As reported earlier, last month the Rev. Frank Schaefer of Eastern Pennsylvania was suspended from ministry for not only betraying the United Methodist Church’s biblical prohibition on our clergy officiating at same-sex unions but for his vow to continue violating this standard. Mr. Schaefer’s supporters, many of whom drove in from out of state to protest the trial, reacted with all the maturity of spoiled two-year olds, loudly knocking over chairs. Some even, according to the AP, physically “scuffled briefly with the church’s trial staff.”
The sentence was for Schaefer to, by the end of his 30-day suspension from ministry, either commit to keeping his word to God and fellow United Methodists by submitting to the entirety of our denomination’s covenant expressed in the Book of Discipline – which includes the aforementioned bans on blessing sexual sin – or to forego his status as a United Methodist minister.
Yesterday, Mr. Schaefer held a press conference. Among the more notable parts of his statement were that he:
- Declared, “No, I cannot uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety.”
- Once again denounced UMC church policies affirming biblical standards for sexual self-control as specific sections he would especially not uphold.
- Claimed that United Methodist clergy who refuse to enable and encourage people to commit sexual sin are somehow violating the Discipline by not ministering to people.
- Like a little boy refusing to abandon his toys for the evening, defiantly declared his refusal to surrender his credentials as a United Methodist minister, rather hypocritically citing his supposed concern for adhering to the Discipline.
- Claimed that three (unnamed) bishops allegedly urged him to not surrender his clergy credentials.
- Called on the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, with whom he must meet this Thursday, December 19, to join him in breaking faith with God, the trial jury, General Conference, and the rest of the United Methodist Church (not to mention at least 95 percent of the rest of the global body of Christ) by effectively invalidating his sentence and authorizing him to enjoy effective impunity.
- Essentially implied that he enjoys some special status in which he is entitled to enjoy all the benefits of being a United Methodist minister but also must be given unilateral authority to pick and choose which parts of Scripture, the Discipline, and his own promises to Christ and His church he will honor.
Schaefer’s full statement can be read here, on the website of the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), which promotes not only compassion for same-sex attracted individuals (something with which we at IRD/UMAction heartily agree), but also defends an “anything goes” sexual ethos within the church.
For the last several weeks, he has been quite the eager self-promoter in the media. His latest statement shifts the focus more and more away from his gay son to Mr. Schaefer’s own chosen insistence on dragging out his narcissistic publicity stunt as long as possible. If he is not going to follow Scripture, he could at least show himself to be a man of (at least partial) integrity by seeking another line of work or transferring to become a minister in some religious body whose rules he would be willing to follow.
Like many United Methodists around the globe, I wonder how much more of the church’s time, money, and energy must be expended to indulge the selfishness of a man who has already cost the church so much and already imposed so much destruction and decline on his own local church.
Last month, Faithful America organized an online petition drive ordering the Eastern Pennsylvania bishop, Peggy Johnson, to unilaterally betray God, the church, and her vows by refusing to follow church policies with which this outside group disagreed. Since Faithful America is not a Methodist group and the petition invited anyone to sign, it is likely that the petition signers were primarily non-Methodist and included a large number of non-Christians. Faithful America is a spin-off from the National Council of Churches which routinely organizes a bunch of lefty petitions, primarily defending homosexual practice. Why anyone thinks Bishop Johnson should take her marching orders from non-Christians with no relation to the UMC signing a petition for a group with so little appreciation for historic Christianity, or for the internal integrity of the churches they seek to influence from the outside, is beyond me.
We have also reported on how before Schaefer’s trial, over 30 United Methodist clergy jointly presided over a publicity-stunt same-sex union at Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia (where such ceremonies are forbidden by the UMC Discipline), and even refused the bishop’s gracious invitation to meet and pray with her along with some evangelical United Methodists beforehand. But in thus expressing their solidarity with Schaefer, the renegade clergy apparently lacked the courage or conviction to release their names publicly.
We have just received a letter, the first two signers of which are Mr. Schaefer and Arch Street UMC pastor Robin Hynicka, which thanks Bishop Johnson for recently expressing the liberal leanings of her personal views on homosexuality, and calls on her to:
- Affirm the “sacred worth” of “our LGBT brothers and sisters”
- Denounce “some statements in our Book of Discipline” as “discriminatory”
- Unilaterally declare that the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference is in “a process of discernment, prayer and change.”
