Since so many of my peers, readers and FB friends occupy that rapidly evaporating niche of American culture that is United Methodism, I’ve got no firm grip on whether the rest of you have heard about the trial of Rev. Frank Shaefer in Chester, Pennsylvania.
Church trial, that is.
Aside: That the United Methodist Church has a judicial system that virtually mirrors, in every jot and tittle, not the Gospel of Matthew but the American system of justice should give you pause and is itself a good indicator of the problems besetting our particular brand of Jesus-following.
Rev Frank’s offense (sedition is a more apt term)?
Officiating the wedding ceremony of two gay men.
Oh- it might seem relevant to the empathetic among you- one of the two grooms is Frank’s son, Tim.
Whereas the Catholic Church makes news when Pope Francis kisses the cheeks of a modern day leper or some other Jesusy act, the UMC makes news when it asserts for the umpteenth time how much we don’t like gay people.
Just last year, for example, at our international gathering called ‘General Conference,’ we made news for being incapable of acknowledging publicly what everyone knows to be true: that Christians of good heart and faith disagree on the issue of homosexuality.
Now, I’m no liberal.
Typically, I have little patience for pastors with an ego-driven need to be ‘prophetic,’ derailing the Great Commission in their local congregation for their own activist mission.
What’s frustrating is that Rev. Frank appears to be an exception.
He didn’t marry his son to make a stand. He married his son because he loves his son.
What instead instigated the ecclesial trial is as depressing as it is cliche:
disputes between older, lifelong members of his church vs newer, younger members
traditional worship devotees vs contemporary worship aficionados
and- to the surprise of 0 pastors out there- the dismissal of a choir director
with more tenure and fans than the pastor
Rev. Frank didn’t make a stand by officiating a gay wedding. Months and months went by without any one in his church knowing he had done so.
Instead church people looking to undermine him, for reasons having more to do with liturgy than lifestyle, went digging for dirt.
The painting-into-a-corner result?
They’ve made Rev. Frank exactly what he was not the day he said ‘dearly beloved’ to his son and his son’s beloved:
Issues of theology, biblical interpretation and sexuality aside….this is what I can say without equivocation:
News stories like this one piss me off.
My usual snark and cynicism aside, I actually believe the United Methodist Church- strike that, the Wesleyan tradition- is uniquely positioned to offer the 21st century a compelling vision of Christianity.
I actually believe we have a fruit-bearing future if only the Pharisees hell bent on safeguarding the UMC would stop and desist.
Unlike many other flavors of Mainline Christianity, Methodists believe in the Bible.
Nay, we believe in God, a living God.
We believe God speaks as much today as God ever did in bearded, bible times. And we believe the Bible is the reliable mode of God’s communication to us. Wherever else God may speak or appear or tease, we believe scripture is as regular and reliable as a bus stop.
But unlike so many brands of Christianity, Methodists don’t believe the Bible has to be interpreted woodenly.
It’s not a dead text; it’s a living text because we believe Holy Spirit is but another name for God. We Methodists, on our best days, are neither literalists nor cretins. We worship Father, Son and Spirit not page 3, 46 or verse 9.
Likewise, Methodists don’t believe God lies to us.
We believe all truth is God’s truth. If our intellect, if science, if reason, if our human experience, if the experience of other believers or non-believers tells us something about God’s world we don’t have to dismiss it as wrong, demonic, false or unbiblical. If it’s true, it’s true.
In a culture that increasingly sees Christianity as anti-intellectual, Methodism is a made to order alternative.
Contrary to many shy, mainline Christian traditions, we Methodists are a repentance-preaching, conversion-measuring sect. We expect that turning towards Jesus means you turn away from other things.
In an American culture captive to greed and individualism, Methodism could be a made to order alternative.
Distinct from our evangelical friends, Methodism is sacramental and liturgical (at least on paper).
We believe the prayers of the saints are probably better than a ‘Fatherweejust..’ prayer. We believe bread and wine are the best conveyors of God’s grace and should be taken as much as freaking possible. We believe in them Jesus makes good on his word and is really present to us in the Eucharist and unlike our Catholic friends we don’t bother trying to figure out how that’s possible. With God, after all, all things are possible and this, as luck would have it, makes Methodism the perfect tradition for a postmodern culture yearning for the mysterious and transcendent.
Like many of other Jesus brands, we believe we’re saved by grace through faith. Unlike many of those brands, we believe the proof is in the pudding. That you very likely do not have faith in God’s grace if you’re not practicing, embodying, doing God’s grace for others. For the poor.
In a culture that hungers to make a difference by serving others, by serving the poor, the followers of John Wesley are obvious candidates to take the Jesus torch into the next century.
The UMC is perfectly positioned for the century unfolding before us.
A simple Google search of ‘United Methodism’ earlier today resulted in a full 3 pages devoted to how we believe “homosexuals are persons of sacred worth” just as long as they don’t desire to express their humanity in any of the ways normal humans do.
Again, I’m no liberal.
Aside: when the US Military is more liberal than the UMC…
that’s saying something.
I believe in scripture.
I get the need for Church order. I get the need for ecclesial discipline.
But I also believe in a Savior who routinely violated his own church discipline (See: Mark, Gospel of)
And I get that this is a losing demographic issue for the UMC and, however you feel about homosexuality, being ‘right’ on this issue is not worth the cost of whole generations not hearing the Gospel because Google et all only communicate what/who we’re against.
Not what/who we’re for.
Rev Frank is only now being tried for a wedding that took place years ago.
My oldest son is a year or so away from puberty so let the UMC be warned…
Should it happen that he discovers he’s gay in the same unintended way I realized I wasn’t…and should it happen he finds love worth a lifetime…and should he ask me to…
There’s no way I’d say no.
And dammit, I don’t care what (you think) Paul said: I’m betting the house Jesus would understand.