In the last week I’ve made some passing references here and shared quite a bit on my Facebook page about a very important trial beginning today: the UMC’s Judicial Council will consider an appeal to overturn the reinstatement of Reverend Frank Schaefer. This is a case about love, equality, and ministry and will mean a great many things for the UMC as a whole, local churches and affiliated organizations…and me.Reverend Dr. Dorothee Benz sums up the proceedings so far very well in this post from Friday. A few quotes from that excellent piece:
At the heart of this case has always been Schaefer’s simple and profound act of love. At every step of the way, the church’s reaction has been to place legalism and institutional loyalty above love and Biblical Obedience.
The prosecutor and those throughout the country loudly calling for every greater punishments for clergy for ministering to LGBTQ people have always said we must enforce the rules because they are the rules and without respect for the law, our church can’t function. But the appeals ruling shows the highest respect for the law.
As she spells out, “the significance of the Judicial Council’s decision in this case could hardly be overstated.“
Reverend Schaefer acted in violation of the Book of Discipline in order to act in love and Biblical obedience. He is the most famous face now of a movement that has grown beyond his single act and are now being embraced by clergy all over the country. Many pastors are no longer content to engage in half-ministry or in church-sanctioned discrimination against sisters and brothers in Christ. Some have chosen to perform same-sex weddings and accept the possible consequences, while others have chosen not to preside over any weddings until they can minister fully in that capacity.
I will be following very closely today to see if the highest judicial body in the church that I love will choose to act with integrity by upholding Reverend Schaefer’s reinstatement, which is fully consistent with the Book of Discipline (the whole basis of his original punishment), or if they will choose a path of discrimination that flies in the face of church law and our very motto.
Earlier, I mentioned that this decision will not only ripple out through the Church as a whole but that it will personally impact me. The reason, of course, is my own position as a candidate for pastoral ministry. I have perceived, discerned, and answered God’s call on my life to love and minister to the world in connection with the United Methodist Church. I have a passion and a vision to minister to the unchurched, the questioning, and the disaffected to show them the beauty and power of God’s love and grace for them. I specifically want to minister to and disciple the LGBTQ community, from dedicated Christ-followers looking for a place of love and affirmation to those who have turned away (or who’ve been turned away) from the church because of unChristlike attitudes.
How can I do that, however, in communion with a church whose very doctrine refuses to acknowledge the equal value and worth of those same sisters and brothers because of who God has created them to be? In fact, my perception of Christianity’s attitude toward the LGBTQ community and other marginalized people is part of what pushed me away for a long time. With the limited age and wisdom I’ve gained I realized that I could be a part of changing those attitudes by working with the church, but there are limits to what any of us can do as long as those attitudes and actions remain entrenched in the very core of what the UMC stands for.
A decision is expected by Sunday or Monday. If the Judicial Council upholds Reverend Schaefer’s reinstatement it will signal to me, and to others both in and out of the church, that there is a way forward. The road may be long(er) and there will be more obstacles to overcome, but my faith in the triumph of love – and in “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” – will be renewed.
If the Judicial Council overturns his reinstatement, however, it will represent a slamming and barring of that very door that I seek to push open through my ministry both pre- and post-ordination. And honestly, it will take a great deal more prayer but I will continue strongly questioning whether I can continue in the candidacy process – after all, pursuing vocational ministry is a conscious, public alignment of my interests with those of the UMC. I can stand with a church that is itself questioning and transitioning and wrestling with how to be loving and obedient, but to stand in tacit acceptance of a church that isn’t even interested in those things is not what I believe God is calling me to do.
So I will wait. I will watch. I will listen, and I will see if love and ministry win out.
Be blessed, friends.