Frank Schaefer Appeal Hearing

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The nine-member Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals has wrapped up nearly 3 hours of testimony and questioning, and the fate of Frank Schaefer now rests in their hands.

The committee, meeting near Baltimore, heard the Rev. Scott Campbell, counsel for Schaefer, say that their appeal was based on the defrocking penalty given Schaefer, not the 30-day suspension for performing his son’s same-gender wedding.

Schaefer was found guilty Nov. 19, 2013, of violating the church’s Book of Discipline for conducting that wedding, and for violating the church’s order and discipline.

Counsel for Schaefer, the Rev. Scott Campbell, argued to the committee that the defrocking was based on possible behavior that Schaefer may—or may not—do in the future, namely, “upholding the Book of Discipline in its entirety.”

“The church is not at liberty to add a penalty based on what a person may or may not do,” Campbell said. “The act of marrying his son was the only thing he was on trial for.”

Campbell repeatedly told the committee that the trial court was not at liberty to “mix and match” penalities for Schaefer. Citing Judicial Council ruling #240, Campbell said the trial court had to choose which penalty to affix to the case, but it could not do both suspension and termination.

“That was an egregious error in church law,” Campbell said.

 

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Schaefer, who said before the hearing began that he was “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome, spoke with reporters after the hearing.

“I felt it went pretty well,” he said. “I felt very good about the testimony my counsel gave, and I felt good about the questions that were raised, particularly of the counsel for the church—I felt they were somewhat critical and that gave me a good feeling.”

One question from the committee caught Schaefer’s attention. It was asked by the Rev. Lyssette Perez, a clergy member from the Greater New Jersey Annual (regional) Conference, who wondered what the impact would be on the church if he was re-instated in light of the debate that is on-going in the church.

“I thought my counsel’s response to that was brilliant,” said Schaefer. “He said, ‘You have to look at the law.’ We have to abide by our own rules in the church, and that gives us some security. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to say that this penalty that I received was not in line with our church law. So I’m hopeful the panel will do exactly that: look at the law and come up with a just decision.”

The Rev. Christopher Fisher, counsel for the church, said in his statement that the only items the appeals committee could rule on were: 1) was there a question of guilt; and 2) were there any errors of law in the trial.

“Were there errors of law?” Fisher asked. “We submit, no.”

Fisher said that Judicial Council ruling 240 was not applicable in this case because it was written before the current language in the Book of Discipline took effect. The current Discipline, he said, allows for church courts to fix penalties over a wide range.

Fisher also said that the penalty of termination was appropriate because Schaefer had, both in word and in deed, said that he could not uphold the Discipline in its entirety. United Methodist ordained elders, he said, take vows to uphold the Discipline, and Schaefer had broken those vows.

“The appellant (Schaefer) argues that no one could uphold the entire Discipline,” Fisher said. “Are we to say that thousands of pastors have answered this question dishonestly?”

Fisher said that it was the church’s opinion that the appeal shouldn’t be heard at all, and he requested a dismissal of the appeal and an affirmation of the church court’s ruling in its entirety.

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Campbell asked the committee that they uphold the 30-day suspension, but that they declare the defrocking “null and void and of no effect.”

If re-instated, Schaefer will have his credentials returned to him and will be called “the Rev.” again. He will, however, not be reappointed to the Iona UMC in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference since a new pastor will be appointed to that church July 1, he said.

“I sense that the (committee) knows that this decision will have an impact on how we decide in the future, not only at trials but what we do with the Disciples as we get to our 2016 General Conference,” said Schaefer. “It will have an impact. This would be a great, symbolic gesture and sign for the church that the church is considering change.”

If the appeals committee upholds the trial court’s November decision, Campbell said he would appeal it to the Judicial Council, the church’s highest court. Both sides in the case have the right to appeal the decision to the Judicial Council, he said.

The appeals committee, made up of four clergy persons, one diaconal minister, one full-time local pastor and three lay persons, is now in deliberations in the case. They have up to 20 days to issue a written ruling, but it is expected a decision will be announced Saturday morning, June 21.

Twitter Screen Captures via Reconciling Ministries Network. Follow conversations through hashtags #FrankSchaefer #StandWithFrank and #MinistryOnTrial

 

Erik Alsgaard, UMR Correspondent

Erik Alsgaard

UMR Correspondent The Rev. Erik Alsgaard is a member of the Detroit Conference, on loan to the Baltimore-Washington Conference, serving in the Ministry of Communications there as Editor of the UMConnection newspaper.

