Schaefer’s New Book and the Shifting LGBT Inclusion Conversation

Rev. Frank Schaefer’s personal retelling of the events leading up to his trial and defrocking, are detailed in his new book, “Defrocked: How a Father’s Love Shook the United Methodist Church” (UMC). “I never got to tell my side of the story,” Schaefer says on why he wrote the memoir, which officially releases July 26 after first being featured at June’s Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina.

Schaefer is the latest in a line of UMC pastors disciplined for performing same-sex weddings or being open about their own same-sex relationships. In this sense, Schaefer’s experience is not unique. Jimmy Creech was defrocked in 1998 for performing a same-sex ceremony, and Beth Stroud was defrocked in 2005 for being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.”

Schaefer makes the argument that his case has shifted the conversation again. Since the controversy began, breaking church law for his son is the focus of the conversation at Schaefer’s public appearances.

“Frank chose to honor his call as a child of God and honor his call as a father,” says Rev. Dawn M. Hand from Foundry UMC, Washington D.C., explaining why this case pushed the LGBT question with the church. “Our first call is to love God. Then it is to love and serve our family. Then it is to love and serve his area of calling.” Immediately after Schaefer’s December 2013 trial, he made appearances on national network news, including Anderson Cooper’s show, and has preached most Sundays at churches across the country. During these appearances, Schaefer has heard from people who support LGBT equality, those who do not, and those who are somewhere in between. “When I get very critical questions,” Schaefer says, “I love engaging with those folks and I share my story, my experience.”

A similar case, with far less national media attention, involved retired Rev. Thomas Ogletree, who was also brought under church charges for performing a same-sex union for his son. Ogletree’s case was resolved by the New York UMC conference in March 2014.

Defrocked tells the story of when Schaefer discovered his son was gay. The revelation began with an anonymous phone call alerting Schaefer that his son was gay and suicidal. The notification was followed by tearful conversations with Schaefer’s wife and son. Their conversations resulted in public silence both out of fear for the repercussions in the church and out of concern for their son’s privacy. In 2013, when charges were filed because Schaefer performed the same-sex wedding for his son, Schaefer’s world turned upside down. At trial, Schaefer decided to publicly support his son, the LGBT community, and the movement for equality. “If there is one regret I have, it’s that I didn’t speak out soon enough,” Schaefer says. “I felt totally free,” He recalls while talking about his evolution since the trial, “I felt at peace with God, with the world and with myself.” Schaefer continued, “Living with homophobia in church puts you in a state of fear, and in that moment all of it went away.”

During his testimony before the church, “I felt the freedom too,” says his wife Bridgette Schaefer. Privately, she had urged her husband to become bolder in his public stance. “Being able to speak openly and publicly about my theology,” Frank explains, “and being able to engage in dialogue openly has not only emboldened my witness, but it has actually further changed and widened my theology, especially with regard to God language.”

After traveling for months around the country speaking about his trial experience and his new-found calling to minister to the LGBT community, Schaefer has continued to shift his theology. “The transgender and queer community has helped me gain a new understanding of the importance of using neutral and genderless pronouns for God, as the spectrum of sexual identity and orientation includes people who identify with either or both genders,” he says.

The conversation will move forward, Rev. Hand points out. “We have to learn how to get along with each other, and how to disagree with each other,” she says. “Even as the conversation continues, we all have to practice grace and civility with each other.”

The debate continues with a recent official complaint filed against the 36 UMC pastors who blessed a same-sex wedding at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, in November 2013. The ceremony was performed partly in solidarity with Frank Schaefer, as well as to protest the official church position.

Despite the trial, Schaefer says he has no regrets. “One thing I know for sure is that I will never be silent again…If you proclaim boldly what you feel is a justice issue and what is right, God will not let you down.”

 

Originally published on July 11, 2014 at the United Methodist Reporter

Not a Christian Refugee

Nadia Bolz Weber“I come from a conservative/fundamentalist/strict Christian background,” was the common refrain at the Wild Goose Festival again this year.  Though, this year when I heard it, I was struck with the question of why I was at the Wild Goose since I don’t feel like I am a Christian refugee.

