WAYNE, PA: Rev. Frank Schaeffer's Marriage of His Son Brought about His own Demise
Methodist Minister was not defrocked, says Evangelical United Methodist Pastor
By The Rev. Joseph F. DiPaolo
Special to Virtueonline
December 31, 2013
Over the past week, there have been many headlines about the United Methodist minister who lost his ministerial standing with the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference in connection with the question of same-sex marriage. Much of the reporting about Frank Schaefer's case has been misleading and one-sided, and has not included any articulate expression of the perspective of the many who believe that our teachings on marriage and sexuality are biblically faithful, and ought to remain as they are.
Rev. Schaeffer was not defrocked for conducting his homosexual son's wedding six years ago. In fact, the jury decision in his case made it clear that they wanted him to remain in ministry with us, despite his past actions, if he was willing to conduct his ministry in the future within the parameters of our teachings and our rules, so long as they remain the same.
This he refused to do. And so his ministerial credentials were therefore automatically nullified; there was no vote by our Board of Ordained Ministry to defrock him last Thursday, for there was nothing to vote on. He, in essence, defrocked himself.
The office of elder within the United Methodist Church is not something that I or any clergyperson owns, or can use in any way we see fit. It is an office that is entrusted to us, which we promise in ordination we will exercise in a way that upholds our church's teachings and keeps its disciplinary rules. That was a promise which Schaeffer also made, but which he at some point decided he could no longer keep.
United Methodists of Eastern Pennsylvania should hold their heads up high, for we have nothing to be ashamed of. Throughout this process, Rev. Schaeffer was treated with great respect, and given enormous latitude to express his perspective, as well as many opportunities to resolve this matter short of a public trial. He was afforded all the due process rights our church has to offer; and at every point where some difficult decision was made, it was done with many tears and expressions of sorrow on the part of church leaders as a regrettable necessity.
There was no spirit of inquisition or oppression; only sadness and seriousness as our church attempted to do something that has become increasingly rare anywhere in our society - and that is, to hold someone accountable to vows and promises once made. Holding someone accountable is itself an expression of love, but can be painful. And so it was in this case. There is no contradiction between love and law - recall that to the ancient Israelites the Law (the Torah) was seen as the greatest gift of God's steadfast love. Nor is there any inconsistency between accepting God's grace and obeying God's commands.
Our church has struggled, and will continue to struggle, over how to respond to the massive changes in sexual mores that have taken place in our culture. We do so in the context of a church community in which dissent and debate are open and continuous. But it is also a community in which we are bound together by a common covenant - to which we are accountable.
Through it all, Christ has called us to treat one another with love and respect, even amid our uncertainties and our disagreements. For the most part, I believe we have done that. Some, sadly, have allowed in themselves to get caught up in the polarizing, media-inspired characterizations of one side or the other as evil. United Methodists on the whole are a gracious and loving tribe, who want to love all our neighbors, however they may define their sexuality - even if we are divided on what that should look like in practice. I believe that we have an opportunity to demonstrate a spirit different than that which characterizes so much public debate in our society, by acting graciously toward one another as we address this, or any other divisive issue, as brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Rev. Joseph F. DiPaolo is Senior Pastor of Wayne (Pennsylvania) United Methodist Church
FOOTNOTE: Christ Church Anglican on the Mainline meets at this church graciously provided by the Rev. DiPaolo.
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