Schaefer’s new book and the shifting LGBT inclusion conversation

Defrocked cover final

By Cassandra Lawrence

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.”

Cassandra Lawrence is a freelance journalist, writer and researcher in Washington D.C. specializing in religion and international conflict. She blogs at ContemplatingSpace.com

Read Cassandra’s review of “Defrocked” for the New York Journal of Books here.

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42 Comments on "Schaefer’s new book and the shifting LGBT inclusion conversation"

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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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Gregory Peterson
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“Beth Stroud was defrocked in 2005 for being a ‘self-avowed practicing homosexual.”’ Let’s see, to practice law, medicine, cosmetology etc, you need to go to accredited, specialized higher ed schools, study hard, pass strenuous state exams. So…where is this Homosexuality school, anyway, what are the accrediting bodies, and who administers the exams? I’m pretty sure that Beth Stroud isn’t a ‘self-avowed practicing homosexual,” I don’t think that I’ve met a self identifying “homosexual” since the early 1970s. Odd that when Homosexuals disappeared, so did “Negroes.” Black and/or Gay people apparently took their place, and Chicanos suddenly appeared as well. Who,… Read more »
Greg
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Ananias an Sapphira broke Church Law and God’s law by appeasing their greed and holding out after proclaiming they had given all. Breaking Church Law for family may be selfish, but what do you do about bending the rules, that apply to all, for personal reasons?

james
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Mark: When you have lots of time check into the influence the libs/progs have had on public education and church education over the last 60 plus years. Way back when, the liberal left started and has been extremely successful in quietly sneaking their dogma into the textbooks our nation’s kids have been educated with. That practice spilled over into the church about the same time. The tactic has increased mightily over the last 15 or so years. It will take at least a generation to swing the pendulum back–but presently–neither the nation NOR the church has a stomach for that.… Read more »
Mark
Guest
James, investigating those kinds of things has been an avocation of mine for years. And, you are right, the influence has been insidious. It is like finding more and more skeletons in a closet….you are often surprised and there is not enough time to check them all out. You mention this to people and they think you are some conspiracy theorist, but the information is there, you just have to do some digging to find it. While I don’t give conservatives a pass when they do something wrong, I think modern liberals have largely lost their moral compass…and they succeed… Read more »
Talbot Davis
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And the most amazing part of this whole comment string is that Wes Andrews went to Iliff! Whoda thunk it?

Wes Andrews
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I received a good education. I learned to think critically, and I learned to read through the rhetoric! 😉

Wes Andrews
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Of course many of the professors taught through quite a narrow liberal-progressive lens. They were not often open to tough questions, but there were other ways that we could open the community up to dialog with the help of a truly open minded dean at the time I was there. The good education is that I had to work 10 times as hard in preparation, because someone who might disagree couldn’t get a way with emotional, empty discussion points. I do have to say that it was a very angry place while I was there… All the interest groups were… Read more »
Mark
Guest

Wes, I think you hit around a good point: modern liberalism, as opposed to classical liberalism, is actually the opposite of what it claims to be. It is, after you strip away the pseudo-intellectualism and sanctimonious moralizing, anti-intellectual and anti-Christian.

Mark
Guest

The truth may be tardy, but it eventually arrives.

MethodistPie
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In a front page NEW YORK TIMES story today, it appears that Rev. Schaefer already has material for a second book. The son whose marriage started all this is now planning to pursue United Methodist ordination himself. And the hits just keep on coming!

John
Guest

MethodistPie, I think you’re making that up. Here is the excerpt from the article you are referencing: “Tim Schaefer…said that he did not know whether he would be admitted for ordination in the United Methodist Church, given his sexuality, but that he intended to start taking theology classes and that he would pursue ordination in whatever Protestant denomination would have him.”

Make sure you read that last part again. 🙂

Wes Andrews
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From the Pennlive article
Schaefer, who took a short leave of absence earlier this year, continues to work at his church.

Attendance in his congregation of 450 – which on most Sundays was about 250 – has dropped significantly.

So all of this has had a detrimental impact on his local church. But, for the progressive ideology is more important that reality and truth. Where all is justified as a means to an end…

james
Guest

Thanks Wes for your knowledge and your willingness to share it. It is sad that the UMR chooses to publish so many items that suit the libs/progs members as opposed to a few that may interest middle to right folks. Perhaps, though, it is a good thing because the op eds and articles published by the UMR, those who are middle/right can see where the umc is headed. The one-sided approach to church news reeks with the same stench that the national periodicals choose to publish. The umc and the country are in free-fall………………

Wes Andrews
Guest

Yes, james, the whole story needs to be told. UMNS is certainly NOT telling it. Again they serve the progressive line more than the whole church. My hope is that UMR would be balanced and provide the whole story. BTW, I simply read the link from Talbot’s post.

Talbot Davis
Guest

Wish the article had included some information on the impact of Schaeffer’s ministry on the local church in Pennsylvania to which he was appointed: http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/09/frank_schaefer_united_methodis.html

Mark
Guest

I recall the well-worn story of a king who was going to divide a baby that 2 women were claiming to be theirs. The real mother of the baby, because she loved the baby so much, was willing to give it up to the other woman rather than have the baby killed. The liberals in this denomination are determined to cut the baby in two pieces rather than admit the baby (the teaching they swore before God and the church to uphold) is not theirs. Classic scorched earth strategy.

Wes Andrews
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Actually , we should always use the full alphabet at all times when we discuss this. This is not merely a homosexual individual that may be a dear friend who has a long term relationship their partner. They want full inclusion of marriage and ordination of all LGBTQI folk. By Wikipedia definition that’s Lesbian/Gay/Bi-sexual/Transgender/QueerQuestioning/Intersex. This is not about love. It’s NOT about “traditionalists” being mean or fearful of their homosexual friends. misreading scripture in some narrow exclusive way. We are reading Scripture the way the It is a political agenda designed to destroy the church by sending it into utter… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest
Wish we could edit: Actually , we should always use the full alphabet at all times when we discuss this. This is not merely about a homosexual individual that may be a dear friend who has a long term relationship their partner. They want full inclusion of marriage and ordination of all LGBTQI folk. By Wikipedia definition that’s Lesbian/ Gay /Bi-sexual/ Transgender/ QueerQuestioning/ Intersex. This is not about love. It’s NOT about “traditionalists” being mean or fearful of their homosexual friends. The real issue is not about people who trust the authority of Scripture misreading scripture in some narrow, exclusive… Read more »
Kent Wilfong
Guest

So much for integrity. Now we see the truth behind the trial. Good press equals good book sales.
How can anyone truly consider Mr. Schaefer a man of honor, or a man of God? But at least he will be a man of means.

Mark
Guest
Articles like this—and we’ve seen plenty of them from UMR and secular media—are unbalanced and obviously written to achieve a desired result. They leave out a number of salient facts, not the least of which is this: by conducting these ceremonies Schaefer, and other clergy insisting on redefining marriage outside Biblical teaching, break a vow they made to God and the church to uphold the Discipline as long as they remain UMC clergy. If they would break this vow to uphold Christian marriage then why would they not break future vows to support same-sex “marriage”…and whatever else inevitably follows?
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