RIGA - The Latvian Evangelical Church Board on Nov. 16 voted to remove a prominent pastor from a local Lutheran church for overseeing a gay and lesbian service and for his attendance at a New Age ceremony.
Juris Calitis will retain his position as a minister of the local Anglican Church and as head of the University of Latvia's theology faculty, despite being removed from the church board's roster.
Members of the board expressed anger over Calitis' decision to lead a service for gay parade participants.
Calitis also said he attended a religious ceremony by Reverend Sun Myung Moon 's a Christian leader who was banned from the Soviet Union for his "cult-like" doctrines after founding the Unification Church. Moon's followers see him and his wife as "the true parents of humankind" and hail him as the Messiah.
Church members were perplexed by the minister's presence at a Moon event.
The church "assumed that Pastor Calitis has decided to give up Christianity and become a follower of Moon," Inese Riezniece, a member of the church's board, told the Baltic News Service.
Other board members also mentioned Moon as a reason for the expulsion.
But Calitis hotly denied such reasoning.
"That's all a fabrication," Calitis told The Baltic Times. He explained that he attended the event strictly as a theology professor and that no conversion whatsoever took place.
In his opinion, the board's decision was connected more closely with his choice to hold an ecumenical service for participants of the gay and lesbian parade.
The Latvian Lutheran Evangelical Church's current leadership has been unhappy with him for a while, Calitis said, and his service for parade participants was the final straw.
"I find it despicable and saddening that the church has not condemned the behavior of its members during the parade," Calitis said.
The country's first ever gay and lesbian parade took place on July 23 and numbered about 100. Thousands came out to see the spectacle 's some trying to physically obstruct the march, while others promising hell, fire and damnation for its participants.
Latvian Christian Radio interrupted its normal broadcast schedule to denounce the march, while public officials and government ministers openly condemned the parade.
Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis called it "unacceptable." A large police presence was needed to protect the participants, and the march ended in the Anglican church where Calitis presided over an ecumenical service.
Calitis is not the first pastor to be removed from the Latvian Lutheran Church. Maris Sants was also thrown out of the church after publicly announcing that he was gay several years ago.