Schaefer sentenced

Timothy Kincaid

November 20th, 2013

20131119-233244.jpgHaving been found guilty yesterday of breaking the Methodist Book of Discipline by officiating at his son’s wedding, United Methodist minister Frank Schaefer went back before the jury today to be sentenced. But today Schaefer was defiant and dared them to do their worst. (NY Daily News)

“I have to minister to those who hurt and that’s what I’m doing,” said Schaefer.

The prosecutor, the Rev. Christopher Fisher, invited Schaefer to “repent of your actions” and pledge never again to perform a homosexual union.

“I cannot,” Schaefer replied.

His refusal to submit to the church law infuriated his accusers.

Jon Boger, who filed the initial complaint against Schaefer, was outraged by the pastor’s recalcitrance. The career Naval officer grew up in Zion United Methodist Church of Iona, the church that Schaefer has led for 11 years.

“Frank Schaefer sat here and openly rebuked the United Methodist Church, its policies, standards and doctrines,” Bolger said when called as a rebuttal witness. “He should no longer be in service as a minister of the United Methodist Church, not at Iona, not anywhere else.”

But Schaefer did not back down. He chided the church about hate speech and insisted that it needs to stop treating gays as “second class Christians”. In closing, he put on a rainbow colored stole, a symbol within the church of gay supporters, and said,

I cannot go back to being a silent supporter. I must continue to be in ministry with all people and speak for LGBTQ people. Members of the jury, before you decide my penalty, you need to know I wear his rainbow stole as a visible sign that this is who I am called to be.

After deliberation, the jury sentenced him to a 30 day suspension, a very lenient sentence considering the subject and Schaefer’s refusal to repent and his pledge to take this fight as his mission.

They warned him, however, not to break any rules within 30 days or he’d lose his credentials. This story may be far from over.


November 20th, 2013

Seems like that’s pretty much what the Presbyterians did in a similar case not long ago; they had to convict, but gave as small a penalty as they could.


November 20th, 2013

All this conflict over how to serve a being who may very-well not exist. Or if he / she / it does exist, the chances that this church is following its doctrine are vanishingly small.

Hatred in the name of god is still hatred. In fact, it’s worse, because there’s no way to falsify the claims of what this god wants.


November 20th, 2013

“Christina Watson said her family left Schaefer’s church because they no longer wanted to be “subjected to the preaching and teaching” of Schaefer.

‘“To me, it wasn’t a good Christian example for ministers to say it’s OK to break the rules of your church,” she testified.”

Actually, I think it was the perfect ‘Christ-like’ example. Luke 6:1-4, Matt. 15.11, Luke 11:37-8, John 5:8-11, Mark 2:18-20 are all evidence the fact that Christ (quite often) broke ‘Church’ law.


November 20th, 2013

This prosecution and the “victims” it represents have made themselves uglier than they ever needed to be in the situation.

Is virtually everything fair in this nonsense? Isn’t there some overseeing authority willing to caution these detestable people?


November 20th, 2013

Agreed Soren, such petty bickering is always an eyesore. Such instances are made all the worse when they are brought on not so much by any religious ‘conviction’, but more as a form of retaliation for perceived slights.

But I think the ‘overseeing authority’ is there, but just not perceived in the most obvious way one would expect. I believe this ‘overseeing authority’ is what brought on the ‘30 day suspension’. Such a ruling has to be like lemon juice on the ‘paper-cut wounds’ of Schaefer’s accusers. In our instant gratification generation, we would like nothing better than to see an immediate and unmistakable smack down. But experience tells us that while it doesn’t always happen this way, is still does happen.

Moreover there are people cautioning this sort of behavior, though there too it is not always readily apparent. Believe it or not, the apostle Paul was one of the first to admonish this sort of behavior in the early church in Rome (Romans 14).

In and around Romans 14, Paul addresses a church embroiled in disputes and controversies over behavior and lifestyle. The church is made up of Christians Paul sees as “weak-in-faith” and Christians who are “strong-in-faith.” Paul clearly identifies himself among the “strong.” He sees the “weak-in-faith” as those who are less able or willing to trust in God’s grace alone, without adding restrictive rules and regulations about diets and days as requirements for proper Christian lifestyle. Such a person is at heart still a legalist and believes that he or she can gain God’s favor by doing certain things and abstaining from others.

In Paul’s day, one of the biggest controversies in the church was over laws about observing (kosher) diets and days. In our day, perhaps the biggest controversy is over homosexuality. The “weak-in-faith” today add restrictive rules against any and all expression of homosexuality as a requirement for Christian lifestyle. The “strong” today do not insist on adding such rules and regulations and they better understand the freedom that Paul said Christians have in Christ.

Paul concludes with a sad observation on the negative effect bickering and hostile Christians can have on non-Christian onlookers. Evangelism is eviscerated when evangelicals elevate their disputes above their giving of the gospel. Out of the Christian debates over slavery and race, the greatest 19th century evangelist, Charles G. Finney, said: “Revivals are hindered when ministers and churches take wrong ground in regard to any question involving human rights.” It is incumbent on Christians to remove heart and intellectual objects to the clear preaching of the gospel.

Paul understands that outsiders of good will can see narrow-minded, mean-spirited Christians majoring in minor matters and find it all a total turn-off.

Paul reminds Christians that the Kingdom of God is not about any external observances or specific behavior. Much more important than a particular view (of any controversy)are things like consideration for other people. Love, not particular views about any and all commandments must be the guide for the Christian.

