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Scars and hope emerging from Schaefer trial, struggle to resolve United Methodist same-sex wedding laws

1 Schaefer crop 580x386 Scars and hope emerging from Schaefer trial, struggle to resolve United Methodist same sex wedding laws

Frank Schaefer packs books as he leaves Zion Iona United Methodist Church after members of the congregation feted him at a farewell celebration on Jan. 5. After a church trial Nov. 18-19, Schaefer lost his ministerial credentials. Photo by Kathy L. Gilbert, UMNS.

 
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Rev. Frank Schaefer, then pastor of Zion Iona United Methodist Church was found guilty of violating the United Methodist Book of Discipline in a church trial and lost his ministerial credentials. Those involved — from the Schaefer family to church members supporting and opposing his actions to Philadelphia Area Bishop Peggy Johnson — talk with Kathy Gilbert of United Methodist News Service about the pain and about hope for what may happen next.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

Before the waiting photographers, before the interviews with Barbara Walters and Anderson Cooper, before he lost his ministry credentials in a church trial, Frank Schaefer was a country preacher with a German accent leading a small United Methodist church in rural eastern Pennsylvania.

It wasn’t just the German accent that set him apart. His conservative social views, mirroring those in his community, started evolving when three of his four children came out as homosexuals.

It was love for his oldest son, Tim, that led Schaefer to violate The United Methodist Church’s law book forbidding clergy from officiating at same-gender unions.

First calling

Frank and his wife, Brigitte, were born in Germany. In the early 1980s, Schaefer was living in Germany working as a professional English translator. Brigitte was a highly skilled surgeon assistant. They had three young children, Tim, Debbie and Kevin. Their last child, Jordon Pascal, was not born until they moved to the United States.

Schaefer wanted to go to the United States to improve his English skills — to learn colloquial English, slang. He admits he also was looking for an adventure.

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Brigitte and Frank Schaefer face the cameras after a church trial found him guilty of violating his ordination vows by officiating at his son Tim’s 2007 marriage.  Photo by Kathy L. Gilbert, UMNS

Church was always important to the couple. They met in a youth group at a church in Germany. Finding a church home was one of the first things they did when they moved to Norfolk, Va. They were happy to find what they saw as a “small, lively” church where they got involved in working with young people.

Schaefer started hearing God’s call to ministry. His pastor was so sure Schaefer was destined to be a pastor that he pressed a catalog and application form from Valley Forge Christian College into his hands.

Schaefer prayed about what to do and ended up attending that school. He was a student pastor at Morrisville United Methodist Church while in seminary at Princeton Theological Seminary. While trying to decide on a denomination, he called United Methodist Bishop Susan Morrison. At the end of that conversation, she welcomed him to The United Methodist Church.

He served five years at Avon Zion United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Pa., and was resident chaplain at Hersey Medical Center while pursuing Clinical Pastoral Education. He was appointed to Zion Iona United Methodist Church in 2002. The four children were “preacher’s kids” and Brigitte a “preacher’s wife.” The family was in love with The United Methodist Church and Zion was a growing, thriving congregation — membership increased from 332 in 2002 to 470 in 2012.

White, hot spotlight

The world descended on this quiet country church and Schaefer after news of the charges and trial. One headline screamed,“Church puts pastor put on trial for loving his son.”

Overnight, Schaefer was on television, radio and in news publications from The New York Times to Al Jazeera America as well as local and statewide news outlets in Pennsylvania. The timing was perfect for the media because several states were debating legalizing same-gender unions and LGBQT rights.

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left” width=”30%”] “I cannot be silent any longer. I must speak out for the LGBQT community.” — The Rev. Frank Schaefer, testifying at his church trial.[/pullquote]

Schaefer was found guilty Nov. 19 in a church trial and defrocked Dec. 19.

On the second day of his trial, Schaefer said he suddenly felt the Holy Spirit calling him to a new ministry. While testifying, Schaefer put on a rainbow stole and said, “I cannot be silent any longer. I must speak out for the LGBQT community.”

Later in an interview in his home, Schaefer said, “God has taken all my excuses, and just sort of pulled me by the collar, and said ‘This is what you need to do.’”

A church in recovery

Visitors to Zion Iona (Penn.) United Methodist Church enter through doors with warning signs: no photos, no videos, no media allowed anywhere on church grounds.

It is the first clue that this church has been through a trauma.

In many ways, Zion Iona is starting over even though the church has been on this spot since it was started by the Dundore family in 1894.

