Thursday, November 14, 2013

Something has been weighing heavily on my mind lately. I've been hesitant to share it because I'm afraid it will be misinterpreted but here goes nothing. All I can ask for is your grace.

I'm having a really hard time getting behind the support group for Frank Shaefer. I have a lot of friends that "stand with Pastor Frank" (there's even a Facebook page - Stand with Pastor Frank: Support Equality) but there is something about all of this that is really not sitting well with me. Here's my issue - I don't think most of my friends in the UMC (United Methodist Church) really stand with Frank as much as they agree with his objections to church law (UMC law - the Book of Discipline specifically).

Let me be clear, I wholeheartedly agree with Pastor Frank and others that the law is ludicrous; the idea that sanctifying the marriage of two people is a so-called "chargeable offense" for a pastor has me so filled with rage that I'm on the edge of walking away from the UMC altogether. This is, in fact, what it means to me to say I stand with pastor Frank. By saying that, I feel like I'm saying I will stand next to him when the arrows fly. Were I ordained in the UMC it would mean that should his stole be ripped from his shoulders by a ruling of the court I would tear mine from around my own neck and hurl it at his accusers. As a lay person in the church,  standing with Pastor Frank means (to me) that a rejection of his call to service through ordained ministry is a rejection of my own call to serve the Church and I could not see myself remaining within a denomination that would reject us. 

Here's the thing - Pastor Frank broke the (church) law. As an ordained elder in the church he is sworn to uphold the "traditions, polity, and beliefs of The United Methodist Church"  (UMC Site - Pastor: Overview). The Discipline (the source of church law for the UMC) explicitly says that he may be tried if he does what he did. It's explicit in the Book of Discipline, "A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference (¶ 370), local pastor,14 clergy on honorable or administrative location, or diaconal minister may be tried when charged (subject to the statute of limitations in ¶ 2702.4)* with one or more of the following offenses . . . being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies." I think it's absolute nonsense - but it's the law. In 2012 the entire worldwide body of the UMC gathered and voted on whether or not to change the law. That body is referred to as the General Conference and gathers to vote on changes to the law every four years. The result? The church body voted to keep the law in place. It was the law when Pastor Frank performed the marriage ceremony and it is still the law. Again, I think it's NONSENSE and completely contrary to the message of Christ but that doesn't stop it from being the law. 

My sense is that my friends and colleagues want to avoid having Pastor Frank be tried for breaking the church's law. I get the impression that what standing with Pastor Frank means to many is urging the judicial body of the UMC to avoid taking up the case and thereby avoiding the nearly inevitable conclusion that will lead to him losing his position as an elder in the UMC (being defrocked). I don't thinking trying to hide from an unjust law and pretend it's not there is the best way to fight it; I think the best way to fight a law that damages people, unfortunately, is to force those people in power  to deal with the gory carnage that comes from enforcement of the law or by turning your back and walking away from those with the power to uphold the law. Is it time for those that truly stand with Pastor Frank to part ways with their beloved United Methodist Church? What does it mean if we stand with Pastor Frank up until the point when he is found guilty then continue on as if nothing had changed at all? Can we truly stand with Frank Shaefer if we continue to serve under a Discipline that would invalidate his call to serve and punish him for answering a very personal, loving call to sanctify his son's marriage?

I don't think we can. In my understanding of Jesus I see in him a model for the way for us to stand up against unjust laws. I think most of us (Christians) believe that Jesus could have avoided the punishment the authorities said he was due but instead he (Jesus) chose to face the consequences. What is one of the most damning messages in the Gospels? I think it's the failure of Jesus' followers to stand with him as he was accused and later when his sentence was handed down. We might argue that the Church (capital C) exists today because Peter and the others sank into the background and hid when Jesus was dragged before his accusers (denied him even) but we are left to wonder what would have happened if the people had stood with Jesus when the judgement was announced. "Then crucify me too," they might have said. Who knows what the world would be like today if they had shown such courage? I believe this is what it means to stand with Pastor Frank and I'm not sure I, nor many of my colleagues and friends, are really ready to do it. 

Here's a little background on the story if you're not familiar with it. 


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