Clergy Cannot Be Punished for Future ActionPosted: October 31, 2014 Filed under: Bishop's Blog 14 Comments
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
Does this mean he is not going to try to obey the discipline?
As a Seminary Student who is hoping to graduate and do ministry in the United Methodist Church, I can’t help but look at my beloved denomination as if it is going through a divorce. We spend a lot of time here in seminary talking about the split as if it is inevitable and I am sad to say it might be. I can pray for unity and peace all I want and i am just afraid that that it will be in vein. Should I have to cater to both sides for fear of not having a job when I graduate? Why can i not as Steve Tippins states go with my conscience? Should I have to lie about God’s call in my life and for the lives of others because some feel its wrong.
As a committed member of the UMC, I am appalled at the money and time spent on this issue, in such a punitive manner generally. I do wish that my own church would recognize my almost 10 year relationship with my partner, but am looking elsewhere for that to happen. I simply want to work on being a disciple of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world – feeding and housing folks who need it, changing systems of injustice, and more. I love the UMC for many, many reasons, and do not wish to leave the denomination, but it is increasingly difficult to feel justified in staying around, being treated unjustly, and having to find ways to explain these challenges to our four year old as she begins to hear and understand. I wish there was more leadership around deep scriptural understanding using the fullness of the Wesleyan quadrilateral to understand the world using our collective reason, traditions, and experiences – regarding all matters for the church and the world, including same gender marriage and ordination of gay folks. When individuals gather in a true sense of sharing and receiving, the vitriolic language dissipates and relationships are formed. But there are few places where people are willing both to give and fully receive. It is this lack of collective compassion to genuinely hear each other about which I am most sad.
As a committed member of the UMC, I am appalled at the money and time spent on this issue, in such a punitive manner generally. I do wish that my own church would recognize my almost 10 year relationship with my partner, but am looking elsewhere for that to happen. I simply want to work on being a disciple of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world – feeding and housing folks who need it, changing systems of injustice, and more. I wish there was more leadership around deep scriptural understanding using the fullness of the Wesleyan quadrilateral to understand the world using our collective reason, traditions, and experiences – regarding all matters for the church and the world, including same gender marriage and ordination of gay folks. When individuals gather in a true sense of sharing and receiving, the vitriolic language dissipates and relationships are formed. But there are few places where people are willing both to give and fully receive. It is this lack of collective compassion to genuinely hear each other about which I am most sad.
My apologies to our bishop for my disrespectful cynicism. I feel only empathy for him and his colleagues in the Council of Bishops who are trying very hard to be both prophetic and priestly in their spiritual guidance of our church. A covenant of unity in observance of institutional polity is essential to maintain order in any organization, including the Church where the challenge is exceptional because of the nature of a message lending itself so easily to individual interpretation, even among those who have devoted their lives to the search for its truths. Should loyalty to an institution ever take precedence over conscience? I believe there is a long-needed conversation here for all who are concerned about the continuing ministry and witness of our denomination. I do not believe that unity, whatever its guise, can continue in our UM Church unless we are willing to revisit God concepts that seem inherently divisive. Our beliefs and the actions that flow from them too easily set us against each other. Prayers for unity are indeed worthy but must translate into a spirituality that transcends our individual faith conditioning. I don’t think God has a delete button that can deliver us from the fears that drive us. What should be the words of my prayer that will not relieve me of personal responsibility for my contribution to the problem? “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…” Perhaps no words at all, only mindful listening to the God-presence within.
I have a real difficult time with anyone, lay or clergy, claiming to be United Methodist and operating outside the Discipline. However, because we all fall short of what we should be and do in Christ’s kingdom I have to agree with Bishop McAlilly”s plea for us ” to live with a spirit of love and grace toward ALL persons.” We have to work very prayerfully at getting along within our church family–or we certainly have nothing to offer to those outside the church.
I covenant to join my bishop in that prayerful attitude which seeks the face of Christ in the midst of a turbulent and changing world.
Sent from my iPad
So ,does double jeopardy exist in the judicial process ? Can Scheafer be tried again for the “crime” ? Can he be resentanced in accordance with the Dicipline without a new trial ? Since he openly stated he can not follow the Dicipline , can he continue to be a UMC minister ? Why would he want to continue to be a UMC minister ?
Lord help us ,,,though grandma Fox actually said it more like ,,,,lorr hepus,,,
Let us quit playing games with our Christian faith! The decision regarding homosexual choice has been determined to be sin. The Bible records that. A UM minister takes an oath to abide by the discipline, but what is much more important is to preach/teach in accord with God’s word – The Bible. If we don’t believe and don’t intend to follow the Bible, then quit calling the UM church a Christian church! Scheafer violated his oath to God and the church. He should not be allowed to preach/teach in the church unless he confesses his sin before God and the church and with a firm commitment to abide by Biblical authority and church discipline. To those who are in any position of leadership in the church I would ask; are you going to stand up for Christ or the world?
Seems to me you’re on a slippery slope, good brother. Can sin be defined so precisely? The thought that God loves the sinner is very comforting to me, perhaps others also. But, then again, “if the Bible says it’s so, it’s so,” as I take it you would say. Well, maybe not, lest we take things to their extremes. If God is love and we hold to that as “the main thing,” can we love any one of us into eternal damnation? Doesn’t work for me. I’m quite willing to be outside that fold of love.
Frank Schaefer as “untied” Methodist minister is a rather prophetic Freudian slip. I will pray for and encourage unity, but there may be unwelcome handwriting on the wall.
I too noticed The “untied” Freudian slip. Right on, Steve!
Correction welcomed, but cat may be out of bag!