The United Methodist Church proved once and for all this week that its values are completely out of line when they defrocked a pastor for performing his son’s wedding years ago.
Rev. Frank Schaefer came under fire earlier this year for officiating his son’s Massachusetts wedding back in 2007 (when same-sex marriages were already legal there). A not-so-kindhearted church member filed a complaint with the church in Pennsylvania, and last month a church jury suspended him for 30 days. He was told to use the time to reflect on whether he could “uphold the church’s Book of Discipline,” which doesn’t condone homosexuality or same-sex marriage. If he wasn’t up to the task, he’d have to resign.
The choice was clear for Schaefer; he said his belief in equal rights did not justify his resignation from his position. In exchange, he’s been defrocked, depriving him of any ecclesiastical status within the church.
“I am actively committing to having those discriminatory laws changed and banished from our Book of Discipline,” Schaefer said. “That’s the only way I can reconcile being a United Methodist at this point.” …
Schaefer gave his answer publicly Monday during a news conference at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, surrounded by dozens of sympathetic ministers and laity.
“I cannot voluntarily surrender my credentials because I am a voice now for many — for tens of thousands — of LGBT members in our church,” he said then.
John Coleman, a spokesperson for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the denomination, said Schaefer left the church “no choice” but to revoke his credentials — because reconsidering its stance on homosexuality is clearly out of the question.
There are about 7,700,000 Methodists in the country, and at their last national meeting in 2012, the church reaffirmed its codified opposition to homosexuality and same-sex unions. But the Daily Beast’s Gene Robinson, an Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, noted that individual Methodist churches actually can be tolerant of and even embrace LGBT folks, and he’s confident that things are going to change:
“When asked to surrender his credentials as required by the verdict, he refused to do so,” Coleman said. “Therefore, because of his decision, the board was compelled by the jury’s decision to deem his credentials surrendered.”
It will not be long before the Methodist Church will become horrified at the actions taken against ministers such as Rev. Schaefer. A Methodist bishop has officiated at a same-sex marriage in Alabama. Recently, some 50 Methodist ministers together officiated at such a same-gender wedding. Pretty soon, the church will be knee-deep in ecclesiastical trials, forced by the rules to punish those who defy Methodist doctrine and discipline by solemnizing and blessing the unions of two people of the same gender. And in time, fair-minded and thoughtful Methodists will cry, “Enough!” And then they will change the rules.
He goes on to say what we’re all thinking: that the wrong people are being punished for the backwards ways of a church that can’t keep up with the times. And no part of it is fair.
Until then, fine clergy like Rev. Schaefer will pay a price. Some will even lose the credentials to exercise their ordained ministry. It will not be pretty. And it will make the church look really bad. Punishing Methodist clergy for being compassionate in the way that Christ was compassionate will eventually become embarrassing for the church. It will lose members who don’t want to be associated with a church that condemns their friends who are gay or lesbian and refuses to bless their relationships. And the evangelism so important to the Christian enterprise will be hindered. And then, the rules will be changed, along with the church’s theological thinking about homosexuality.
It’s comforting to hear these things from people within the church system, even if I’m having a hard time getting on board with his confident assertion that change is coming. Along the lines of his reasoning, churches everywhere should be changing their doctrines quickly, but unfortunately congregations like Schaefer’s don’t seem keen on reason.