The congregation gathered on Jan. 5 to say goodbye to its former pastor.

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Gina Young, a member of Zion Iona and director of the Rainbow Ringers, says goodbye to Brigitte Schaefer during a farewell gathering at the church Jan. 5. Photo by Kathy L. Gilbert, UMNS.

Freezing rain fell outside the large windows behind the altar as the Rev. Charles Rothermel stood alongside Clydette Overturf, pastoral assistant, to offer words of comfort and healing to the congregation. Rothermel has been appointed by Bishop Peggy Johnson, episcopal leader of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference, to fill the lead pastor role for the next six months. He is an ordained elder, chaplain and marriage and family counselor.

Overturf, who was hired during Schaefer’s appointment, is committed to helping the church heal and start growing again.

Frank and Brigitte Schaefer waited until after the 11 a.m. contemporary service before coming through the side doors of the church. The moment Frank arrived he was surrounded and greeted with words of welcome.

Drew Gingrich, 21, was especially happy to be there.

Gingrich, a senior at Penn State Harrisburg, soon will graduate as a teacher. He grew up in Zion Iona. He said he noticed long ago that any conservative viewpoints about the Scriptures were welcome while “liberal opinions were not as warmly received.” That attitude kept him from volunteering to lead children’s Sunday school classes, he said, even though he felt his training in education would help his church.

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Drew Gingrich grew up in Zion Iona United Methodist Church and has struggled with what has happen to his friend and mentor, Frank Schaefer. Photo by Kathy L. Gilbert, UMNS

Gingrich has struggled with what has happened to someone he considers a friend and a mentor. He testified for Schaefer during the trial and spoke passionately about a man who has had so much influence on his life. Like many others at the farewell gathering, he expressed disappointment in the denomination but an open mind about staying.

“You mean so much to me, we will be friends forever in Christ,” Schaefer said, tears flowing, as he blessed the food. Many in the room were also weeping.

“Jesus Christ’s example is love and forgiveness; Pastor Frank personifies that,” said Ellyn Ross, a member of the church since 2004. “He is going to change lives, and I am happy for him but sad for us because we will miss him so much.”

Ross said that after Schaefer came to the church 11 years ago, Zion turned into a thriving, growing congregation. He started a contemporary worship service that pulled in people from the community that hadn’t come to church before, she said.

[pullquote align=”left” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]“Jesus Christ’s example is love and forgiveness; Pastor Frank personifies that.” — Ellyn Ross, as the congregation gathered to say farewell to Schaefer.[/pullquote]

Maryellen Martin, a member of the founding Dundore family, said “My mother carried me into this church, and I won’t leave until somebody carries me out.”

Watching Schaefer talking to church members, she said, “I love him. Who are we to judge? Only our Lord and Savior can do that. I don’t understand how some people can be so vindictive. Why can’t they just leave him alone? I’ve shed many tears; my whole family has.”

Worship war

“We did some wonderful things in this church, in this community,” Schaefer said. The 11 a.m. contemporary service, started in 2005, was growing larger than the 8:30 a.m. traditional service.

“We were very good at it, very successful. We became a really friendly and open church. We were talking about adding a third service in 2013 until the complaint was filed; then everything sort of unraveled.”

Even before the charges, there was discontent. Deb Boger, who had been choir director for more than 40 years, resigned in March 2013, and the praise band left to organize a new congregation in July 2013.

Damaskus Road Community Church is nondenominational, and former Zion Iona member Miles Dissinger is pastor. He declined to talk about leaving Zion but said he worked with Schaefer for three and half years and supported him. Schaefer said the group left with his blessing.

“It was a worship war!” Schaefer said. “I was constantly asked to stop the (contemporary) service and was often accused of spending more time in preparation for the contemporary service over the traditional service.”

Jon Boger, son of Deb Boger, filed charges against Schaefer in May 2013 over Schaefer performing the ceremony for Tim Schaefer.

Schaefer said another group of 30-35 people who were supporters of Boger also left Zion Iona. “There were others that left who were disillusioned with all the problems and the drama as well,” Schaefer said.

Broken covenant

Jon Boger, a lieutenant commander in the Navy, is tall, confident and a man who believes in keeping one’s word. He said that in April 2013 he sent Bishop Johnson a copy of Tim’s marriage certificate.