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29 Comments on "Frank Schaefer Appeal Hearing"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Mark M
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The final outcome of Rev Frank Schaefer’s appeal was to reinstate him:

http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/judicial-council-rules-favor-rev-frank-schaefer

Eric
Guest
“I thought my counsel’s response to that was brilliant,” said Schaefer. “He said, ‘You have to look at the law.’ We have to abide by our own rules in the church, and that gives us some security. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to say that this penalty that I received was not in line with our church law. So I’m hopeful the panel will do exactly that: look at the law and come up with a just decision.” Does anyone else see the irony in Mr. Schaefer’s statement here? “We have to abide by our own rules… Read more »
James D. Medley
Guest

I am deeply distessed that we, The UMC, cannot find a way to bless the spiritual contacts made by two persons of the same sexual orientation.
The “What Would Jesus Do” is surely a rhetorical “cop out”. We should never guess what our redeemer would have done when we have record of his having dealth with an issue.
Finally, as a disabled WWII veteran I mourn for all who cannot enjoy the legal rights we and newer veterans served to protect.

Donna
Guest
At this point in time, all we can do is pray. I was baptized into the Methodist Church when I was 13. When I was 19, I was President of the Christian Student Council, and ordained by the Bishop of the Methodist Church. A few weeks later, I was told by the Reverend who presided over business classes at Hiwassee College, that I could not be ordained because I was not at college studying to be a minister. This was in 1976. I have been a prodigal daughter for years. I do not go to church on a regular basis.… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest
I predict (and I’m horrible at making predictions), that the “Council” will reinstate Shaefer because of procedural flaws in how he was removed from ministry (essentially made up technicalities). I believe the council is NOT interested in UMC church law, or honoring the BOD. Most of them, if not all of them, are progressives, and by definition rules don’t apply to progressives, except when they manipulate the rules to circumvent the rules. I predict the 2016 General Conference will essentially be the last meaningful GC in the UMC. The delegates better pass a church law allowing for local churches to… Read more »
Mark
Guest

Wes, I suspect your prediction will come true for a very simple reason: going with the cultural flow is always the way of least resistance for any organization, be it secular or religious. Standing up for the timeless truths of Christianity is the more difficult path.

Hiding behind legalisms is also a well-worn strategy of those wanting to avoid transparency and responsibilty. Modern liberals have a habit of cloaking their true goals with feel-good rhetoric while pursuing those goals—often covertly—with cut-throat political and legal tactics. We are seeing all of that played out here.

Mark
Guest

It’s very interesting to see this article and click down a bit and see another article on accountability.

Donna Burkhart
Guest

I believe that Frank Schafer should be reinstated because even the lawyers for the judicial counsel have said that the Bk. of Discipline is in conflict with itself. They have said that there has to be clarification on terms and words in the Bk. of Dis. How can a pastor be defrocked when even the judicial counsel says that there is not clarity in the Bk. of Discipline?

Wes Andrews
Guest

Donna there’s clarity in the Book of Discipline, but for those who don’t desire clarity there is the re-imagined version of the BOD that is all of a sudden “supposedly” full of contradictions.

Karen West
Guest
I am embarrassed by the treatment of Rev Schaefer. He should be reinstated. I spoke to him recently about coming close to taking my life at age 14 because my best friends family decided after years of being part of their family, I was no longer welcome. Because they decided I was gay and they didn’t want me in their home. I had never had a gay relationship. I was devastated being judged and discarded for something I had not done. Rev Schaefer response was yo ask if he could hug me. When I left the Church I cried for… Read more »
Lonnie Walker
Guest

This homophobia and hypocrisy is exactly why I left the Baptist church and later on the Methodist church. I pray some day that they will see the light and truly embrace the concepts of unconditional love and loving thy neighbor as thyself. I am now a member of a progressive Christian assembly and couldn’t be happier. Hopefully someday all denominations of Christianity will embrace diversity and follow Jesus’ teachings of love,acceptance, and kindness

Wes Andrews
Guest

Lonnie, no one is “afraid” of homosexuals.

Debra Warmington
Guest
I cannot believe that Jesus, lover of sinners and outcasts, the downtrodden and the unclean, would be so close-minded as to not love those that are sexually oriented differently than the majority of people. Jesus befriended and stood for and with the minorities of his day – as he is doing now. Christian Americans argued in the 1800’s and 1900’s whether the black men and women were fully human or not and whether they should have the same freedoms and rights as white people. We are now arguing over whether gays and lesbians are fully human and should be allowed… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest

Debra, you are absolutely correct Jesus loves all sinners, and while we were yet sinners he died for us. That is Great News. And Jesus protected the woman caught in adultery, and while he didn’t condemn her he told her to “go and sin no more.” I believe that those of us who lead should not confuse love with endorsement of behaviors.

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