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Schaefer found guilty

Timothy Kincaid

November 19th, 2013

Yesterday the United Methodist Church put Rev. Frank Schaefer on trial. (WaPo)

By the end of the day, the rare jury of 13 Methodist pastors had found Schaefer guilty on two charges: “conducting a ceremony that celebrates same-sex unions” and “disobedience to order and discipline of the Methodist Church.” On Tuesday morning, the jury reconvened to devise Schaefer’s penalty for agreeing in 2006 to marry his son Tim, who earlier had contemplated suicide over his homosexuality.

Schaefer’s punishment will be decided today and could range from a reprimand to expulsion. And the prosecutor is seeking as severe a punishment as possible. (Sun Times)

The Rev. Christopher Fisher, who is serving as the church’s prosecutor, urged the jury in his opening statement to consider whether Schaefer will “repent of and renounce his disobedience to the (Methodist Book of) Discipline,” and promise to obey the denomination’s book of law and doctrine in the future.

Fisher told jurors that Schaefer’s disobedience couldn’t go unpunished.

“Ministers are not free to reinterpret (their) vows according to personal preference,” said Fisher, whose closing argument condemning homosexuality prompted Schaefer’s supporters to stand in silent protest in the gymnasium that served as a temporary courtroom.

“As a father, I understand the desire to show love and support to my children,” Fisher said. “It’s not always true we can do for our children everything they want us to do. True love draws boundaries.”

This line of attack does call into question the extent to which the denomination is sincere in it’s welcome and pledge of ministry to gay persons. If the crime was breaking a rule, that is one thing; but if the punishment is based on opposition to homosexuality, that is quite another.

And, finally, we now have learned the motivation behind the accuser. The mother of Jon Bolger, the man who filed the claim, was recently removed from her position as choir director.

Comments

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MassageJeffrey
November 19th, 2013 | LINK

This highlights what I loathe about organized religion: it’s about the loyalty to the *church’s* book of law, not Jesus’ teachings that are at issue here, to the barnacles of tradition that have accreted around the central message over the millennia that are at issue.

I seriously doubt whether God or Jesus gives a CRAP about the Methodist book of Discipline.

Marcus
November 19th, 2013 | LINK

Well, the rule is presumably based on opposition to homosexuality, so I’m not seeing the difference.

I wouldn’t be sure that Boger’s motivation was revenge. It’s possible that he feared retribution against his mother while she was still employed by Schaefer. And judging by his comments to the media, he’s genuinely offended by two guys getting married in his church.

Marcus
November 19th, 2013 | LINK

Correction: *by* his church.

Sir Andrew
November 19th, 2013 | LINK

More hypocrisy from a group of people worshipping a mythical creature and trying to pretend that it’s not only viable, but also important.

The prosecutor’s argument that “True love draws boundaries” is specious and inaptly used in this instance.

I suspect the pastor will be defrocked. He’ll then have the rest of his life to contemplate the way he’s wasted much of his life supporting a church that won’t support him.

Nathaniel
November 19th, 2013 | LINK

I doubt Rev. Schaefer will feel he wasted his time. One cannot change the institutions one cares for from the outside. Perhaps he may have hoped to avoid a trial, but I am sure he was willing to accept whatever the consequences, with the hope that his trial and punishment would highlight the inherent ugliness of this relatively recent church law. But if he believes that God has shown God’s love through Jesus, and that the UMC has a unique and valuable perspective on Jesus to offer both current and prospective members, then Rev. Schaefer cannot feel his time was wasted, though I am sure he will feel hurt, even betrayed, by a church he hoped was still trying to embody the teachings of Jesus. The UMC in the USA will die or change, and leaders like Schaefer are still the best hope for change, and will keep working towards that goal until the UMC has changed or ousted them all.