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Jon Boger (left) and the Rev. Paul Stallworth enter Camp Innabah during the church trial for the Rev. Frank Schaefer. Boger filed the charges against Schaefer.  Photo by Kathy L. Gilbert, UMNS

On the witness stand during the trial, he was in tears when he testified that Schaefer betrayed his congregation and the denomination by officiating at Tim’s wedding.

[pullquote align=”right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]“This was never a personal vendetta but a fundamental theological disagreement. ” — Jon Boger, who filed the complaint against Schaefer.[/pullquote]

Reflecting on the trial in an interview with United Methodist News Service, Boger said, “He knowingly and purposefully broke the Church’s policies. I simply filed the complaint. He was convicted and penalized by a jury of his peers.”

Boger said members of his family have been baptized at Zion Iona; their weddings and their funerals have been there.

The timing of his mother’s dismissal and the filing of charges has been a source for speculation as the true motive for Boger’s actions. The charges were filed just 30 days before the statute of limitations would have run out.

“This was never a personal vendetta but a fundamental theological disagreement,” Boger said. “I remain firmly convicted in my beliefs that Frank Schaefer’s actions were wrong, both according to the Discipline and biblical teaching.”

Boger said he understands Schaefer loves his children but leaders must be held accountable when they break their covenants.

What does the church say

The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, since 1972 has proclaimed the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The book prohibits United Methodist churches from hosting and clergy from performing “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.” The 2012 General Conference, when it met April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Fla., rejected efforts to change that language, including a proposal to say the church was in disagreement about homosexuality. General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly, will next convene in 2016. Officiating at same-sex unions is a chargeable offense under the Book of Discipline. Clergy convicted in a church court can face a loss of clergy credentials or lesser penalties. However, church law does not censure those who disagree with church teaching on this matter — only those who actually take actions that violate church law. The Book of Discipline also states that marriage is between a man and a woman.

“He chose to violate his oath for the love of his son. It was a conscious choice with consequences.

“Progressive liberals tend to crucify anyone who opposes them. … All the good aspects of those involved get lost in the meta-morality of the issue, where the politically correct trend is for gay marriage, and anyone who does anything to oppose it becomes the punchline of ridicule. If conservative members of the Methodist Church would speak out and take the ridicule, Frank’s movement would quickly become the minority,” Boger said.

There are United Methodists who agree with Boger.

“Throughout this process, Rev. Schaefer was treated with great respect and given enormous latitude to express his perspective, as well as many opportunities to resolve this matter short of a public trial,” wrote the Rev. Joseph F. DiPaolo in a commentary.  DiPaolo is pastor of Wayne Pennsylvania United Methodist Church and vice chair of the Eastern Pennsylvania conference’s Evangelical Connection.

“There was no spirit of inquisition or oppression; only sadness and seriousness as our church attempted to do something that has become increasingly rare anywhere in our society — and that is, to hold someone accountable to vows and promises once made.

“I believe that we have an opportunity to demonstrate a spirit different than that which characterizes so much public debate in our society, by acting graciously toward one another as we address this, or any other divisive issue, as brothers and sisters in Christ.”

‘Lucky’ bishop

Bishop Peggy Johnson is a kind, gentle woman who often dresses in pink and uses sign language as she speaks because of her years of ministering with and for deaf people.

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Bishop Peggy Johnson holds petitions presented by Faithful America. (From left) Rev. James Todd, Johnson and Karen Wiseman. Photo by John Coleman/Eastern Pa. Conference.

She refused to make any comments before the trial because she was advised anything she said might sway the potential jury. Though it hurt her and made the church seem indifferent to Schaefer’s plight, she kept her promise.

“I regret how badly we appear. … I’m sorry we have looked so narrow-minded and mean, unprogressive. A lot of people are judging us as that, not as people of the book upholding our Discipline being faithful to our covenant — that doesn’t seem to compute as much with folk.”

She lamented that there is so much The United Methodist Church does — such as its campaign to end malaria, United Methodist Committee on Relief’s fast assistance all over the world after natural disasters — that doesn’t get as much attention as the human sexuality issue.

Some thought Johnson seemed to contradict herself when soon after Schaefer’s trial was announced she wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper expressing her support for “my lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters” for an antidiscrimination law in Pennsylvania.

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left” width=”30%”]“As a person of faith, I believe we need to protect the rights of all people.” — Philadelphia Area Bishop Peggy Johnson. [/pullquote]

“The Pennsylvania legislation came up a few months ago, and I questioned if I should even get involved in it because the church trial was bubbling up. One senator said his religious rights were being offended because he wasn’t allowed to show discrimination against people that his religion said he needed to discriminate against. So then I said, ‘I have got to say something.’” And she wrote the letter.