I come from neither a fundamentalist nor conservative background. Growing up in California and being United Methodist since I was 12, the God and religion I was introduced to was a caring, all encompassing, socially engaged faith. Despite what some of our more conservative United Methodist members would try to tell us, I grew up being told that that God would not exclude anyone based on race, sexuality, economics, or immigration status.

If I am already from a progressive movement, what draws me and what does this new progressive movement hold for my spiritual development. If, as religious historian Phyllis Tickle says the entirety of American Christianity is in a state of flux, what is pushing mainlines to rethink church? Is it just the push of evangelicals entering into “our” social justice space? Or is it something more? The cynic would say its the decline in numbers and loss of money that is primarily pushing at least the United Methodist national headquarters to “rethink” church. Perhaps it’s just a flashy media campaign to join the evangelical dissidents or to act as a refuge for those refugees from the more conservative movement and churches.

Numerous stories and publications from conservative refugees would have us believe that it is only the fundamentalist & evangelical movement, that is rethinking church.  I was able to engage in a good conversation with a conservative blogger who was there to critique the “progressive hot bed,” that is the Wild Goose Festival. He said that the progressives at the Wild Goose Festival were primarily, “reactionary to their conservative tradition,” like rebellious teenagers.  When I asked him why mainline churches, who may not have that history, are part of the new progressive movement? He said that their participation was more evolutionary, was “the next step.”

I’m not sure if I buy that, but it does have me question if, as I do believe Christianity is shifting, what is pushing people like me and my participation in these movements? And also what still rubs me wrong about the movement?  These are questions I want to explore in more depth, and therefore will take more than one post.  So for this time let’s focus on just one thought.

One of the things that I love about the Wild Goose is being able to hear and talk about the emerging theological conversations happening. While my historically progressive movement focused on academic arguments, we rarely engaged in debates with each other. As Brian McLaren said in one of his closing comments, in cross denominational conversations mainlines are unable to talk about difference.  He explained that within the mainline tradition people are so concerned with being rude, or isolating the “other” that rarely do people state what they actually believe.  Whereas, McLaren has had the experience of being welcomed as the evangelical into these communities. He noticed that it allows conversation to occur around theological differences, because you can come right out and say we don’t agree on ‘x’ but what do we agree on.

I would add that the difference’s between evangelical’s and mainline traditions are more broadly known. Whereas the differences within the mainline traditions is much more elusive, especially to non clergy, therefore making honest debate, much harder. We don’t even know our differences.

The Methodist church is engaged in a debate within itself about the future of the church and specifically our stance on LGBT issues.  I think that most of the debate is centered on the same arguments, and are therefore not making much movement, only continuing the polarization of our community. It reminds me of an app that came out a few years ago, that would allow the user to input the fundamentalist argument for homosexuality in the church. The app would then tell you what the counterpoint is to their comment, which would make for a funny, yet, uninteresting and unproductive debate.

The Wild Goose Festival as an expression of the broader cultural conversations happening within Christianity, represents a confluence of voices which are trying to engage these arguments in new ways, that truly bring reconciliation. They are joining the American conversations that are tired of the “us versus them” mentality.   The conversations that create the Purple state movement.  The movement that wishes to see the debate between Red and Blue states/people encompass more than the mere automatic exchange of party lines.

Denying our theological differences within our own mainline traditions, has denied us the ability to progress.  We have been caught in the us vs. them culture.  The Wild Goose invites me to speak with people, whom I would normally define as the “other” in theological debates.  We simply become a brother or sister trying to understand our deeper calling in this world of how to create and be the loving community of Christ.

Wild Goose Festival Photostory

Media AccessLast week I attended the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC. It was just as I remembered the festival from 2 years ago.  This time I was able to attend as a member of the press.  Which of course was super fun. It meant I also dusted off my camera and brought it along.  I put together a photo-story of the festival for everyone and myself. It was a great way to be reminded of moments that I will be sharing in the days ahead.  I hope you enjoy the pictures. If you want to see more pictures check out the Twitter feed at #wildgoose13.

 

Click on the link to be taken to the photo album.