A United Methodist pastor in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference will face a church trial in November, accused of officiating a same-sex wedding and violating the order of The Book of Discipline.
Rev. Frank Schaefer, elder at Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, performed the wedding of his son Tim and his partner over 5 years ago. Out of love for his son and his commitment to the gospel of inclusion for LGBT persons, Schaefer made the decision to lead the ceremony in order to fulfill his calling to the ministry of all people.
Currently Reconciling Ministries Network is aware of four additional clergy under a complaint or charge related to Biblical Obedience that are public. They include Rev. Steve Heiss of Upper New York, Rev. Thomas Ogletree of New York, Rev. Gordy Hutchins of Pacific Northwest, and Rev. Sara Thompson Tweedy of New York. All cases are same-sex marriage related except for Tweedy, who is facing a complaint of being a practicing lesbian. To read more about the clergy process for complaints and charges, go to www.rmnetwork.org/clergy-complaints/.
These persons have been called according to their commitment to Biblical Obedience to do the work of the gospel in the face of the church’s immoral and discriminatory policies. Please be in prayer as we will all be called on to support, encourage, and empower these persons as they face charges under the Discipline of the United Methodist Church.
At RMN's national convocation today, Bishops Mary Ann Swenson and Melvin Talbert will challenge us to live in Biblical Obedience—reminding us that the foundation for our reconciling mission is the Bible. Passages of scripture such as Micah 6:8 and Mark 12:30-31 suggest that love and justice are the essential elements of faithful serving in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ. We will also hear testimonies from persons who are embodying Biblical Obedience and consider how each of us responds in faith to this challenge.
One way clergy, lay persons, and congregations all over the world have responded is by signing the Altar For All. Thousands have signed statements committing themselves to fulfill their vow to ministry by marrying or blessing couples regardless of their gender. Almost half of the population of the United States and most of Europe lives where marriage or civil unions for gay and lesbian couples is legal. When parishioners come to their pastors to request that they officiate at their weddings, ministers face a conflict between their vow to minister to their whole congregation and their vow to uphold the Book of Discipline which asks them to deny ministry to some of their members. In the face of these conflicts, clergy are making conscientious decisions for ministry rather than exclusion. These clergy believe that to do so is a faithful act of witness that claims Jesus’ command to “love God and neighbor.” Regional coordinators are maintaining the lists of clergy who are moving forward with ministry to all prepared loving couples. To sign or to view the names and congregations on the national list, go to www.rmnetwork.org/act-now/altar-for-all/
Recently, the Altar for All statement was revised to include signers of congregations, supportive clergy, and lay officiants, and reads as follows:
Even as we sign, we repent that it has taken us so long to act. We acknowledge our complicity in the church’s discriminatory policies that have tarnished the witness of the Church to the world. We value our covenant relationships and ask everyone to hold the divided community of The United Methodist Church in prayer.
Clergy Signers: Pastoral care and the sacraments and rituals of the church are means of grace by which the lives of all Christians are blessed by God. Therefore we, as ordained clergy in the United Methodist Church, declare our commitment to offer such means of grace to all persons on an equal basis. We refuse to discriminate against any of God’s children and pledge to make marriage equality a lived reality within the United Methodist Church, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. We joyfully affirm that we will offer the grace of the Church’s blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage. We are convinced by the witness of others and are compelled by Spirit and conscience to act. We thank the many United Methodists who have already called for full equality and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the life of the Church.
Supporting Clergy and Laity Signers: We are United Methodists, called to inclusiveness, instructed to be faithful to the example of Jesus’ ministry to all persons, and charged to deny every semblance of discrimination [2012 Discipline, ¶140]. In accordance with our membership vow to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves,” we commit ourselves to work for marriage equality and to support our clergy colleagues who have courageously challenged church policy by faithfully ministering to all. We will support them morally, emotionally, and spiritually, and contribute financially to their defense if their faithfulness should result in a church trial.
Local Church Signers: We, as a United Methodist congregation, have committed to supporting and honoring same-sex marriages in the same way that we support and honor other marriages. We believe that banning same-sex marriage is inconsistent with Christ’s teaching, and the constitution of the United Methodist Church. We fully recognize and assume the risks associated with these commitments, because we are called upon by God, through Jesus Christ, to resist injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. Our sanctuary is open for all to make a commitment of love and fidelity through Christian marriage or we have decided to faithfully close our doors to all weddings until we can perform weddings for all.
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