For many years she was pastor of an all-deaf congregation, Johnson said, and heard heartbreaking stories about people being denied their rights because they had a disability.

“As a person of faith, I believe we need to protect the rights of all people,” she said.

Johnson said it is difficult but also exciting to be part of the church at this point.

“This is exciting; I really feel privileged to be the lucky person that gets to be the bishop of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference right now — to be part of midwifery of a new day. It is a slow go and will not be without its pain.

“There are so many hard-working leaders who care and want peace and don’t want to see us at each others throats even if we disagree — there are a lot of good-hearted people who are willing to keep working because the centrality of Christ is so important.”

In the eye of the storm

During the Nov. 18-19 trial, Brigitte and Debbie Schaefer, 28, sat in the second row of folding metal chairs behind the defense table watching Frank face questions about his ministry and promises he had made.

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The Rev. Frank Schaefer (left) and his son Tim stand together during the Nov. 18 church trial. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

When Tim Schaefer, 30, was called to the witness stand, Brigitte bowed her head and covered her face with her hands. Debbie leaned over and put her arm around her mother. It was a poignant moment in two long days of trial proceedings.

Speaking in her home a few weeks after the trial, Brigitte said she was disappointed in The United Methodist Church. “I don’t think anyone should have had to go through this. I don’t think it should be done to any pastor. It was not a crime. It was not anything horrible that he did.”

Tim, who describes himself as a very private person, said the attention has been stressful.

“I felt I owed it to my father to support him in any way I could through this process. That meant testifying publicly (at trial and in media interviews) to my coming to terms with my sexuality and the suicidal thoughts I struggled with along the way — things that even my closest friends had previously never heard me talk about.”

As younger siblings, Debbie, Kevin and Jordon weren’t aware of Tim’s struggles. But, they said, they have all benefited from seeing how their parents helped Tim through that time. Now, after the trial, they are receiving love and support from United Methodists around the world.

That is a positive thing, said Debbie, who is a math teacher.

“Ironically, I think that this situation has actually strengthened my faith.  … When I go to church now, I no longer feel uncomfortable or out of place just because I’m a lesbian. It’s actually been a rather liberating experience.”

Kevin said he realized he was gay when he was 12.

“My faith has definitely helped me through it, all of the tools I have for getting by in life are wrapped up in my faith.” He is 23 and attends the University of California in Santa Barbara where he is in MA/PhD track in linguistics.

Jordon Pascal Schaefer, 19, is studying computer science at Penn State

“The situation affects me because it affects my family. I encourage my family (or anyone else) to fight for what’s right, however I’m not comfortable being a huge political activist and being in the spotlight myself,” he said.

Tim and Frank have started a blog, UMCVoices.com, as a forum for those voices within the church that feel they are not being heard.

“I have been working with my father to encourage groups of pastors from all annual conferences to encourage their respective bishops to issue statements acknowledging that the Book of Discipline contains discriminatory language towards LGBT persons and pledging to stop the trials,” Tim said.

Letters and more letters

Schaefer and his family have received more than 1,800 emails and 700 letters, several books, CDs, rainbow shawls/stoles, pins, pictures, bears and postcards from strangers since his story became public. Eight churches did a card shower for the family, and two sent a check from a love offering they took at their churches.

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The Rev. Frank Schaefer (second from right) prays with supporters prior to a press conference at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia where he announced he will not surrender his clergy credentials. Clockwise from front left are: Joe Kalil, Jordan Harris, Shaefer and the Rev. Robin Hynicka, pastor of the Arch Street church. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

The Stand with Pastor Frank: Support Equality Facebook page has more than 17,000 likes with about 700 private messages on that account and 350 more on Schaefer’s private Facebook account.

“I only received about 10 or 12 outspokenly hateful messages — I had expected more. I remember one warning me of the punishment of hell, several called me a false teacher.”

Most of the communications from people who disagree with him have been attempts to educate him with long letters full of Scripture, he said.

“We have also received beautifully written letters of support, many sharing songs composed for me.”

What’s next?

Schaefer is quick to smile, laughs often but also lets his tears flow. Through everything, he remains optimistic he will be able to remain a pastor in The United Methodist Church.

