Church Shouldn’t Be a Trial

article-frankschaefer-1119

For those of you who are new here, I used to be a Methodist. I’ve written about UMC extensively, sometimes complimentary, sometimes not. Today is not going to be complimentary. Last year, I gave up my membership and cut ties with UMC as an organization after the general conference when the church voted to continue its marginalization of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered. The year before, the UMC put Reverend Amy DeLong on trial for being a  “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” and conducting a ceremony that celebrated a same-sex union. She was convicted and received what amounted to slap on the wrist. Two years later, we have another trial and this one didn’t turn out so well for the defendant.

The past several days have seen Reverend Frank Schaefer on trial for officiating at the wedding of his son. You heard right, the United Methodist Church put a pastor on trial for officiating at the wedding of his child. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal; UMC pastors conduct weddings everyday, sometimes for their children. Schaefer’s problem is that his son is gay and he was marrying his boyfriend. There are so many things wrong with this, I not sure where to begin. But, let’s try this: churches shouldn’t put anyone on trial for anything. It shouldn’t because the church is supposed to be about grace. Trials, however, are about rules and punishment; things don’t have much to do with the concept of grace. At least, not the one I learned about growing up in the UMC.

There’s damn little love involved here, either. The prosecutor, Reverend Christopher Fisher told the jury of 13 Methodist clergy “Never has the church allowed love to trump all else, you have to deny yourself and take up your cross.” When I read that, I started thinking about all the things Jesus said about love. Then, I realized Fisher is right, the Church (universal, not just the UMC) has never allowed love to trump all, regardless of what Jesus taught. Fisher’s idea of taking up your cross seems to be at odds with what I believe Jesus meant when he said that.

Then, there’s Schaefer’s penalty. It wasn’t enough to convict a pastor for breaking a oppressive rule because he loved his son, he was given thirty days suspension and ordered to determine if he could “uphold the laws of the church”. If not, he must surrender his credentials. In other words, if Schaefer can’t agree not to perform anymore same-sex weddings, he’s out as a UMC pastor. The thing is, he has 2 other children who are gay. In essence, the church is making him choose between his family and his profession. I hope he tells them to piss off and goes on with his new calling: ministering to the LGBT community.

I’ve heard several people say they’re praying for the church. Not me. The truth is, I wouldn’t shed a tear if the UMC (as a denomination) went out of business tomorrow. No, my prayers are reserved for people and I pray for the people who are kept from full connection by this disgusting policy; I pray for the members, pastors, DS’s and bishops who desperately want to minister to all God’s children no matter who they sleep with; and I pray for the members, pastors, DS’s and bishops whose misunderstanding of the Bible causes them to oppress their brothers and sisters.

If the UMC desires an accelerated slide into irrelevance over the next 20-30 years, they’ll be hard-pressed to find a better way to do that than things like this. That irrelevance won’t come from bowing to societal pressure, however, but from failing to do what Jesus asked us to do: love our neighbor.