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Reverend Frank Schaefer says his reinstatement by the Methodist Church “brings a lot of hope” to the LGBTQ community in the Methodist Church.
Reverend Schaefer was defrocked last November for officiating his son’s same-sex wedding, after saying that he would not let Church doctrine stop him from officiating same-sex weddings in the future, if asked.
He has now been fully re-instated and assigned to a new congregation, but the decision has deepened the divide over same-sex and gender issues in the Methodist Church.
The United Methodist Church accepts gay and lesbian members, but bars clergy from officiating same-sex marriages because the Book of Discipline, the ruling Methodist doctrine, calls the practice of homosexuality, “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Reverend Schaefer discusses the matter with Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson.
On what the reinstatement signifies
“I was very clear throughout my trial and in the aftermath that I would not promise not to perform another gay wedding. Even in spite of that fact, this appeals committee has reinstated me. I think it brings a lot of hope to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.”
On the change from the defrocking to reinstatment
“Throughout my trial I felt like I never had my day in court. I was not allowed to argue with one portion of our book of discipline against another. I wasn’t even allowed any witnesses on day one when it was about finding innocence and guilt. And even when it came to the penalty on the second day, the frocking part was not based on what I had done, the wedding for my gay son. It was about a promise I could not make. So we have all along argued, ‘Please stick with our rules, with the laws of the United Methodist Church.’ I felt like there was one injustice done after another and so with this ruling, finally, we actually have a committee that has delivered justice.”
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW. Frank Schaefer, the Methodist pastor who was defrocked for officiating his sons same-sex marriage, has been reinstated and assigned to a new congregation. It is a startling reversal that has also deepened the growing rift over homosexuality in the United Methodist Church which has seven million members in the U.S., including prominent ones like Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush. We spoke with Reverend Schaefer and during his trial last year, he's with us today from the studios of WITF in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Reverend Schaefer, thanks for joining us.
REVEREND FRANK SCHAEFER: Oh, absolutely. Thank you for having me Jeremy.
HOBSON: And should we call you Pastor Frank as you've been called in the past? Or Reverend Schaefer? Or how do you want us to describe you?
SCHAEFER: Well, you know, in light of recent developments I am proud to be able to call myself Reverend Schaefer again.
HOBSON: Well, how do you feel about this ruling?
SCHAEFER: I just feel wonderful about it, not just for myself. I mean, obviously I've served the United Methodist Church for twenty plus years, you know, I've really invested a lifetime into my ministry in the church and so feels great for me personally of course to be reinstated. But it's also important for me to have more of a voice within the church. I am now one of the leaders again and I'm speaking with a little bit more authority. And as I have vowed in my trial, I will never be silent again on LGBTQ issues. Now, I can continue that work with even more authority in a more powerful way. Secondly, I believe that this ruling, this reinstating of my credentials really is a wonderful, wonderful news event for our LGBTQ family within the church. I mean, obviously I was very clear throughout my trial and in the aftermath that I would not promise not to perform another gay wedding and even in spite of that fact this appeals committee has reinstated me and I think that brings a lot of hope to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
HOBSON: But do you think that was sort of technicality? That they're reinstating you because you haven't done anything wrong, you've just said that you are not going to promise that you're not going to do another same-sex marriage in the future. That you haven't done it yet so they can't very well defrock you for that.
SCHAEFER: Well, I don't call it a technicality. I mean, these are our laws. What I celebrate especially about this is that finally, you know, justice was actually done. Throughout my trial, I felt like I never had my day in court. I was not allowed to argue with one portion of our book of discipline against another. I wasn't even allowed any witnesses on day one when it was about finding innocent and guilt. And then even, you know, when it came to the penalty on the second day, you know, the frocking part was not based on what I had done, the wedding for my gay son, but it was based on a promise that I couldn't make and so we have all along argued that, you know, please stick with our rules with the laws of the United Methodist Church. I felt like, you know, there was one injustice done after another and so this ruling finally we actually have a committee now that has delivered justice.
HOBSON: Do you believe that the church would defrock you once again if you were to officiate another same-sex wedding?
SCHAEFER: It could happen theoretically, but I always say, it all depends on where you are geographically in the United Methodist Church. So I was part of the Eastern Pennsylvania conference, which is rather conservative. But I have actually just been transferred this morning to the Cal Pac, the California Pacific conference at a campus ministry in Isla Vista. They actually just passed at their annual conference a resolution for moratorium on all trials related to LGBTQ issues. So they're light years ahead of where we should be as a church. They're just simply not putting people on trail for really what they feel is according to Jesus teachings and in his spirit.
HOBSON: Well, and it does bring up a question that has been brought up in your church before which is should it split into two?
SCHAEFER: Yeah, that's a very hotly debated topic right now. You have people on both sides, the conservative side as well as the progressive side, arguing for that. But then there's also a large number of people that are in the middle and they're trying to work things out because, I mean, some of them are saying look, in twenty - twenty five years from now, you know, this is not even going to be an issue any more. I mean, look at the times, you know, they're changing. You know, people are changing their minds on this and it's very clear in the polls. So if there's a way to keep the church together as a unity while we, you know, sort this thing out, that's better. There was a proposal that's called a way forward and about 2,200 ministers have actually lent their signatures to this proposal. And this proposal actually says that maybe we should have each and every congregation be autonomous on this matter and decide for themselves where they come out - whether they allow for gay marriage or not.
HOBSON: At the same time though, 80 pastors recently signed a statement saying that the United Methodists have irreconcilable differences, that they want to leave.
SCHAEFER: That's correct. That statement is out there and that is definitely also a petition that's garnering signatures. But if you compare those two - there's no comparison.
HOBSON: Reverend, before I let you go let's talk about the place that you are heading for your new job. You mentioned it's Isla Vista and if people think that sounds familiar it's because that was the site of the terrible massacre recently - six people killed, many more were injured. Do you think that with all of your experience with this church that you're going to be able to bring a message of healing to the people in Isla Vista who have suffered now through so much?
SCHAEFER: That's one of the things I would really like to delve in right away to bring healing and really helping people to work through the trauma and the pain obviously that this has caused and the uncertainty that this will cause, you know, within the student body. So there are many, many opportunities there for ministry as well.
HOBSON: Did you have to do something similar when there was the shooting in the Amish part of Pennsylvania where you are?
SCHAEFER: Yes, absolutely. That was an issue that was definitely traumatic for the entire community and that was very similar. I also recall, you know, 9/11, I actually happened to be a chaplain at Hershey Medical Center at that time and my goodness there was a lot of trauma there as well. I think we had six services the following day and they were all full because people just, you know, needed answers, they needed comfort, and yes. So I am somewhat experienced with this and I'm looking forward to delving right in.
HOBSON: Reverend Frank Schaefer who has just been reinstated by the United Methodist Church after being defrocked last November for officiating at his son's same-sex wedding. Reverend Schaefer, thanks so much.
SCHAEFER: Absolutely and thank you.
HOBSON: And Reverend Schaefer has joined us all along the way on his journey and we've got those interviews, you can listen to them at our website hereandnow.org. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.