[pullquote align=”right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]“I love the church and I’m in total agreement with most of the positions except for this one. I don’t want to leave because this is my church where I have a lot of friends and people who are looking to me to be their voice.” — Frank Schaefer.[/pullquote]

Schaefer and his legal counsel, the Rev. Robert E. Coombe, filed an appeal after the Eastern Pennsylvania conference’s board of ordained ministry “deemed his ministerial credential surrendered.”

The appeal states that “the penalty assessed by the trial court was in violation of Church law, which prohibits trial courts from conditioning reinstatement of a suspended elder on his proof of good conduct and from imposing a penalty based on what a pastor may intend to do in the future.”

The appeal cites Judicial Council decisions 240, 725, 915 and 950 as well as paragraphs 2701, 2715 and 2716 “and other provisions” in the United Methodist Book of Discipline.

While waiting on his appeal, Schaefer has received numerous invitations to speak to congregations across the connection. He is booked for almost every weekend through June.

Bishop Minerva Carcaño, episcopal leader of the California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference, has invited him to become a member of her conference. It is something they are considering.

Schaefer, his wife, and Jordon and Kevin, joined Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington the weekend after he lost his clergy credentials. He is receiving financial support from the churches he visits. Foundry collected $30,000 for the family.

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Frank Schaefer talks about what his family has been through since he was charged with violating his ministerial credentials when he officiated at his son Tim’s marriage in 2007. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

“I love the church, and I’m in total agreement with most of the positions except for this one. I don’t want to leave because this is my church where I have a lot of friends and people who are looking to me to be their voice.

“Would we ever see change if people like myself and other LGBQT supporters all left? This is our church, too.”

Johnson said The United Methodist Church has a “progressive flavor” but is largely a traditional denomination. Conversations are how social issues change, she said.

“It’s kind of like porcupines on a cold night; we prick each other sometimes. But still the grace is there, the warmth of God’s spirit, so I am hopeful. I really am.”

*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

91 comments

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  1. Todd A. Zulick

    This is Long, but it is necessary to prove the Truth. There is no need to list the Scriptures of this sin or any other sin – I Tremble at the outright rejection of God’s Self revelation as revealed in Scripture. RED FLAG – Liberal False Teachers are Heretics no different than in Jesus’ day. They will quote the Bible on Love which to them means God Now Accepts Sin, while Ignoring in the same context that God’s Wrath is on All Unrepentant sinners and unless you repent you will Perish in Eternal Hell. False Teachers sit in Judgment of the Bible while on their Judgment Day before the Holy LORD GOD of the Bible, His Word Will Judge them, Jesus said, they are Condemned Already. False Teachers are Apostate which means Without Genuine Saving Faith, No different than Judas. Ask the question, Is Jesus the ONLY way to heaven? If homosexuality is accepted by God, is Fornication (Living together)? Using the Excuses that Frank uses to Change God’s Written Word – one could JUSTIFY ANY Sin. For sure, John Wesley and George Whitefield Heroes of the Methodist Church Preached the Biblical Gospel of Repentance and Believed the Holy Spirit Inspired Written Word of God. They would have spoken boldly with the Authority of the Bible against this sin or any sin that is being promoted by a Heretic. All I can say is I Plead with Frank, Repent while you can, Return to the Jesus of the Holy Bible – Judgment Day is Severe for False Preacher & Teachers who made people comfortable in their sin, Jesus Spoke MORE on HELL than of heaven, but you will never hear a Biblical message on Repentance, God’s Wrath, Judgment Day, Hell or the Lake of Fire from Apostate Heretical False Teachers. The Methodist Hierarchy has told the Pastors in the area NOT to speak about this, this is SAD – for NOT ONE PASTOR of the Methodist church has SPOKEN Publicly on what the Scripture Teaches on Homosexuality, Speaking the TRUTH of the Written Word of God is not Judging anyone, it is simply LOVE at its Highest to LOVE people enough to tell them about Repentance of sin and pointing them to Jesus Christ who will Save them From their sin, From God’s Wrath and From Eternity in Hell, if they Submit their life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We are all Lost Sinners in slavery to our sin UNTIL we see our sin and need of a Savior, When we TURN FROM our sin , TO Jesus Christ Confessing AND forsaking our sin, HE saves us and we BECOME a Child of God and a Slave to God and His Righteousness and Obedience to His Word (John 1:12, John 3:3, 5, 7, 16, 18, 36 John 5:24; John 14:15, 23, 24; Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23; Romans 10:9 – 10). I TREMBLE FOR FRANK and All Who Deny the Biblical Gospel. They are Proud that they say the Apostle John, Peter, Paul are WRONG. I will end by saying this is NOT about Only Homosexuality it is about ANY SIN and ultimately about the Bible not being Absolute in Truth. Oh, I got caught Speeding (which is a sin because the Bible says we are to obey the laws of society), I told the police man that, “He must LOVE ME,” he said, “I do LOVE YOU, but I do NOT LOVE your sin of speeding.” As he gave me a ticket I said, “WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE ME?” He said, “I am NOT JUDGING you, just like the Bible , the LAW ALREADY JUDGED YOU, I am just QUOTING the LAW which you are to Obey.” I got so mad, that I fought the Speed Limit Laws in Pennsylvania and tried to change it to 75 or 80 because IF they change the Law then I can LIVE IN MY SIN of speeding and no one can JUDGE ME. This is EXACTLY what Frank is doing, trying to change church law that AGREES WITH THE WHAT GOD SAID IN THE BIBLE. The Good News Is no matter how much “False Religion, Teachers & Preachers” are trying to preach a different gospel – THE UNCREATED HOLY LORD GOD is IMMUTABLE, He is UNCHANGING and HE nor HIS WRITTEN WORD DOES NOT CHANGE. The Bible is the #1 Best Selling LOVE LETTER to YOU from God, it tells you all about THIS LIFE and How to Make Sure without a Doubt that You will go to Heaven When you die. The best Compliment you can give an author is “I have read your book.” Read the Bible, Repent of your sin of (unbelief, pride, lust, sexual Immorality, homosexuality, adultery, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, fornication, resentment, stealing, hatred, violence, murder, selfishness, greed, witchcraft, Sorcery, false religious cults, occult or whatever else the Bible shows as sin) – Jesus wants to Save You and set you Free FROM your sin and give you a NEW LIFE and NEW DESIRES to Love & Obey Him and do life His Way, He will give you ETERNAL LIFE. Read the Bible – it is God’s Will for your life. The Methodist Church is Divided and at a Cross Roads for those who will STAND on GODS WORD. Will Church By-Laws Deviate from the Bible? Obedience to the Written Word of God brings Blessing and disobedience brings Conflict, Chaos, Heartache, Sadness and Negative Consequences.

