics charged the ELCA's position opened the door to non-celibate gay pastors leading Lutheran parishes.

"A gay pastor is a sinner like the rest of us who chooses not to sin," said Bradosky, arguing that on the basis of scripture there is a crucial difference between a gay celibate pastor and a practicing homosexual pastor.

The NALC has 250 parishes nationwide with an estimated 110,000 members. The denomination, formed a little over a year ago, continues to grow with about a dozen new parishes being added each month, Bradosky said.

A 1970 graduate of Hempfield Area High School, Bradosky said he knew from a very young age that he wanted to become a pastor. He recalled his first grade teacher later telling him that while his classmates had changed their minds dozens of times over the years about their choice of a career, he had remained constant.

He compared himself to Jeremiah, "formed in the womb" as a man of God.

Even as an undergraduate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania during the cultural upheavals of the 1970s, Bradosky said he "felt a sense of direction, a sense of call" and "a consistent, still small voice" leading him to a life of faith.

But it wasn't until the death of his 6-year-old son Joshua in a car crash in 1986 that Bradosky said he was transformed from "an employee of the church" to a disciple of Christ.

"Early in life, I really did not take seriously the concept of discipleship," Bradosky said. "After the death of our son I began to look at things in a whole new way."

Many people, he said, turn from God in bitterness in the aftermath of such a heart-rending loss. "I became even more convinced of the reality of God's presence and comfort," Bradosky said.

Bradosky and his wife, Kristi, are the parents of three other children. They have two grandchildren.

The Bradoskys' son Jacob, a world-class distance runner, won this year's Marine Corps Marathon in Washington. The bishop himself has run seven marathons, including in Boston, where he finished the 26-mile course in a little over four hours. "The hills were nothing like I anticipated," he said.

As a youngster, Bradosky attended St. Matthias Evangelical Lutheran Church in Greensburg with his parents, John and VaLetta Bradosky. His mother remains active in the church, he said. Bradosky's father died in October.

As a pastor, Bradosky filled pulpits in Springfield, Canton and Dayton, all in Ohio, and in Huntingdon Beach, Calif.

Before he was named bishop, he served as general secretary of the new denomination.

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