“I’m somewhat reminded of ‘stump speeches’ politicians give,” former Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) blogger Alexander Griswold has written of repetitive encounters with pro-LGBT United Methodist Church (UMC) minister Frank Schaefer. Similarly hackneyed is An Act of Love, a film documenting his LGBT advocacy that nonetheless cannot refute the reality of disordered LGBT agendas rightfully resisted by most Methodists.
The film examines Schaefer’s relationship with his son Tim, who like two other of Schaefer’s four children identifies as homosexual, and the UMC fallout from Schaefer’s officiating at Tim’s 2007 same-sex “marriage” (SSM). As indicated by the film title, Schaefer considered his affirmation of his son’s homosexuality a loving act for an individual whose initial awareness of same-sex attractions had provoked depression and suicidal thoughts. The lesbian and UMC LGBT activist Dorothee Benz in the film condemns as cruelty to “say that this proportion of the population should be deprived of a basic human need for love and intimacy.”
One of Schaefer’s congregants in the small eastern Pennsylvania town of Iona, Jon Boger had a less positive response to his actions. Schaefer baptized Boger’s children and buried his grandparents. As the film narrates, Boger filed a UMC disciplinary action against Schaefer in 2013 after learning of his SSM ceremony, a violation of the UMC’s Book of Discipline and its orthodox Christian prohibition of homosexuality. Boger wept on the witness stand at the November 2013 UMC trial as he contrasted his obedience to his oath as a United States Navy officer, even at the price of extensive home absences, with Schaefer’s ministerial oath breaking.
The film shows Schaefer’s former parishioners explaining how he had a devastating impact beyond Boger upon the congregation before Schaefer left the parish after the UMC trial court imposed a defrocking. Schaefer had became disinterested in the church’s original traditional worship service as he devoted more time to a second contemporary worship service he had started where he played guitar. As a result of congregant dissatisfaction with his ministry and controversial homosexuality stance, Schaefer’s church lost about half of its 250 members in 2013.
IRD writer John Lomperis has observed that Schaefer, who continued to officiate communion in violation of his suspension, was ultimately “far more effective at media self-promotion than in being a caring, ‘do no harm’ pastor.” While he waged an ultimately successful appeal for UMC reinstatement, he became a cause célèbre for Methodist LGBT groups like the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). “For a defrocked minister, I have a lot of preaching to do,” the film shows Schaefer joking while speaking at places like Washington, DC’s Foundry Church where he blasts a UMC “taken into homophobic captivity.” Assessing the damaged community he left behind in Iona, one former congregant in the film says Schaefer “has simply moved on, he is the rock star now for Reconciliation Movements.”
Schaefer’s experience parallels UMC Bishop Melvin Talbert, who in the film makes the ubiquitous false analogy between the LGBT agendas he supports and the civil rights movement in which he struggled as a black man. The film shows him declaring at the 2012 UMC General Conference that the anti-LGBT “derogatory language and restrictive laws in the Book of Discipline are immoral and unjust and no longer deserve our loyalty and obedience.” Notwithstanding such stirring appeals, IRD President Mark Tooley notes that Talbert, who a month before Schaefer’s trial oversaw a SSM ceremony, has “presided over imploding membership and schism as bishop in Seattle and San Francisco.”
“It has been widely observed,” Lomperis has written, “how the sort of secularized, progressive theology of RMN and company is incapable of building healthy, vibrant, sustainable churches, but mainly serves to tear apart and shrink churches built by others.”
This denominational disruption is not surprising in light of the radicalism of LGBT advocates like Jimmy Creech, a former Methodist minister featured in the film. Defrocked in 1999 for having presided over a SSM ceremony, that year he justified his participation in gay pride parades with a desire “to affirm the normalcy of all sexual diversity.” Radical RMN events have exhibited support for polyamory and prostitution even as RMN Executive Director Matt Barryman has astonishingly stated that “God has already settled this matter” by affirming LGBT behavior.
Methodist LGBT advocates also often exhibit Christian heresy, such as when Talbert dismissed on the Larry King Show Muslims needing salvation in Christ. A 2015 sermon by Schaefer following his reinstatement and transfer to a California congregation similarly equated Christianity with other faiths. He stated that “not only Jesus, but the Buddha taught us, Judaism is teaching us, Muslim theology teaches us…. None of us have the full truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Barryman also described Christ’s crucifixion as a “radical identification in the flesh with those who endure suffering and oppression at the hands of the powerful,” not atonement for individual sin.
Heresy accompanies radical politics, as Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) Coalition Coordinator Steve Clunn indicated at a screening of An Act of Love on April 24 at Arlington, Virginia’s pro-LGBT Mount Olivet Methodist Church. He condemned “clear violations of peoples’ civil and human rights” in recent Mississippi and North Carolina laws protecting religious freedom as well as, in the latter case, sex-segregated public facilities against LGBT demands. His insouciance towards privacy and safety in public lavatories contrasted with his call to his panel audience to “pardon the exclusive language” in gender terms while citing Jesus’ reference to the Sabbath being “made for man.”