  2. Louise M Matthews

    I have been a United Methodist since I was born 82 years ago. I have tried to serve God to the best of my abiliity with His guidance. I have seen and heard the pain of homosexuals. While I am not one, I feel thir pain and understand the turmoil in which they find themselves as they try to find ways to serve God. I hope and pray that the General Conference of 2016 will be able to change the policy on homosexuality, but fear that with the overriding of the African contingent, this will not happen. May God help us to find a way for ALL His people to serve Him!

  3. Bruno Heidik

    Mark and Daniel W.
    Both of you are missing the point. Is it not the case that the GLBTs seek the right to be married in the UMC in order to receive her blessing and recognition? And is it not the case that those biblically focused want marriage to be between a man and a woman in the life of a church to continue a tradition kept inviolate for centuries?. If that is true, why not let the secular institutions deal with the unusual unions and leave the UMC out of the turmoil. The task of the UMC is to make sure that the legal rights, libertarian rights or biblical understandings are protected as traditionally held and not subjected to secular influences or newly discovered legal restrictions and destroying religious liberty in the process.
    So the issue for me is whether the secular model of being in the world (marriages of all kinds) is preferred to a biblical one (male and female in marriage). I see more hope for the world in a biblical model than a secular one.

    1. Mark

      I certainly agree with you that there is more hope in the Biblical than the secular model of marriage, but, whether secular or Biblical, marriage has always been understood as an opposite-sex institution. It is only in recent years that this understanding has been challenged, so “marriages of all kinds” have historically never been defined, even in the secular world, as anything other than an opposite-sex relationship.

      So, make no mistake, this redefinition is the most radical change in marriage ever proposed, and the effects cannot be confined to secular society. As a consequence, as with all radical changes, it’s very reasonable to expect unintended negative consequences, even if you are not approaching the matter from a Biblical perspective.

      With such a fundamental institution–marriage has been called the DNA of society–you cannot neatly cordon off the secular from the religious. In other words, if you think the barbarians will be kept outside the gates of Christendom you are extremely naive (just look at some of the posts for this article!). In many sectors Christians are already being told that they cannot endorse historic marriage without threat of legal action. The UMC cannot stay out of the turmoil because the turmoil will not stay out of the UMC.

