I grew up in the Methodist church and I’m happy to see that the church has officially, and finally, reinstated Frank Schaefer, the Pennsylvania minister who presided over his son’s same-sex wedding. He was defrocked as a result but the denomination’s highest court has now restored him to the ministry.
“Today, we are witnessing a small, but significant step toward taking another look at the exclusionary policies of The United Methodist Church,” Schaefer said in a press release from Reconciling Ministries Network, which advocates for LGBT rights within the Methodist church. “The UM Church needs to find a way toward reconciliation, full inclusion of our LGBTQ community and an open altar for all God’s beloved children. I will continue the fight alongside thousands of others in the reconciling movement for full inclusion and an open altar for all.”
Although today’s decision closes the book on Schaefer’s particular case, it does not officially sanction same-sex marriage within the UMC. Such a change would require a vote at the denomination’s General Conference, where homosexuality has been a hotly contested subject in years past.
“The UMC has taken a step on the journey toward justice in the reinstatement of Rev. Frank Schaefer, but still has a long way to go to reconcile with God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer children whose desire is to stay in love with God and one another,” said Matt Berryman, Executive Director of the Reconciling Ministries Network…The decision also comes in the wake of a groundswell of pro-LGBT advocacy within the UMC, spurred in part by the national visibility of Schaefer’s case. When Schaefer was defrocked in 2013, 36 United Methodist pastors from Eastern Pennsylvania jointly officiated a same-sex wedding as a show of support for Schaefer’s actions. The clergy were ultimately not charged with wrongdoing by the UMC, reaching an agreement with the denomination to avoid sanctions as long as they acknowledged that they could be punished if they tried to bless another same-sex union. Even so, local Bishop Peggy Johnson warned that future infractions would be dealt with “swiftly and with significant and appropriate consequences.”
Of course I would prefer that Schaefer and others had simply left the church and left behind the homophobia of Christianity entirely, but these are important changes. Religion is not simply going to disappear, it is going to evolve and that’s a good thing for society. Situations like this are important steps along the path of that evolution.