If the church throughout history had taken Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 to heart, just think of all the foolishness, not to mention all the bloodshed that would have been avoided. If the contemporary evangelical community were ever to take seriously these wise pastoral admonitions, there would be no problem of homosexuality in Christianity today. Is it really too much to ask Christians to live together in peace as they each must report on their own to their Lord?

Interesting Factoid:

Back in 1769, John Wesley (founder of the Methodist church) wrote to Nancy Ford, a friend of his in Southwark. Evidently she had written him about her confusion over some teachings by Calvinist preacher William Romaine. The Arminian Wesley responded with two pages of vigorous rebuttal, arguing that Romaine “confirms by five texts whereas in five and twenty more” he’s contradicted. “But I have not time to be minute. Hoping to save you a good deal of trouble I just told you what then occurred to my mind.”

Wesley graciously concludes:

“But I have no right to prescribe. Please yourself and you will please, My dear Nancy, Your affectionate Brother, J Wesley.”

Would that Wesley’s spirit of firm conviction tempered with Christian largess were more alive today in the church that he founded.


November 20th, 2013

I think you all are underestimating the sentence. Yes, it is a 30-day suspension. But it requires Schaefer to promise not to violate the Book of Discipline again. If he doesn’t make that promise (which he says he will not), he will be defrocked. The jury is being very disingenuous here. They want it to appear that they are reasonable and are being lenient. However, they know that the consequences of their sentence is that Schaefer will be defrocked. They’ll get to blame the defrocking on him. Talk about blaming the victim.


November 20th, 2013

See the discussion of the “kangaroo” trial and of the UMC in general by Claude Summers at


November 20th, 2013

It appears that Jon Boger wants the church to be run like the “tight ship” he experienced during his navy career.

In doing so, he sets himself up as a stereotypical NT Pharisee. When did “following the rules” replace loving one’s neighbor?


November 20th, 2013


I was more or less bouncing the 30 day suspension off of Timothy’s last sentence. But whether the 30 day suspension is probationary in nature or not doesn’t really matter. The last time he ‘broke the rules’ was seven years ago. I suspect, nay, I have no doubt the ‘Jon Bogers’ of the congregation wanted to see him out the door post haste. They’re not getting that.

Furthermore, the suspension did not and does not ‘require’ anything. He flat out refused to make any promises and yet the 30 day suspension was ruled. Saying what they ‘want’ and what they ‘know’ is presumptuous; no one can know that but them.

Assuming for a moment that they gave this ruling to manipulate public opinion, such a motivation would be fruitless. Whether he was defrocked yesterday or whether he’ll be defrocked a year from now would make no difference. The people who want to see him as deserving his fate will still see it that way, and those who want to see it as an injustice will not be convinced otherwise.

The timing is irrelevant.


November 20th, 2013


Thank you for that crafted response.

My (abandoned) background is Episcopal, so of course I am no Bible scholar. I learned from what you wrote.

I had wondered just as a side point about an effective, overseeing authority simply because I can still seethe when I see this hopped-up viciousness in a mainstream sect and then recall the dithering, bankrupt cowardice of Rowan Williams in the face of the African church, and the breakaway church here.

So I wondered, hadn’t the Methodists noticed that whole drama and its language, and its result and its lessons?

Thanks much.

Ben in Oakland

November 20th, 2013

I find myself both annoyed and pleased at this whole affair. Pleased with frank Schaefer and the knowledge that were it not for the Africans– Weak Tea Williams certainly comes to mind here– this would have been over with years ago. Annoyed with the pettiness of the majn accuser and pharisaical small mindedness of the church bureaucrats– people who should know better.

I’m not familiar enough with the arcana–and I mean that word in all of its senses– of church rules. but it seems to me that Mr. Schaefer didnt perform a wedding that his home diocese would recognize as such.

where else am I annoyed? The story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac seems incredibly appropriate here. Irony just bounds, especially with the church demanding that father sacrifice the son, with no intention of calling him off at the last minute,

The church playing god!!! Who woulda thunk? irony just abounds.

Where I’m really annoyed? I just love the ignorance of a certain class of so called Christian, always trying to find in god’s holy words the justification for their own bad behavior, using their bible as a weapon against others they either dont like or don’t approve of or have a pathological needto feel superior to, or all three.

One might wonder why there is a UNITED Methodist church these days. Could it be that Methodism had a little schism about 175 years ago over whether it was proper to own another human being, to be able to destroy his family because he was property, to murder him with impunity because he really wasn’t quite a full human being? and didn’t the bible beaters have god’s holy word to justify this?

According to the bible beaters who post everywhere with depressing dullness, god’s word never changes. Of course it does and has, many times, as soon as it becomes expedient for it to do so. Well, actually, gods word doesn’t change, WE DO. we become better than god’s word, which is why we don’t burn witches, own slaves, or engage in a 2000 year old pogrom against the Christ killers. (I’m old enough and Jewish enough to remember being told by Catholics in my childhood about how “you people killed the baby Jesus”).

We do think I is appropriate to bring the full social weight of the church down on gay people as a punishment for our most grievous sin, though its apparently fine to reject the totality of their Christian beliefs, and it won’t bother them in the slightest.

Just don’t say gay.

We just haven’t yet reached that point of rejecting this blatant hypocrisy directed towards gay people, but we’re working on it.

The real truth of religious prejudice, of this blatant hypocrisy, is this: god is what a certain class of so called Christian uses to justify what cannot be justified by any other means…

Including gods word.

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