The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has a process for the discipline of clergy and rostered laypersons. The disciplinary process is set forth in Chapter 20 of the Constitution, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
and in Rules Governing Disciplinary Proceedings Against an Ordained Minister, a Rostered Layperson, or a Congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. "Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline
: Ordained Ministers, Associates in Ministry, Members of the Deaconess Community, and Diaconal Ministers, Congregations" sets forth the types of conduct that may lead to discipline.
The disciplinary process can be thought of as a time line that begins at one end when there are indications that a cause for discipline may exist. This time line is terminated at any point if the rostered individual chooses to resign from the roster. Absent a resignation or other resolution of the matter, the time line may continue until there is a decision of a discipline hearing committee (DHC) or, if appealed, a decision of the Committee on Appeals. At approximately the midpoint of this time line, an important event occurs the filing of written charges, usually by the synodical bishop, although four other groups also have authority to file written charges.
Prior to the filing of written charges, the process is very informal. How the process works at this stage is largely within the discretion of the synodical bishop and is often guided by a synodical policies. The emphasis is pastoral and efforts are usually made to find a resolution of the controversy that would not involve a hearing before a DHC. At this stage, the synodical bishop has the option of convening a five member panel to assist the bishop by evaluating the evidence or by making recommendations to resolve the controversy.
With the filing of written charges, the process becomes very formal. There are specific rules that must be faithfully followed. Many of these rules are designed to insure numerous rights that are intended to protect the accused individual and the complainant. When the ELCA Secretary receives written charges, a DHC is convened. A DHC consists of a hearing officer who serves as the nonvoting chair, six members of the synod's Committee on Discipline (previously elected at the Synod Assembly), and six members chosen from the 36 member churchwide Committee on Discipline (previously elected at the Churchwide Assembly). A hearing is held before this DHC at which time the accuser, who signed and filed the written charges presents witnesses and other evidence in support of the charges. The accused may cross-examine the accuser's witnesses, as well as present additional witnesses and evidence. Both accuser and accused may be represented by attorneys or non-lawyer advocates.
After the hearing is concluded, the DHC deliberates to decide what it has found to be the relevant facts, i.e., what it believes to be the truth of the matter, and based upon the facts it has found, what discipline should be imposed, if any. If discipline is imposed, it can range from private censure and admonition, to suspension for a designated period or until there is satisfactory evidence of repentance and amendment, or to removal from the roster of the ELCA. The DHC cannot award damages or impose monetary penalties.
Either party can appeal a decision of a DHC to the 12 member Committee on Appeals that has been previously elected by the Churchwide Assembly. A decision by the Committee on Appeals is final.