Good News responds to reinstatement of Frank Schaefer

The Rev. Frank Schaefer had his ministerial credentials restored by a nine-member appeals panel of clergy and lay members from the North Eastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. A member of the denominations’ Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, Schaefer was defrocked last December for presiding at a same-sex union for his son in 2007.

For more than 10 years the UM Church has considered presiding at a same-sex union a chargeable offense. United Methodism has been the lone historic and mainline denomination that has affirmed marriage between one man and one woman. At the past three General Conferences, delegates have overwhelmingly affirmed the church’s stance. Furthermore, the appellate court’s ruling in no way changes the church’s position.

“This ruling is unfortunate and will only add to the chaos engulfing The United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News, a movement that represents the views of many traditionalists in the denomination. “I believe this decision is a willful misreading of the original verdict which graciously extended every opportunity to Schaefer to avoid being defrocked.”

The Rev. Frank Schaefer speaks to reporters during a press conference at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer speaks to reporters during a press conference at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

The UM Church’s Book of Discipline clearly states that its clergy are not to preside at same-sex unions or weddings. Schaefer never denied he had conducted such a service for his son, Tim, and another man in 2007. Given such a clear-cut case, a jury of his peers found him guilty of violating the church’s ministerial standards.

Given Schaefer’s refusal during the trial to declare his intention to “uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety,” the trial court decided to revoke his credentials.  However, rather than immediately requiring him to surrender his credentials, the trial court gave him 30 days to reconsider his decision, suspending him during that time.  After the 30 days suspension, Schaefer not only refused to reaffirm his intention to uphold the Discipline, he also refused to surrender his credentials.

The conference board of ordained ministry therefore revoked Schaefer’s credentials because he had broken his vow to abide by the church’s teachings and rebuffed several opportunities to bring his ministry back into conformity with the teachings of the church.

According to the appellate court, the fatal flaw in the jury’s original decision was to give Schaefer 30 days to reconsider whether he would uphold the Discipline by not conducting same-sex services in the future.  The appellate court maintained a clergy member could not be penalized “predicated on a ‘future possibility, which may or may not occur.’” Counsel for the church, the Rev. Dr. Christopher Fisher, argued that the 30-day suspension was simply a grace period for Schaefer to bring his ministry in sync with church teaching.

“This decision substitutes ideology for common sense and nullifies the prayerful and gracious spirit of the trial court,” said the Rev. Tom Lambrecht, vice president of Good News. Lambrecht, who worked on this case as advocate for the man who filed the original complaint, added, “This appellate decision is the kind of action by our church hierarchy that breeds cynicism among rank-and-file United Methodists. Here is a pastor who clearly violated the Discipline, was graciously offered a second chance, flatly rejected it, but is now reinstated despite his obstinacy. It’s a sad day for the church.”

The debate over homosexuality has roiled the UM Church for decades, but the dispute has heightened significantly in the past couple of years. Many progressives in the church have adopted a strategy of “ecclesiastical disobedience” by conducting same-sex weddings. Dozens of clergy across the country have conducted such services.

• In a widely publicized case, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Ogletree, former dean of Yale Divinity School, presided at a service for his son in 2012. A complaint was filed against him, but Bishop Martin McLee of the New York Episcopal Area halted the case before it came to trial.

• Last October, retired Bishop Melvin Talbert led a service for two men in Birmingham, Alabama. A complaint was filed, but to date there is no word on whether the bishop will receive any discipline.

• In November 2013, as many as 50 UM pastors jointly officiated at a same sex union in Philadelphia; again, no notice has been given whether any of the clergy will face church discipline.

“The Schaefer decision will only add more fuel to the fire,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, chairman of Good News’ board of directors. “There has been a great deal of conversation this spring about how the church can stay together if there is no organizational accountability for pastors who clearly forsake their vows and violate the church’s teachings. This verdict is not helpful.”

In a statement released shortly after the decision, Bishop Peggy A. Johnson of the Philadelphia Episcopal Area said, “I intend to abide by the committee’s decision and return [Schaefer] to active service as an ordained clergy member of the [Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference] presently.”

As the counsel for the church in this case, it is Fisher’s decision whether to appeal the ruling to the church’s highest court, the Judicial Council. He has yet to make a public statement.

Good News Media Service

Comments

  1. Unless the pro-homosexuality movement uncharacteristically ceases their crusade to force the church to change, the United Methodist Church as we now know it will not survive. There are too many pastors and laity that will not remain in a church that is double-minded about following Christ and His Word. I understand that there are many who see the open acceptance of homosexuality as a civil rights issue and feel empowered to continue their path of disobedience. I also know that those who believe in the truth of God’s Word are left with little recourse but to move for an amicable divorce. The Spirit of God will not allow those who seek to follow Christ to remain in a house that embraces sinful behavior as righteousness. I only hope and pray for the church that I know, love and serve to experience true repentance and revival before she splits asunder. At times, I believe, God watches to see if we will stand for Him or fall for the tsunami of culture. If you need an example, try Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9 ESV

    • “Following Christ and His Word”. That’s a very interesting thing to say given the fact that Jesus Christ never- not one time- spoke about homosexuality.

