Clergy Cannot Be Punished for Future ActionPosted: October 31, 2014
Across the United Methodist Church these last several months and in particular the last 10 days much attention has been given to the Judicial Council with regard to the fate of Reverend Frank Schaefer and his status or lack thereof as a United Methodist minister. Reports from news outlets have trickled out sensationalizing the story, yet with varying degrees of accuracy.
Below, Jim Allen, Tennessee Conference Director of Administrative Services and Conference Treasurer, offers a factual article on the Schaeffer case and perhaps it will shed light on what actually has taken place within the United Methodist Church with regard to Judicial Process that resulted from Reverend Schaeffer’s decision to perform the wedding ceremony of his gay son. The article below is not a commentary on who was right and who was wrong. Rather, it is a simple statement on what happened in the case and the various processes of appeals that the legal process of the United Methodist Church offers any person.
Clergy cannot be punished for future action
By Jim Allen
Journalists creating headlines have long lived by the mantra, “Dog bites man is not news; Man bites dog is news”. I suspect that is why every headline I found trumpets that the Methodists support pastor Frank Schaefer who presided over same-sex marriage. I wish less sensational, but more accurate, headlines had been used. But who would have read an article with the headline used here?
Frank Schaefer was convicted under The Book of Discipline ¶2702.1b (conducting a same sex marriage) and ¶2702.1d (disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church). That much is undisputed. The problem arose with the penalty which the trial court sought to impose:
“Suspend Rev. Frank Schaefer from all ministerial duties effective immediately for 30 days. If there are any violations of the Discipline during the 30 days, his credentials will be surrendered to the annual conference. … If at the end of the 30 days Rev. Schaefer has determined he cannot uphold the Discipline in its entirely, he must surrender his credentials.”
After 30 days, Shaefer reported to the Board of Ordained Ministry, and said
“I have been directed to report to you on whether I can uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety. My honest answer has to be: No, I cannot.
“In fact, I don’t believe anybody can. It’s impossible to uphold the Discipline in its entirety because it is filled with competing and contradictory statements.”
The Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals, and subsequently the Judicial Council in its Decision 1270 agreed (perhaps reluctantly) with Schaefer.
The trial court tried to split the baby. Rather than punish Schaefer for what he clearly did in the past, it tried to fashion a penalty that would be imposed only if Schaefer did, or did not do, something in the future. There were other problems with the verdict, but this was at the heart of the problem.
The Discipline forbids clergy from committing a “crime”. Using the general definition of “crime” (an illegal act that can be punished by the government), driving 60 in a 55 zone is an offense that can be punished by the government, and by the church. Who among us could take an oath that we would never, ever violate any traffic rule? This is a silly example, but it points out the need to withhold judgment until the bad action occurs.
Decision 1270 does not absolve Frank Schaefer of chargeable offenses. Decision 1270 recognizes that the trial court’s penalty was improper and unenforceable.
The Judicial Council recognized, correctly, that many in the church will be unhappy with their decision. But in the end, the Decision stands only for the proposition that verdicts cannot vary from what the Discipline permits.
Below are various likes to stories that have appeared in recent news outlets with regard Reverend Schaeffer.
Methodists uphold reinstatement of pastor who presided over son’s gay wedding http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/oct/27/methodist-panel-upholds-reinstatement-of-the-rev-f/
Top United Methodist Church Court Supports Rev. Frank Schaefer’s ‘Refrocking’ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/27/methodist-frank-schaefer_n_6054720.html
Frank Schaefer wins final reinstatement with Methodists http://www.religionnews.com/2014/10/27/methodist-rev-frank-schaefer/
Top court affirms Schaefer’s reinstatement as clergy http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/top-court-affirms-schaefers-reinstatement-as-clergy
Judicial Council Decision 1270 Re: Frank Schaefer http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/preview/judicial-council-decision-1270-re-frank-schaefer
We who are United Methodists find ourselves in a precarious place regardless of where you land in the spectrum of debate about same gender marriage and Church law. Therefore, I appeal to all United Methodists everywhere to join me in prayer and fasting for the Unity of the Church. Many rejoiced when the verdict was given. Others are incensed and calling for schism or worse, saying they can no longer remain United Methodists. I call upon all United Methodists to live with a spirit of love and grace toward ALL persons. Let us find space to hold this tension. The Clergy in each of our two conferences, Tennessee and Memphis, have recently spent a day considering what it means to be in Covenant with one another. Our commitments to Christ and his Church are deep and abiding.
And as your Bishop, I will uphold the Covenant I made to God and to the United Methodist Church to seek to maintain the unity of the Church and uphold it’s Book of Discipline. This I will do. I can not do it alone. Therefore, I call upon all lay and clergy members to join me in that prayerful attitude which seeks the face of Christ in the midst of a turbulent and changing world.
In writing to the Church at Corinth, I Corinthians 2:2, Paul writes: “I made up my mind not to think about anything while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and to preach him as crucified.”(CEB)
This is our greatest hope and the marching orders I seek to live by. I ask you to join me in deep prayer for all that is before us and all that is to come in the days, months and years to come.
Bishop Bill McAlilly