- by Matt Berryman, RMN Executive Director -
“The whole world is watching,” said Rev. Bob Coombe, counsel for the Rev. Frank Schaefer. Indeed the world is watching and will continue to watch as The United Methodist Church continues to steamroll right over its faithful lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) persons.
After hearing a range of perspectives from testifying witnesses, the trial court, composed of clergy members from the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, found Rev. Schaefer guilty of celebrating his son Tim’s same-sex wedding over six years ago. Among the witnesses was Rev. Schaefer himself, who humbly declared that he will now take up the mantle of advocate, prophet, and truth-teller on behalf of LGBTQ persons. In an awe-inspiring moment, Schaefer declared that he will not treat the LGBTQ members of the body of Christ as “second-class Christians.” Following the verdict, the trial court suspended Rev. Schaefer from his pastoral duties for 30 days while also requiring him to report to his Board of Ordained Ministry as to whether or not he will be able to uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety. If, at the conclusion of his 30 day suspension, Rev. Schaefer does not agree to uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety, the penalty stipulates that he must surrender his orders.
The whole world was watching as many of us who gathered at Camp Innabah to support Rev. Schaefer and his family sang our protest right alongside our praise. Remembering all those LGBTQ saints who have endured suffering and death at the hands of the church’s ongoing sin and oppression, this hymn filled that old gymnasium-turned-church courtroom: “were you there when they crucified my Lord?” The whole world was watching…and listening. Finally, it was Rev. Schaefer alongside the Rev. Steve Heiss who celebrated the Eucharist of Christ’s death and resurrection.
The whole world was watching as the body of Christ was broken yet again for a broken church, a broken world, and the broken bodies of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons. As I watched person after person receive the sacrament of the crucified and risen Christ, I realized that no matter what the church says or does, no matter how many times the church crucifies the bodies and spirits of LGBTQ persons, we are the body of Christ, each one, member for member, and therefore carry within us our own resurrection. It was our own mystery that was placed on the table, our own death and resurrection as well as the death and resurrection of Jesus—present in the body. And it was Rev. Schaefer: father, pastor, prophet, and now…advocate who, in great humility and love, served us all, including Bishop Gwinn and other officials. Together, we received each others’ mystery—the crucified and resurrected body. “If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts share its suffering.”
The whole world was watching, indeed is still watching. As we remember the broken body of Christ, the broken body of the church, and the broken bodies of all the marginalized, oppressed, and afflicted, we particularly call to mind our transgender family members as we observe Transgender Day of Remembrance, an occasion for re-membering the transgender saints whose bodies bear the wounds of oppression and violence.
Inspired by Rev. Schaefer, may we find new ways as pastors, prophets, advocates, and friends to affirm and embrace our transgender family members and one another.
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