  2. Jesus and the Apostles had the Saducees and Pharisees.
    Martin Luther and the Reformers had the corrupt medieval papacy.
    The UMC faithfull have a bunch of abominable bishops who wouldn’t know or care about Truth if it slapped them up the side of their heads.

  3. Andy Smith says

    John Wesley would turn over in his grave. Clearly, i made the right decision to leave the United Methodist Church years ago. I am not sure why the UMC even exist it has lost its way and it would be better to shut its doors.

  4. theenemyhatesclarity says

    I would really be interested in hearing what United Methodists in Africa think about this.

    In Christ,

    The enemy hates clarity

  5. J. Keeton says

    “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29

  6. Jamie Gripentrog says

    After many years of seeing our church head down this path, I am very close to leaving a church I love. I think it is time for a split.

    • I agree. Why argue? The pastor I work with and for and his pastor wife feel so strongly that change should happen that they will gladly leave. I say go! If we begin to give in to culture (and justify our sin) and disregard the very justification by grace and the sanctifying grace of the Spirit of God, then why do we even exist? What is our worship, our discipleship and our ministry about anyway? If it is about US and not the GOD we supposedly love and serve, then we are without hop!. Grace and Peace comes from adhering to the Truth. I have many friends who chose the Gay and Lesbian lifestyle. I love them, I know that God loves them, but I do not condone -nor do I pretend – that their choices are in line with scripture. If and when I am ordained in three years – I will not (nor will anyone make me) officiate at their wedding. If it is a civil union issue let the government decide but, I will not – as a representative of the God who loved me so much to pay the penalty of my sin – be a part of condoning it! We all sin, we all make mistakes, we worship together and call each other to accountability, and we preach grace. But do we turn a blind eye to the inconvenient and uncomfortable sins hoping that we will not be called to take a stand? What next? If I cannot stand on a foundation of truth with fellow believers then I will stand alone with God. Do not claim that it is unloving to hold to the truth. What IS unloving and unkind is to willfully misrepresent the God of all love and justice, truth and grace. Life is a gift from God and we are squandering it. In it all the enemy of God’s truth is allowed to blind the eyes and harden the hearts of people who need the Spirit of Love and Grace the most – and in this confusion true ministry is thwarted. God is not the author of this confusion! “Lord, forgive me of my uncertainty, forgive my resistance to your Truth, and help my unbelief. So that I may be the minister of grace and peace and forgiveness and love that YOU alone have called me to be. In the name of Jesus who is the Christ, Amen.”

  7. I am quite content and resolute in allowing God’s Word to be the ultimate guide and measuring device for my Christian walk. It seems, however, that fellow United Methodists believe they have found a higher, greater, more informed authority. For far too long, traditional UM churchmen and women have been silenced and intimidated by progressives, who suggest that only by embracing any and all societal convention or deviation can the church truly show God’s love. To this, I render an impassioned “Hogwash!” Stated plainly, we ARE a divided church. No general conference or church gathering is required to confirm this truth. From the perspective of a business model, we only need to liquate the assets, pay off the debts and determine how the actual division takes place. Continued debate on these and other sites simply grieves the Spirit and causes a greater spiritual hemorrhage. I have long believed that the progressives “end game” resembles a model similar to the one the Presbyterians have endured. Speaking as a traditional UM, I will not be intimidated nor stampeded out of the connection.

  8. Why do liberals elevate sexuality to this level? They are willing to engage in a scorched-earth strategy to get their way. So very sad, even from a secular perspective. Even secular institutions operate with more integrity.

  9. Most Americans are unaware that the homosexual agenda goes far beyond marriage.

    Homosexual books are now in the lowest grades in public schools. One example is King and King. Homosexuals have created “LGBT” clubs in public schools.

    If the polls that show a majority now support same sex marriage were to first tell people that same sex marriage is ushering in these other negative things, I would bet that only 10% of Americans would favor such marriages.

    If I may, I suggest going to a website called MassResistance dot org. It is informative and fearless. Thank you.

  10. When the blind lead the blind they all fall in the ditch. Now that our ditch is full it’s imperative that we something about this and promptly!

    “The UMC faithful have a bunch of abominable bishops who wouldn’t know or care about Truth if it slapped them up the side of their heads.” Well said, Linda! We know not to expect help from our bishops, they are tangled up in the ditch. If this gets pulled out of the fire, the rank and file will do it. Pray for help, we really need it!

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