- Refuse to keep her own vow to God and the church to uphold the Discipline during the time of this “process.”
Of course, Bishop Johnson has no such authority to declare her area of responsibility to be in the midst of a process of suspending the biblically grounded church law all UMC clergy vow to uphold and of “changing” policies that a GROWING majority of General Conference delegates support.
Furthermore, after 2,000 years of remarkably consistent Christian teaching, and the UMC spending over four decades intensely debating and discussing the morality of homosexual practice – so much so that this has routinely left no time to address other important issues – such pleas that the UMC needs more time for discernment could hardly be more ridiculous.
The other letter signers, apparently all Eastern Pennsylvania UMC clergy, were Herb Snyder, Sharon Vandegrift, John Pritchard, Nancy Miller, Kipp Gilmore-Clough, Ginny Miles, Dorothy Field, George Tigh, Mark Young, Sukja Bang, Joyce D. Wilson, William Cherry, George R. Alt, Bruce Hazelwood, Bob Hannum, Joy Bagwell, David William Brown, David Krueger, Richard Cox, David Myers, Truman Brooks, David Tatgenhorst, Reinhard Kruse, Fred Day, Gary Schongalla-Bowman, Melody Porter, Donald Zeiter, David Eckert, Warren Cederholm, Jim Hallam, James F. McIntire, John McEllhenny, Susan Cole, William Lentz, Ann S. Wilson, Amy Emmett Rardin, David Wesley Brown, Barbara K. Emery, Lydia Muñoz, Susan Worrell, Doris Dalton, and Shellie Sterner.
Today, a number of clergy of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church are presenting a petition to our bishop calling upon her to make certain public statements and commitments on the subject of sexuality and church discipline. This petition is a direct result of the actions of 36 members of our conference on November 9, who co-officiated at a same sex wedding, contrary to our United Methodist doctrine and discipline, and in violation of their own ordination vows.
- We agree with the petitioners that persons who self-identify as LBGT are, as our church teaches, “persons of sacred worth,” and affirm our desire to be in ministry with and for all persons, without regard to how they may define their sexuality.
- We deny that statements in our Book of Discipline are discriminatory. The Discipline identifies practices, not persons, as incompatible with Christian teaching. Behavioral standards for those who seek ordination in our church apply equally to all persons, however they may define their sexual preferences. Nor is it discriminatory for the overwhelming majority of United Methodists worldwide to believe that God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman.
- We also desire to avoid costly and painful judicial processes, and yearn to avoid further church trials. But this will require, at a minimum, that those who have willfully broken their ordination vows publicly confess that they should not have done so, and pledge to refrain from doing so again as long as our rules remain as they are.
We call upon Bishop Johnson to use her authority as an episcopal leader to hold these colleagues accountable to their ordination vows, modeling the gracious and transforming love of Christ, which both invited all people into his flock, and challenged all people to the highest standards of holy living in a fallen world.
UPDATE: Bishop Johnson responded with her own letter. On the one hand, she makes clear her own liberal views, describing UMC policies affirming biblical boundaries for sexual self-control “discriminatory” against the LGBT community. On the other hand, she also calls on the rebel pastors to “intentionally work to build relationships” with Christians “who believe differently than you,” “acknowledge that there is pain and hurt on both sides of this house,” and to accept that as bishop she is “called to the unconditional love extended to the spectrum of theological perspectives.” Of course, liberal United Methodist activists have long been very clear that they believe that the pain of more biblically grounded United Methodists is utterly unworthy of acknowledgement, have used dehumanizing labels to justify all manner of mistreatment and hatred against less heterodox United Methodists, and now say they will even be withholding prayers from other United Methodists. Bishop Johnson also laments how church trials drain the church’s “time, resources, and energy” and states that she “will continue to try in every way, as far as it depends on me, to not have church trials” (emphasis added). Of course, while those seeking to undermine the church launch their “stop the trials” campaign – with all the moral clarity of blaming the fire department rather than the arsonist for damaging a burned house – the trials can only be stopped when the covenant-breaking publicity stunts of the faithless shepherds stop.
UPDATE II: In a somewhat bizarre twist, the Washington Post reports on how Bishop Johnson, after releasing her statement, edited the public document to rather significantly modify some of her comments, and then the next day changed her mind yet again and went back with her original wording.