Rev. Schaefer, a pastor in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference officiated at the same-sex wedding of his son five years ago. A complaint was filed one month before the statute of limitations ran out, and word of the trial became public Sept. 20. Schaefer, pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pa., said he “followed his heart” when his son, Tim, asked him to officiate at his wedding. Schafer pleaded not guilty to the two charges against him. (UMCConnections.org newfeed)
Tonight, November 19, we receive news that after being found guilty of disobedience to the Book of Discipline Rev. Schaefer received his penalty. He is suspended from his ministry for 30 days after which time he can either promise to never conduct a marriage celebration for a same-sex couple or turn in his ministry orders. It is not to compare Rev. Shaefer to Galileo that I would observe that the same offer of recanting beliefs was offered, but rather to notice that the church acted as bully in both settings.
The process of criminalizing a ministry practice of inclusive hospitality and the institutional processing of the minister as “perp” are unbecoming and inappropriate in every way to the case at hand. Not only should we blanch at the charges and the outcome, but also be embarrassed by the process the church has utilized for its resolution.
As you may know, and can certainly tell by this writing so far, I stand with Rev. Frank Shaefer and with Bishop Talbert and with any else who would act justly and compassionately as they have. The trouble for the United Methodist Church, however, is that we haven’t determined where it is we can stand. Nothing would make the legalists of our connection happier than if we all stood together, so long as it was outside of the club house they now control. If we are to stand together in a meaningful way that witnesses fully to our solidarity and resolve, shouldn’t it be “somewhere”? Why shall we who embrace full inclusion be the ones to step away? And, remember, this is just one of a number of justice issues in which, we are led to believe, we are out of step with the great traditions of the Methodist connection.
The truer fact is that the majority (so-called) of the United Methodist Connection who run the show are driving us into the ditch. Claiming that they represent the truer view of the church doesn’t hold water. Actually, our tradition would rightly call us to the side of Rev. Schaefer and others. The witness of justice, reconciliation, healing and mercy is the true core of the Methodist ethos. The use of the Book of Discipline to tailor the church to a reactionary and bigoted form continues to crush our credibility as we crow, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors!” Seriously?
So, where shall we stand? We can not give the ground of our witness for the people no one else seems to want to relate to. That IS the call of Jesus Christ that he read (to us) from the job description on that scroll of the prophet Isaiah. To receive the anointing of God’s own Spirit, so that we are filled and able to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captive, and recovery of sight to the blind, and (wait for it) to let the oppressed go free! But above all, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor; a time not of institutional order and dogma, but a time of Shalom, wholeness, equity, sustainability, and peace. (Luke 4:18)
What we have here is two different, possibly irreconcilable, views of the church. One is that above all else we are to preserve order, to correct and discipline vile sinners to come to faith maybe in Jesus but most certainly in the Church itself. The second is deeply concerned with making sure that our walk matches our talk, seeing the Christ in everyone, eager to act as if God’s Kin-dom actually came as Jesus said it did. We need to decide which Church are we.
I served in the Catskills of New York at the outset of my ministry. One night, I attended a contentious dinner with the local Roman Catholic priest, and the Free Methodist preacher in town and myself. The Free Methodist was very free with his criticism of our stance about human sexuality. After the good reverend liberally condemned us both to certain perdition on the day we’d have to explain ourselves to Almighty God, Fr. La Chapelle spoke. He said, “Friend, do you believe in a God of judgment or a God of grace?” At last the Free Methodist (such an ironic denominational name) was speechless and looked puzzled. Hector continued, “Well, as for me, I’m counting on a God of grace.”
I think the time is now. We can own fully the God of mercy and the message of grace; it isn’t the copyrighted material of the Book of Discipline. We can and should declare out loud that we have be anointed, we are not disobedient. We can and should firmly state that we are righteously indignant anytime our beloved denomination is hypocritical. We probably should also let folks know that we mean to stand firm for a church that is not an embarrassment of reactionary, thinly veiled conservative politics masquerading as theological foundations. Friends of the Reconciling Movement and friends of justice everywhere, we are ever as much the true church of the Wesleyan tradition from which we prayerfully and with integrity discern our ministries using Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience. We are not the outliers, we are in fact faithful by our incarnation of the body of Christ. Which church will we be? I‘m sticking with the one that has that Grace thing going. How about you?
Rev. Michael Love
Palo Alto, CA
November 19, 2013