Do you miss the Middle Ages? Do you miss witch trials, and inquisitions involving thumbscrews and waterboarding for confessions? Well, fear not, because the United Methodist Church and its board of inquiry is still going strong, and is “pressing charges” on one of its own ministers. The crime: GAY STUFF.
In 2007, Reverend Frank Schaefer presided over the Massachusetts wedding of his son to his long-time partner. The ceremony was meant as a “beautiful family affair,” and according to the Reverend, it was.
(Schaefer on the right, and his son — appropriately — on the left)
Schaefer’s son asked his father to perform the ceremony. Both he and his father knew of the potential backlash from the church, but Schaefer’s son was in a difficult position. He said:
“I remember thinking I have two choices: I can ask my dad and know I am putting him in a position…where he would risk his career, or I could not ask my dad and really risk hurting his feelings. I think he would have been devastated if I hadn’t asked him.”
The Rev. later said:
“I did not want to make this a protest about the doctrine of the church. I wasn’t trying to be an advocate…To say ‘no’ to his request would have negated all the affirmation I gave him over the years.”
As expected, the backlash came by way of complaint from a member of his congregation named Judas “Jon Boger” Iscariot. Judas learned of the Reverend’s gay stuff six months before the church statute of limitations hit, and filed a complaint against him.
The Church sprang into action, holding a witch trial at which Judas was the sole witness. He gave the following statement:
“When pastors take the law of the church in their own hand … it undermines their own credibility as a leader and also undermines the integrity of the church as a whole…It’s his son. He loves his son. In a way I felt bad for him. But he’s also shown no remorse or repentance, nor has he apologized to anyone.”
(Schaefer at the trial)
Testifying in his own defense at the witch burning, Schaefer said that he performed the ceremony “out of love” for his son. While he acknowledged that he might have lost some of his “ritual purity,” he made the case that ritual purity is secondary to God’s command to minister to everyone. That includes his son, who had seriously contemplated suicide before coming out of the closet to his religious family and community.
That’s not without precedent either; while the church condemns the practice of homosexuality, it openly accepts gay and lesbian members. (Meaning, of course, that they don’t turn down weekly tithes…no matter how sparkly the handbag from which the cash issues.)
Still the church’s lawyer, Christopher Fisher, said that Schaefer had clearly violated the Book of Discipline, which is more important than God’s commandments. This breach of Methodist doctrine meant that the jurors were duty-bound to convict, or else they’d burn in Hell. His words, to audible gasps from a jury box packed with ordained ministers:
“You’ll give an account for that at the last day.”
How’s THAT for irony? Only in America could a LAWYER threaten MINISTERS with eternity in Hell. Faced with the threat of damnation, the jury did indeed convict the Reverend of gay stuff. He faces punishments ranging from a simple reprimand to loss of his ministerial credentials. According to Fisher, the Reverend also faces an eternity in Hell.
Fortunately for the Reverend, at least he’ll rest in the circles of Hell with his son. And Judas Boger, of course…who will be in a somewhat lower circle.
(Schaefer’s supporters, including Rich Kirk from Calvary United Methodist Church)
(United Methodist Church tract…the pinnacle of subtlety)