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Friday, December 20, 2013

Defrocking Opens Deep Divide Among Methodists

Former United Methodist pastor Frank Schaefer speaks with reporters after a news conference, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, at First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Former United Methodist pastor Frank Schaefer speaks with reporters after a news conference yesterday at First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)

The United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania defrocked the Rev. Frank Schaefer yesterday, after he said he could not uphold Methodist Church teachings on homosexuality.

Last month, a jury of fellow Methodist pastors convicted Schaefer of violating church discipline when he officiated the same-sex marriage of his son six years ago. The church suspended him from all ministerial duties at his small, Zion United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Penn., and gave him a month to decide if he could uphold all of the church’s teachings, including the ban on same-sex marriage.

The Methodist Church has gone out of its way to affirm the dignity of gay people, and emphasize that church pastors minister to gay people, but the church’s book of discipline also says that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” which is why the church does not allow same-sex marriage or the ordainment of openly gay ministers.

This week, Schaefer said he could not uphold the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, but he would not step down voluntarily. Yesterday, church officials stripped him of his clergy credentials. Schaefer is now appealing that action and joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the next steps.

Interview Highlights: Frank Schaefer

On accepting his defrocking

“It’s really been a long fight. It’s been going on for almost nine months now, and I have to tell you I didn’t expect it. Of course I knew it was a possibility that I would be defrocked. But even on the day when I went to the hearing yesterday, I thought to myself, ‘They aren’t going to do that over an act of love for my own son.’ But it did happen, and I was actually shocked. … It’s a strange feeling to find myself outside of the church, you know, being excluded, really, because I stood with the LGBT community and with my son.”

On gays and lesbians joining his congregation after his son’s marriage

“As this became known to some people in the congregation, we did attract some LGBT folks to our congregation. You know, I just couldn’t have said no to all the lesbian and gay couples that I’ve gotten to know at my church. You know, they’re wonderful people. They’re wonderful Christians. There is no way that I could have said no to them, because they are created just like everybody else: In the image of God. They were created homosexual, that was not their choice, and I could not hold that against them.”

On America’s changing attitude towards gay rights

“Something will have to change, because our society is changing at such a fast pace. … All these new states that are now saying gay marriage is legal. So much is changing, and as you know, the polls are changing as well. Now the majority of American people are saying that they are in favor of gay rights and marriage rights. And the United Methodist Church is a part of that, you know, we are part of the populace of the United States. If you were to take a poll among United Methodists you would probably find a very similar result. ”

On confronting discrimination

“This has to do with the exclusionary policies of the church. That is the price that we have to pay for the exclusionary policies of the church. And it feels totally like discrimination to me now too. I mean, I spoke out for my son, my children, for the LGBT community and demanded equal rights, and find myself outside of the system.”


  • Frank Schaefer, minister in Pennsylvania who has been defrocked by the United Methodist Church.

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  • postone

    I listened to your piece on Defrocking a Methodist Pastor on your program Hear & Now.

    I’m a bit confused on weather this particular (and indeed many others) Pastor knows what God says about homosexuality? I’m assuming he has read the bible (just about any Christian version says pretty much the same thing) more than once and knows what God’s word is on this subject.

    I’m quite sure you (NPR staff doing this story) don’t realize that According to the Bible, a person living in homosexual sin “will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven” and those who “approve of those who do such things” will be held just as “guilty.”

    Very important message to “those who approve of those who do such things, including marrying them, are just as “guilty”

    I don’t expect you to agree or disagree. I don’t need the confirmation of man (in any form) to know what God has revealed to me to truth. Whether or not you agree that God indeed exists doesn’t give “you” or anyone else a pass. We shall all answer to him and be held accountable! The bible says, “those who do not believe, the word of God is foolishness to them, and indeed they can never understand his word. Unless of course they are saved, or converted, changed if you will by the love and grace of God at some point. Because not saved today doesn’t mean it won’t happen some time in the future. I was saved in 2004.

    If God says it, its true!

    This is not a debate, its not a human rights issue either, its a “moral” issue. And where morality issues are concerned God is the only truth. Human beings are depraved by nature, we are born that way because of the fall of Adam. We inherited Adam’s nature. Humans do the wrong thing when doing the right thing would be easier and that’s because we, you, and me are all immoral and depraved! That’s not to say we (humans) do the worst we can do and do it all the time. Not at all, but we are certainly capable of doing so and for a few examples, the United States Government prove this constantly and consistently. Wall Street, the four or five major banks, rapists, murders, etc…

    Secondly, you had no person to re-butt what this so-called Pastor was speaking of. He is NOT a pastor because he does not follow what Jesus teaches and has taught! You nor he uttered a word about what God has said in his word (The Bible) about this subject! Not one word!

    You talk about “biased” and one way only! That is at the very least reporting or gossip talking. Because true journalism is unbiased, professional and they (journalists) tell the entire truth not just want they personally believe or what they would like everyone else to believe or hear!

    As human beings (Christians also) we always want it our way. Some Christians read the bible and follow some of the teachings and disregard others. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. We aren’t running anything, even though some may think they are. We are not the final word, God is and always will be!

    What ever it is we do in this world, its because God allows it, period! I’m not going to get into why there are murders and why there are people who kill indiscriminately, etc… Other than the obvious we do these things because of SIN in the world of which we all contribute! The broader answer would be up to God but he hasn’t yet choose to share his wisdom or the bigger picture as of yet. We’ll just have to wait and see when he comes back to earth!

    I would hope you as journalists, (which as I stated above it is questionable in my mind.) would do a story and do it in a complete way from both sides in the future concerning all issues you guys bring to the table.

    Do the right thing, if no other reason because its right!

    I hope all your days are wonderful especially the upcoming holidays!

    And may God enlighten (save) and bless you forever…

    Regards, Robert Jacobs

    • habinero

      Don’t judge lest YOU be judged….

      • postone

        I’m not judging anything or anyone. I’m stating fact according to God’s word which is the bible. I’m just relaying his message about the subject. If you have a problem with this then you need to take it up with God!

  • Darrell Turner

    The headline of this story is “Defrocking Opens Deep Divide Among Methodists.” It would have been good journalism if Here and Now had explored both sides of that divide rather than focusing exclusively on Mr. Schaefer. Not only was there no interview with anyone in the church who supports the Book of Discipline policy, but there was no indication in the interview that the church’s position is based on its theology.
    Mr. Schaefer suggests that the church should change its position because American society is changing on this issue. This fails to take into account the fact that theology is based on beliefs in divine revelation, which cannot change based on changes in society. In the United Methodist context, it also fails to take into account that the denomination is an international denomination and that the position against homosexual practice (as distinguished from homosexual orientation) is strongly supported by United Methodist regional bodies in Africa.
    By all means, let Mr. Schaefer have his say. But let the other side have its say, too — especially if you say the defrocking reveals a deep divide among Methodists.

    • arroh

      So what about all of the other positions stated in the bible, that we do reject all out in Christianity, the killing of those who don’t honor their parents, the acceptance of slavery? Are these not the result of evolving societal norms??

      • Darrell Turner

        In response to arroh’s comment, many evangelical Bible scholars say the Old Testament teachings that are normative for Christians today are the ones that are repeated in the New Testament. This is true of the prohibitions on homosexual behavior and not true of the others you mentioned.
        Again, with regard to the Hear and Now feature, my critique is that there was no explanation of the reason for the position taken by the United Methodist Church and no recognition that the denomination is an international church, which includes Christians from countries where the society has not changed on homosexuality the way the United States has.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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