Saturday, November 23, 2013

Right and wrong

Rev. Frank Schaefer, a Methodist minister, was in this news this week when his church punished him for loving his son. That’s not the way the church sees it, of course, but that’s the real story.

Seven years ago, Rev. Schaefer performed the Massachusetts wedding of his gay son, even though the Methodist Church forbids that or the open acceptance of LGBT people (church officials no doubt wouldn’t put it that way, but in my opinion, their doctrine clearly rejects acceptance of LGBT people). Rev Schaefer informed the church he was going to do this, and that was the end of it until just recently—one month before the church’s “statute of limitations” was due to run out— when a complaint was filed with the church.

The video above tells the basics of that story, though a video available at the Washington Post video site provides more detailed background information. Apparently, the Post previously reported that “the church's only witness against Schaeffer was a man whose mother, the church's choir director, has been feuding with Schaefer” [source], though the AP report currently on the Post site doesn’t say anything about that.

However, the Post’s video hints at some of the personal conflicts within Rev. Schaefer’s congregation, so it’s not hard to imagine that the complaint was made out of spite. As the son and grandson of church ministers, I frequently observed that some of the least Christian people were to be found within a Christian church.

Whatever the truth is, this has sparked an evolution for Rev. Schaeffer. Back when he performed his son’s wedding, he said it was out of love. Now, however, he says he cannot remain silent. “I have to minister to those who hurt and that’s what I’m doing,” he said. You know: Like that Jesus fellow would do.

He was found guilty in his church trial, but rather the expelling him immediately, they suspended him and gave him 30 days to “repent of your actions” and to promise to never again perform a wedding for a same-gender couple. The second part would be in keeping with Methodist church law, but that first part? That means he’d have to repudiate his own son. To “repent” would mean that he’d have to agree with his church that supporting his son was “wrong”. To “repent” would mean he’d have to put antique church attitudes—that will change one day—above love for his family.

Rev. Schaefer says he won’t comply and, in the video below, says he gave them every reason to expel him right then. I’m certain that when the 30 days is up, he will be expelled from the Methodist ministry, and that will mean his church will be punishing him for loving his son. There’s no other reasonable way to look at it.

If Methodist church officials want to put church law above love and human compassion, that’s clearly their right. But sometimes a right is wrong, and expelling Rev. Schaefer is clearly not the right—or Christian—thing to do.

Still, no matter what happens, love will triumph in the end. It always does.

Update December 21, 2013: As expected, Rev. Schaefer was "defrocked" by a United Methodist Church board because he refused to obey church rules that forbid Methodist minsters from performing marriages for same-gender couples (church rules also forbid the ordination of LGBT people as pastors). While the Church’s move was entirely expected, it was also wrong. Rev. Schaefer was the one who did the right thing: He knew the consequences of standing up for what was right and good, he knew the consequences for taking a stand on the side of love. One day his now former United Methodist Church will catch up with him. It is inevitable. But the saddest thing right now is how many people the Church will cause harm to until that day.


rogerogreen said...

The Presbyterian Church is likewise divided, with presbyteries voting to allow for marriage equality but the church as a whole not there yet

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Other churches are the same. I'm of two minds. On the one hand, I want them to hurry up and evolve, already (no surprise there). But in the meantime, I wish they'd leave it up to individual congregations to minster to their congregations because they—not some slow deliberative national body—will know best how to minister to their own communities.

Mainly, I want them to hurry up and evolve, because we all know they will eventually.