Clunn’s leftist “intersectionality of justice” advocated by him and his LGBT allies has a decidedly leftist tilt. His MFSA colleague and fellow panelist Chett Pritchett is well known to this author for having previously hosted a radical Palestinian propagandist at a Georgetown UMC church. MFSA’s “Resources on Boycott and Divestment” likewise link to radical anti-Israeli organizations like the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Jewish Voice for Peace. A recent Benz statement similarly yearns for a world with “a free Palestine…gender-neutral bathrooms,” and an “end to the fossil-fuel economy” while MFSA in the Love Your Neighbor Coalition, advocates “compassionate abortion care.”
Like all leftists, Methodist LGBT advocates demonize and delegitimize their opponents, as when Talbert complains in the film that “our church has been taken over by the religious right.” Barryman amazingly analogized the UMC Council of Bishops attempts to discipline Talbert for his SSM ceremony in October 2013 to Christ’s persecution due to “institutional covenants and the preservation of rules meant to sustain power.”
“This is about control,” Clunn stated at Mount Olivet concerning UMC defenders of orthodox Christian morality, “this is about forcing conformity.”
“LGBTQ folk are just the red herring in a play for power. If it’s not us, it will be someone else,” concurred Pritchett.
Irrespective of reality, Clunn and his allies put on a show of being victims of powerful opponents as LGBT agendas face “a lot of money and people and power invested in exporting hatred” among Methodists worldwide. A fellow panelist from Foundry Church, soon to be “married” to another man, described an “anti-LGBT agenda that is extremely well-organized, well-financed.” Yet the hardly deprived movie producers reflect how foundations, governments, and rich individuals regularly outspend LGBT opposition, while Methodist LGBT activists, Lomperis notes, have “received massive funding from secular political sources.”
Echoing other leftists once again, Methodist LGBT advocates play the race card. Benz condemns a “combination of U.S. and international conservatives, led and whipped into a hateful frenzy by southern white Americans” for halting LGBT progress in the UMC. Barryman bizarrely described the Council of Bishops’ charges against Talbert as an example of the “racism and homophobia embedded in both culture and church.”
The UMC’s racial and political realities are quite different. IRD noted in 2012 that “[o]ver 35 percent of United Methodists now live in Africa, where the church is growing and conservative” and Africans will likely dominate the UMC within a decade. At the 2012 General Conference, where 61 percent of delegates upheld traditional sexual ethics, 40 percent of delegates came from outside the United States. This situation “almost certainly precludes the currently 12 million member United Methodist Church (7.4 million in the U.S.) from following other declining historically liberal Mainline denominations in the U.S.”
“United Methodism is less and less captive to U.S. culture, for which the church can be grateful,” while “Christianity’s future is global and orthodox.”
These realities belie Clunn’s optimism for a progressive future, given that a majority of American General Council delegates support LGBT causes. “The liberal side is demonstrably losing ground in its decades-long campaign,” Lomperis has noted, but “can be expected to become increasingly shrill and divisive in their immature protest antics.” At Schaefer’s trial, for example, LGBT activists threw their chairs on the floor to protest his conviction, while Benz has written in anticipation of the current 2016 General Conference that if LGBT activists “do not disrupt business as usual, then nothing will change.”
More realistic Methodist progressives have pursued alternatives like the “Global Segregation Plan.” This ultimately rejected scheme, described by one liberal as the “only hope left” for UMC progressives, would have given large powers to an autonomous American UMC conference. Lomperis has also noted that since 2012 “there has been an unprecedented mushrooming of talk of liberal exodus from the United Methodist Church.”
Ironically, UMC ministers Thomas A. Lambrecht (the UMC counsel in Schaefer’s trial) and Rob Renfroe from the orthodox Good News Movement indicated in the film their acceptance of such an amicable divorce. Unlike McDonald’s restaurants countrywide, “if you go into a United Methodist Church, you don’t know what you are going to get in terms of theology,” Lambrecht states. He has previously considered it “appropriate for those who think they cannot live within the policies of the church to withdraw from the church, and we would be willing to allow them to keep their property, their pensions.”
More disturbing is the “divorce” of Tim from his partner at the time of Schaefer’s trial, a fact hidden from the UMC court. The film shows Schaefer declaring at Tim’s SSM ceremony that “this is the point of no return,” yet this relationship, the source of so much controversy and distress, would ultimately be for naught. Given the instability of homosexual relationships, it is unlikely that Tim’s second “engagement” shown at film’s end will fulfill his hopes of being a “keeper.” Christians within and without the UMC would be wise to follow the more permanent sexual standards laid out in the Bible and imprinted upon human nature for Christ’s chaste bride, the church.
Update: Chett Pritchett was originally identified as saying he was soon to “marry” another man. This was actually said by another panelist at the same event at Mount Olivet Methodist Church. Here was Pritchett’s response on Twitter:
— chettpritchett (@chettpritchett) May 12, 2016