      And don’t forget that there are legal options available that do not require a wholesale redefinition of marriage.

      While they may have similarities, a reasonable person, regardless of religious affiliation, would not call a dog a horse. It’s the same with marriage. Anything other that an opposite-sex definition violates the laws of taxonomy.

      1. Galen Colbert

        Apples and oranges, when it comes to secular definition of marriage and religious definition of marriage. One has absolutely nothing to do with the other. The controversy that is currently broiling has to do with the latter, not the former — so suppositions about the secular definition of marriage don’t apply in this discussion.

        The argument that “opposite sex marriage has been a tradition for 1000s of years” holds no water. LOTS of things that were the norm for 1000s of years (ritual animal sacrifice, Divine power enjoyed by kings and queens, etc.) are no longer the norm (nor do we think they should be), so why is long-standing tradition now a good reason to deny same-sex couples the benefits of marriage?

        The argument that “if we allow same-sex marriage, we now open the door for polygamist marriages, bestiality marriages, etc.” is a different policy argument. Same sex marriage has to do with one law, and one law only. All that other stuff is a separate area of law. Folks that use this argument need to present some sort of concrete evidence that this will happen…and just because you think homosexuality is wrong isn’t “evidence” — it’s a moral judgement, The Supreme Court has ruled against laws based on personal moral judgement. Also, marriage is — after you peel away all the layers — basically a contract between two people, and animals can’t enter into contracts.

        I suppose that the assertion that legal options are available that don’t re-define marriage is referring to “civil unions”. This smells exactly like the “separate but equal” argument that enabled segregation. We saw how well that worked, huh? It’s been established by the Supreme Court that laws based on that argument are unconstitutional. There’s a plethora of rights that come with marriage that don’t come with civil unions.

        In closing, I understand that there’s a religious argument vs. a secular argument against same-sex marriage, and people are entitled to their views. But don’t muddle the two.

        1. Mark

          Secular society, including secularists within the church, are muddling the two by putting legal pressure on those who hold the traditional understanding of marriage. My comments are simply reflecting that reality. If the two could be kept separate then that would be better, but it seems clear that secular activists will continue to use the strong arm of government to marginalize, often very hatefully, those who hold the historic view of marriage.

          Why do you dismiss tradition? Do you think those who came before us have nothing to say? Is that not prejudicial? Can you appreciate we may not be the most enlightened generation ever? Marriage is certainly a more fundamental notion, a more expansive notion, and a more enduring notion than the other things you mention (animal sacrifice, etc.) So, that comparison is more akin to an apples and oranges argument than anything I’ve presented.

          You say this is just one law, but it represents the biggest change in marriage ever. It will have many collateral effects, just like the movement that enabled it: the 1960’s sexual revolution (which, ironically, was largely anti-marriage). Once this major threshold is crossed it will only be a short period of time before any number of consenting adults of any gender can argue that their relationships should fall under the rubric of “marriage.”

          The legal options available, such as civil unions, do bestow the same legal rights as marriage, so the argument (by marriage redefinition acitivists) that this is just about Constitutional rights is largely bogus. This is about forced acceptance of something that many people, religious or otherwise, feel is unwise.

          And the comparison to race truly is an apples and oranges argument since race is not primarily defined by behavior. You are miscontruing the Supreme Court decision since it was applied in the specific context of race.

          I respect your opinion, and you have a right to it. But you do not have a right to your own facts.

