Thursday, December 19, 2013

Methodists Behaving Badly

A lawyer asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Matthew 22:35-40

When I logged on to AOL this evening, (I will pause now to wait for all of the tech-savvy folks to stop laughing at me for still using AOL. There, I hope that made you feel better.) across the top of the screen to the right of the “Unfolding Now” sign, it said “United Methodist Church.” Right next to “Prince William of Wales.”

I clicked on it and up popped the latest news in the ongoing story of the Rev. Frank Schaefer. He was tried and convicted in a church court for violating the Book of Discipline by officiating at the same sex wedding of his son several years ago. Today he was defrocked. Which sounds both painful and medieval. And it is. Painful and medieval.

The trial verdict had said that he would be suspended for thirty days and at the end of that time would have to declare to the Eastern Pennsylvania Board of Ordained Ministry that he would uphold the entire Discipline or else surrender his credentials.

Two quick notes on this:

First, they didn’t really mean that he had to uphold the entire Book of Discipline. They wanted him to say that he would not officiate at another same sex wedding. If he came back at the end of his thirty day suspension and confessed that he could uphold almost the whole Discipline, but he could not give up buying a lottery ticket for his elderly father on Father’s Day, I’m guessing that would have been overlooked. More seriously, if he had said that he did not agree with the Discipline’s support of unions and collective bargaining, that would not have been a deal breaker.

Second, no one supports the entire Book of Discipline. The Discipline is a big book and there is a lot in there. Universal healthcare, a woman’s right to choose abortion, gun control, just to name a few. And beyond the social issues, there are all sorts of directions about how we organize our churches, who can vote in church meetings and who can old office, which offices every local church “must” have and which ones are optional. And it changes every four years. Most of it stays the same, but some of it changes, and keeping up with the new rules is hard even for those who study it.

But Rev. Schaefer was clear in his response: “My conscience does not allow me to uphold the entire discipline because it contains discriminatory provisions and language that is hurtful and harmful to our homosexual brothers and sisters.”

So the Board of Ordained Ministry took his credentials.

Ironically, on that same AOL page that invited me to look at what was “Unfolding Now,” there was a link to the story about “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson who has been suspended indefinitely by A&E for his statements condemning homosexuality in an interview with GQ. His language is sometimes crude, but basically he supports the United Methodist Discipline.


So if the United Methodist Church had a show on A&E, would we be on indefinite suspension right now?

One of our church leaders in East Greenwich is a senior executive in a national company. He spoke to me about the odd disconnect he felt knowing that at work “we are all about inclusion and diversity,” but our church is refusing to recognize the full humanity of our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers. “It just seems bizarre,” he said, “that’s a no-brainer. We’re a church, for heaven’s sake.”

We have to stop this. A year and a half ago Bishop Melvin Talbert issued what he described as a call to "Biblical Obedience" in response to the unjust and discriminatory provisions of the Book of Discipline. At each new injustice, there are Bishops and church leaders who claim that they are only “following the process,” or “upholding the Discipline.” It has to stop.

These are hurtful policies. We are hurting our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, especially our youth. We are hurting faithful Christians who are only trying to faithful. These policies undermine our witness. They hurt the church, not just the United Methodist Church, they hurt the whole church.

It is stupid. And it is unchristian.


  1. So who are these Methodists behaving badly? Certainly, they are the participants of this "church court" judging one of their own and finding him lacking. But we are much better than those narrow minded judges in Pennsylvania, aren't we? Of course we are. We're outraged! If you don't believe me check the number of "likes" that this blog has received on Facebook. It takes moral courage to "like" a blog like this. It's the 21st century equivalent of facing down the fire hoses in Alabama or of storming the Normandy beaches wearing a dog tag identifying you as a Jewish soldier. Frank Schaefer took a stand. And it has cost him. What do we do as a church? The Church has spoken. And what say you of the EGUMC? Do we "like" the blog as a church? Or do we make our voices heard in Pennsylvania - and beyond?

    1. You are right. We need to do something. The danger of blogs and facebook comments is that we think we are really doing something when we are doing nothing. But the conversation matters. The dialog creates awareness and helps to shape public opinion.

  2. Amen! Bill, you voice so eloquently what so many of us feel with an ache in our hearts and try feebly to put into words half as well as you. Thank you.