Organizers of the Capital Pride Parade, an annual Washington, D.C. gay pride event, boast that they are the third-largest pride parade in the United States. But while the parade is the biggest draw, organizers make it a week-long affair, with events such as lectures, an LGBT poetry slam, a 5K run, and countless parties. One such event, the 31st annual Capital Pride Interfaith Service, was headlined by defrocked United Methodist pastor Frank Schaefer.
Schaefer, former pastor of Zion United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, underwent a United Methodist church trial in November of last year after he presided over his son’s gay wedding in 2007. When he was found guilty, he was suspended for thirty days. At the end of the thirty-day suspension, Schaefer was allowed to keep his credentials if he promised to never again perform a gay marriage. When he refused, he was defrocked.
The interfaith service took place Monday evening at the Luther Place Memorial Church, a downtown ELCA congregation. It began with seven solid minutes of African drumming, followed by a rendition of the Christian hymn “Joyful, Joyful,” albeit with the sole reference to Christ expunged (“Thou the Father, Christ our Brother” became “Loving Spirit, Father, Mother”). Likewise, though the program listed the next hymn as “Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind Stayed on Jesus),” the actual lyrics substituted “Jesus” with “freedom.”
From there, the event was a parade of presentations from the LGBT factions of different faiths. There was a sanctification of the space by Dignity/Washington, a gay Catholic organization which holds Eucharistic masses unrecognized by Church authorities. That was followed by a “sacred centering” by the Wiccans, a call to prayer from Muslims for Progressive Values, a Sikh prayer from the Kundalini Yoga Rainbow Sangat, and a sounding of the Shofar by the DC Radical Faeries (their words, not mine). There was a reading of a poem entitled “God is Gay” and a presentation from the trans community. After that, it was Frank Schaefer’s time to shine.
Schaefer has become something of a “national star” (as The Washington Post puts it) among gay groups and liberal congregations, being booked every Sunday for a solid six months. I have now watched four Frank Schaefer lectures, two in-person, and I have noticed that most of his speeches tend to blend together after some time; they hit the same themes, make the same arguments, tell the same jokes, etc. I’m somewhat reminded of “stump speeches” politicians give going from one town to the next, which only differ a little.
Schaefer spoke of how his son Tim told him about the painful experiences he suffered in the church when he came out of the closet. “He heard words from his own church, from the United Methodist Church, when he went with me to a conference… The message he heard that day was that his church was saying, ‘If you’re homosexual, you cannot go to Heaven.’”
Obviously, that’s a gross mischaracterization of the United Methodist Church’s stance against homosexuality, which affirms that God’s grace is available to all. If any church official did make that statement at the conference, he or she ought to be ashamed, as well as those present who failed to correct such a dangerous doctrine. It’s a shame that the then-Reverend Schaefer did not use the opportunity to correct this misunderstanding.
When asked to perform his son’s wedding six years later, Schaefer chalked up his initial reluctance to “the systemic homophobia that is entrenched in our society and certainly in the United Methodist Church…” In particular, he feared losing his job and his pension, and worried that his actions would split his church (which was certainly prescient of him). Ultimately, he decided that refusing to perform a same-sex marriage for his son “would have negated all the affirmations we had given him,” but decided to do so in secret. His biggest regret, he said, was that he wasn’t open in his support for “gay equality” earlier.
Schaefer also mentioned that during his trial, he originally planned to give a noncommittal answer to the question of whether or not he would ever perform a same-sex marriage again. However, he changed his mind, saying he was angered by the jury’s reaction to his son’s testimony. “When my son testified about his pain that he had received at the hands of this horrible homophobic church lecture, they weren’t really listening.” I wasn’t present at the church trial, but I can’t help but to wonder how Schaefer could have possibly known the thirteen clergymen weren’t actually listening. Either way, Schaefer refused to never again perform a same-sex marriage, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Schaefer received a standing ovation. The interfaith service went on for another hour or so, including a prayer for persecuted gay men and women and LGBT martyrs (including Joan of Arc for some reason) and closing with readings from a few New Age churches. Photos of the event can be found on DC Center Faith’s Facebook page.