  4. Daniel Wagle

    I don’t think that Jesus in Matthew 19 was addressing the issue of “one man, one woman.” I see an Orthodox Rabbi as a counselor and he told me that monogamy was not part of Judaism until 1000 years ago, that is long after Christ. So, we can’t assume that “one man, one woman” was automatically a given in this saying. I don’t think the Bible is against gay marriage, since being committed to someone of the same gender is not condemned, such as David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi, even if these relationships were completely platonic- commitment and love are not condemned towards the same gender. What I do think Leviticus opposes is anal sex, but not other modes (this is what a Jewish Rabbi stated in an article in the Journal of Homosexuality that I read long ago stated) and certainly not loving and being commited to someone of the same gender. It might by extension oppose this mode of sex between a man and a woman. Sexual orientation is never mentioned anywhere in the Bible. Orientation is the fixed direction of sexual and romantic desire to one gender or another. It is the gender one would more likely commit to. The Orthodox Rabbi I see, who of course knows his Hebrew very well, agreed with the other Rabbi that Leviticus only means this kind of sex. Conservatives insist that the word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is derived from Leviticus and if we grant that, then he also means only this form of sex. This word for Paul used for this is arsenokoites and this also does NOT mean Lesbian since arseno means male and also Leviticus never mentions Lesbian relationships. Romans 1:26 might mean Lesbian, but it is not perfectly clear it means this. Arsenokoites also does not mean a homosexual orientation, because the word means only an act, not an inclination. Therefore, when Paul talks of change in 1 Corinthians 6:11, it doesn’t mean a person begins to have heterosexual desire and eliminates homosexual desire. It is ONLY a change in behavior. I personally could not change my desire from gay to straight, even with years of psychotherapy, but it isn’t that difficult to change sexual behavior. Some gay men can function with women, although of course they still desire men. Heterosexual marriage also does not change the direction of someones sexual and romantic desire from gay to straight. This Levitical law is a ritual purity law, because it has to do with how bodily secretions defile, such as blood. That is why approaching a woman during her menstrual cycle is banned. It is also important to note that the Hebrew word for “abomination” used in relation to this form of gay sex is toevah and this is used to refer to unclean foods in Deuteronomy 14:3. Now, Christians are not bound by ritual purity laws, but there are good health reasons not to do this kind of sex (unless protection is used), since this is the biggest risk factor for the spread of AIDS, more so than other forms of sex. Of course, another context is idolatry, as both homosexuality and heterosexuality are strongly condemned when they are combined with idol worship. Gang rape was condemned, both against men and women. (Judges 19:22-30) Of course, don’t have this kind of relationship with an underage minor. Breaking a marriage covenant was forbidden, but gays don’t break marriage commitments if they don’t become heterosexually married. I also don’t want to give the impression that being gay is all about sex acts, it is about being more romantically inclined and more likely to fall in love with someone of the same gender than the opposite. It is also about emotional needs that are better met with someone of the same gender. A person can be gay, even if they never engage in sex acts. Engaging in sex acts is not what makes a person gay, it is their feelings. Persons might engage in the behavior of Judges 19 in prisons, but this doesn’t necessarily make them gay.

  5. sjalbert

    I agree its so sad that a Pastor. feels right in abusing his role for the love of his Son instead of following God’s word!Even more sad he actually feels right and many people support him. So against the truth!

  6. Wilma Kapcoe

    We have studied homosexuality in the UMC in Sunday School and came to no conclusions of a perfect answer. However, God spoke to me regarding my lesbian daughter when she was only 1 year old and reaffirmed to me when she was 20. He knew her sexuality from conception so how can I believe anything but that he has plans for her life. She rejects institutional religion because she knows she is as favored as anyone in life and she rejects the hypocrisy. We are all sinners and professed Christians are child molesters, porn followers, divorced, judgmental, greedy, selfish, all-knowing persons. Jesus knows who we are. God sent Jesus into the world to teach us the lessons we had failed to learn from his original plan. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is the truth of Jesus.

  7. Tamara

    Why is it that the church has to change? Why not find a church that is in agreement with your values/beliefs? There may be many misinterpretations of the bible – we may never know till the end comes. But who’s to say which of us has the right interpretation. Yes, everyone should be welcome. But positions of leadership are a little different. Like the Boy Scouts, why did they have to change their policies?? If you aren’t in agreement, why not go to another group that is in line with your beliefs, or start your own. But I believe the church is far more sensitive. I don’t believe a church should have to go against what they believe to be God’s word!

  8. Marianne Horned

    Thanks Daniel for your clarification re: Biblical references. I am an older Methodist (79)but have been very frustrated for many years re: our Methodist attitude re: homosexuality. It is wonderful news today that the charges have been dropped against Rev. Schaefer. Change is hard but it is time for us to move forward in our acceptance of diversity. Every century we find ourselves facing change. We do not always accept change graciously. I believe God is answering my prayers in re: to this issue in the Church.

  9. Jim Carpenter

    Pennsylvania is a lone holdout on the marriage issue….all the other states in the Northeast see it as a civil rights issue. Some Methodists may disagree…but some Methodists also didnt want to give women the right to vote or to free their slaves…history will tell the true story.
    In a few years Bishop Peggy will be long gone and so will her minions who created this case against Frank Schaefer. Too bad they are giving Methodism a bad name…no wonder we are losing people by the thousands…..

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