November 23, 2013
Earlier this week I wrote asking you to be in prayer with me
over the church trial of the Reverend Frank Schaefer, accused with violating
the United Methodist Book of Discipline
by presiding at the same sex wedding of his oldest son in April of 2007. Among
the many responses, several of you have asked of the outcome.
A jury of his peers convicted Rev. Schaefer on two counts of
violating the Book of Discipline and
later sentenced him to a 30 suspension with the stipulation that he will be stripped
of his clergy credentials if cannot agree to obey the entirety of church law.
The United Methodist Book
of Discipline is an interesting and somewhat unique document. Within it’s
pages you can find an historical account of the rise and fall and rise and fall
and rise and fall… of the spiritual movement that became the United Methodist
Church. There are statements which set out our theological positions on a host
subjects, both within the body and within the world. There are stipulations and
regulations which define how United Methodists will live with one another and
order their life as a United Methodist Church body. The Book of Discipline is most orderly and methodical as befits our
name and the Wesley’s personalities and practices. So, you will also find a
list of qualifications to be an ordained
elder in full connection, alongside of
which can be found the obligations, requirements, expectations, and chargeable
In 1972, the General Conference (the legislative body of the
denomination currently representing 12 million members world-wide) inserted a
statement in The Book of Discipline
which states that homosexuality is
incompatible with Christian teaching. It further prohibited United
Methodist churches for hosting same sex marriages and United Methodist clergy
from presiding over such unions adding that to do so would be a chargeable
offense with a range of possible penalties to include the loss of clergy
credentials. Last year, the General
Conference reaffirmed these statements and positions.
Based upon the letter of church law, Rev. Schaefer’s actions
were in violation and the punishment within the scope provided.
HOWEVER, if you take the time to read through our history, and you need
not go back to the Crusades, it is clear that despite the faithful and often
prophetic elements within Christianity AND the Methodist church, we have
often been tragically wrong in caring for our sisters and brothers – OUR NEIGHBORS!
Earlier this week I shared with you one of the stories of
Jesus that helps keep me centered on my spiritual walk; Matthew 22:37-40, where
Jesus responds to a question from a church leader about which of God’s
commandments is the greatest. In that exchange Jesus concludes his remarks by
On these two commandments HANG all the law and the prophets. Matt. 22:40, NRSV
HANG… like a door
on hinges – without which a door is just another wall…
When the writer of Luke records this encounter (10:5-37),
the leader posing the question to Jesus goes further and seeks clarification… just who is this neighbor, this one I am
supposed to love as I love myself? And the subsequent parable Jesus tells
is one of the most familiar and remembered within our faith; the Good Samaritan…
I say to you this day, my friends, Frank Schaeffer and all
the others who have stopped, knelt, embraced, bathed the wounds, and provided compassion
and love for the LGBTQ community are the very embodiment of Jesus parable for
For although the Samaritan and Jew were estranged and even
pitted against one another by culture, heritage, social, political, economic,
and religious conditions - the Samaritan CHOSE to stop and love as an action,
not just as a principle.
Parts of the Christian community have made enemies of other human
beings in every century and even decade, not because of the other’s actions,
but because of their creation. The list within the last 50 years includes, but
is not exclusive to, people of color, women, HIV/AIDS victims, First Peoples,
and the LGBTQ community. As a whole, I confess to you as an elder in full connection within the
United Methodist church, that I believe we as a denomination have estranged
ourselves and have practiced enmity against our LGBTQ sisters and brothers.
There are times when I feel that we have not only been among those who observed
the suffering and passed by silently, but have been the very ones who perpetrated
the assault and left our victims half dead in the ditch.
As the lead pastor of Park United Methodist Church, I will
endeavor with all the resources God provides to be an advocate for ALL
God’s children. Jesus didn’t ask us to agree, but he did command
us to love.
This is my command, that you love one another, as I have loved you.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
John 15:12-14, NRSV
The pain, exclusion, and persecution will never cease unless
we act for justice in love. I am grieved by the current outcome in Eastern
Pennsylvania and I grieve over the continued stance and church law of the denomination
in which I serve, but there will be no change in this situation unless people
of faith stop, drop, and provide caring love to the children of God lying in
the ditch. Equity for all God’s children is a hallmark of God’s Kingdom, it’s
practice begins with each participant. My prayer this day echoes the final
phrase of the wondrous hymn/prayer Let
There Be Peace on Earth, Lord…, let
it begin with me.
Grace and Peace,
It is my intention that in the days to come, I will update
this page each week. Previous offerings can be found by clicking the Pastor’s Reflections tab on the right
margin of this page.