FORT WAYNE — In the City of Churches, some Christian clergy believe society is going astray.
So on Wednesday, 123 of them announced they’d formed a new coalition, Shepherds United, to assert their values by speaking out on hot-button social issues, including abortion, preserving traditional marriage and challenges to religious liberty.
The coalition was announced at a noon news conference attended by about 70 members of the cloth in the rotunda of the Allen County Courthouse.
The event was led by the Rev. David Misner of Fort Wayne, executive director of A Hope Center, which promotes alternatives to abortion, who said participating “priests, pastors and ministers” had put aside theological differences to sign a document that “expresses the values that draw us together.”
Clergy who read portions of a Shepherd’s United position paper signed by coalition members included the Rev. Peter Gregory, associate pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne; Monsignor Robert Schulte, vicar general of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese and rector of Fort Wayne’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception; and the Rev. Peter Scaer, professor of theology of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne.
In an interview after the news conference, Scaer said he had authored much of the document’s first draft, which was circulated among signatories in November and December.
He said the coalition arose out of contacts and discussions among area clergy opposed to abortion.
Now is not the time for “a two-year moratorium” on social issues as Indiana House Democratic leader Scott Pelath of Michigan City suggested Monday, Scaer said. There are open debates about a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, pending lawsuits over health care mandates for coverage of contraceptive and abortion-causing drugs, and looming cost-cutting measures rationing health care, he said.
But the local group “is not primarily a political organization,” he said. “What I want us to do is to enunciate, to offer society a different vision.”
Misner said individual clergy who have committed themselves to “unite to reclaim human dignity” will be free to undertake activities as they see fit, whether speaking from the pulpit on specific issues or joining in events.
He said the group has no specific agenda and will alert pastors to issues and activities as they arise. But he said they might want to participate in the annual March for Life in Fort Wayne on Jan. 19, which will mark the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion.
Misner said he hopes the group, which is still open for membership, would embolden pastors and other religious people to speak their minds about their values.
“The biggest thing is that our pastors know there are others who believe the same thing as they do, and it will give them the boldness to share that vision,” he said.
According to a list provided by organizers, more than two-thirds of the document’s signers are from the seminary or Missouri Synod churches and the diocese.
The Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades, diocesan bishop, signed, as did the Rev. Daniel P. May, president of the Missouri Synod’s Indiana district.
Dr. Bill Hossler, president of the Missionary Church Inc., the Rev. Rick Hawks of The Chapel and Ron Hawkins, lead pastor of First Assembly of God, are other signatories.
Other signers come from Anglican, Baptist, Wesleyan and nondenominational Protestant churches.
Organizers have created a website, www.shepherdsunited.org, which will be updated regularly.