NotOnScript
November 19th, 2013 | LINK

I’m just going to comment narrowly regarding procedural issues (believe me, I’m not defending the “Discipline” of the church I used to be a member of):

(1) I can’t believe that people are describing this as an issue of “doctrine”. It’s not. It’s a legislative enactment. The General Conference has “defined” United Methodist marriage. Claiming that this is a question of “doctrine” plays into the hands of the religious right.

(2) I wish the charges that Rev. Schaefer were convicted on were completely accurate in terms of the disciplinary language. The language is at ¶¶ 2702.1b and 2702.1d. (No, this is not in and of itself reversible error. But it’s not reassuring to see such blatant sloppiness.) ¶ 2702.1d reads “disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church.” ¶ 2702.1b reads “practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies;” I’m surprised that Church council didn’t “follow the letter of the law” and list the charge as “conducting a ceremony which celebrates a homosexual union.” Gosh, why didn’t the Church council do that? (I would even argue that’s not the correct charge — I interpret the “including but not limited to” language as giving examples of specifications — but that’s an arguable point, and it’s not reversible error anyway.)

(3) I don’t know if the bill of charges and specifications is available online. Being convicted on two separate charges makes it sound like Rev. Schaefer did something else wrong too. Did he? Without seeing the bill, it’s impossible to comment meaningfully about what penalty he’s facing.

(4) If there’s an appeal, ¶ 2715.8 provides that an appellate court can’t increase the penalty. (Appeals also take time and legal expenses. It also has to be an issue that already appears in the record.) If anyone else out there cares about this, be sure to read Decision 628: a jurisdictional committee on appeals didn’t provide an adequate record, so a pastor’s removal from office was restored by the Judicial Council.

(5) If the only issue here is performing his son’s wedding, I’d be surprised if Rev. Schaefer gets more than just a suspension. If there’s anything I’ve learned about The United Methodist Church, it’s capable of providing unpleasant surprises.

Nathaniel
November 19th, 2013 | LINK

NotOnScript, thanks for the clarifications and specifics, especially with respect to distinguishing ‘doctrine’ and ‘law’ in a church. As for punishments, other cases I have read about have carried a light punishment that depends on a concession, like the convicted party admitting to wrong-doing and promising to not repeat the offense. If such a promise is not made, the punishment defaults to the harshest permissible penalty. I would not be surprised to see that in this case.

Bose in St. Peter MN
November 19th, 2013 | LINK

Depth offered by WaPo is much appreciated: conservative-leaning city of 25K people, parish of approximately 250 members, pastor with 3 gay kids (out of 4), where the parishioners were upset over the pastor adding a contemporary service to the Sunday schedule:

“His preaching was unorthodox. It’s hard to pinpoint anything. The church just felt like it was changing,” said Kitty Mease, 85, who left two years ago after a half-century at Zion. While Schaefer didn’t preach explicitly on homosexuality, she said, general comments about inclusion felt coercive in a traditional community.

“He was trying to change our views. Some of this we knew — though we didn’t know the extent that the entire family was [part of] this other lifestyle apparently,” Mease said.

Yes, when generic inclusion is regarded as coercive, and pastors are assigned to parishes by hierarchies beyond local control, it’s no surprise that some conflicts become explosive.

Nathaniel
November 20th, 2013 | LINK

Indeed, Bose. In fact, it sounds like the definition of ‘traditional community’ should be extended to included a church full of parishioners who only go to church to be told how good they are and to be made to feel good about themselves. It is a shame that a tradition that follows and earth-shaker like Jesus is beholden to people who don’t want their comforts and values challenged, no matter what the topic.

Regan DuCasse
November 21st, 2013 | LINK

Blood is thicker than a Bible. At the end of the day, that book doesn’t love anyone.
Doesn’t hug, kiss or connect to anyone the way a human would.
Let alone one’s own flesh and blood.
It’s no contest and shouldn’t be.
No church community gets to decide that a parent can sacrifice their child, or a relationship with their child.
It can be argued, one can live without ever going to church again.
But the love of one’s child, that is forever.

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