Friday: Shaefer and the Hard Work of Discrimination

The United Methodist Church has taken Rev. Frank Shaefer’s credentials away.  Shaefer officiated at the wedding of his gay son.  Charges were filed.  Shaefer admitted “guilt”.  He refused to recant or repent.  So he is no longer a member of the United Methodist Clergy.  The Board of Ordained Ministry was well within their rights to take his credentials.  Many would say the Board had no alternative.  The Church Rules are clear.

The United Methodist Church General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) has ruled that employees of church agencies may apply for and receive benefits for same-sex spouses in states where marriage is legal for same-sex couples.  However, clergy are warned by GCFA that should they apply for such benefits for same-sex spouses, such action would “subject you to discipline under church law, including a possible loss of clergy credentials.”  (Click here for article.)

How hard it is for people to hold and defend “separate but equal” positions.  It requires immense rational and spiritual dexterity to maintain a policy of “higher standards” for some when it comes to spirituality.

I write as one of the pastors at First UMC Burlington.  I do not represent our entire congregation.  Here is my dream for our church.

Let us be fully, completely inclusive.  That means we love, support, fully include persons regardless of their sexual orientation.  It means we offer the full spectrum of what the church has to offer – blessing, membership, authority to exercise God-given gifts in our midst.  We hold back neither baptism nor marriage from anyone or any couple, assuming their faith in Christ is intact and their love for each other is true.friendship

Let’s be fully, completely inclusive.  That means we love, support and fully include persons who do not accept the expression of human sexuality in homosexual relationships.  They don’t need to hide in our midst or be embarrassed.  While they can not prevent others from the full and authentic expression of themselves, neither will they be prevented from holding their convictions.

The only way this dream can be a reality is for us to remember there is a Truth beyond ourselves that holds us – the truth of God’s love expressed in and through Jesus Christ.  The calling of Christ is both to a relationship with him, and to an expression of community that resembles the Trinity.  Distinctive personalities forever joined in a covenant of love, each relating fully to the other, and all relating fully to all of creation.

How can a church offer benefits to people who are not clergy while denying the same benefits to clergy?  Aren’t such “benefits” a matter of civil rights?  How can the United Methodist Church expect anyone to take us seriously when we behave the way we are behaving?  There is a collective mental illness in the church that is exhausting.  It is costing our denomination and our local churches much too much.

Wouldn’t it be ironic  … That Frank Shaefer would lose his credentials, only to have his son be employed by a United Methodist Agency, apply for and then receive benefits for his gay spouse …

Some would argue that for the denomination to fully accept homosexuals into the life of the church would be to compromise and bend to the whims of the prevailing culture.  But that argument has no true basis.  The prophetic call – from ancient Israel right on through to Jesus of Nazareth and Paul of Tarsus – is for an inclusion within the realms of religion that is already a reality in the Realms of Heaven.  All too often the “crowds” get it before the religious hierarchy gets it.  Jesus had to chastise that hierarchy on more than one occasion.  He called out the religious officials for what they were – “hypocrites”.  Hypocrisy is the base sin of discrimination.

To be inclusive as God is inclusive is very hard work.  Lions and lambs don’t naturally lie down with each other.  Instinctive behavior has to be disciplined and carefully monitored.  Trust has to win the day.  But if the truth be told, it is much more difficult to maintain the attitude and posture of discrimination.  And for all the effort that goes into it, the inconsistencies of maintaining double standards are glaring.  We can’t proclaim a universal, unconditional love while we practice a discriminatory policy and not expect to be ripped apart internally.

If GCFA is authorized to offer benefits to same-sex spouses of lay persons in their employ, it is difficult to understand why Frank Shaefer should lose his clergy credentials for officiating at his son’s wedding.  This business of maintaining the sin of discrimination is exhausting.

But here is the real challenge – getting back to lions and lambs – I dream of a church where Frank Shaefer and Phil Robertson can worship together, both knowing they are loved, both approaching the Communion Table side by side.  Not because they agree.  Not with the agenda of one forcing the other to believe what he believes.  But because they know Christ.  Let’s get about the really good work – not easy, but eternally worthwhile – of behaving like disciples of the Master.


Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.