Whether or not you're a Methodist or even a Christian, chances are if you are part of, or a supporter of, the LGBTQ community, the name Rev. Frank Schaefer has made it onto your radar sometime in the past few weeks. The former pastor of Zion United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania spoke on Sun., Jan. 12, to a packed congregation at one of the most LGBTQ-supportive churches in Los Angeles, Hollywood United Methodist.
Rev. Frank Schaefer has garnered national attention after being defrocked by the United Methodist Church in late 2013 after he was reported for performing the 2007 wedding ceremony of his son to his same-sex partner. Same-sex marriages are a violation of the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline, and it landed Rev. Schaefer a 30-day suspension, followed by a two-day trial in which he was found guilty. It was intimated if Rev. Schaefer apologized and reiterated his commitment to upholding the Book of Discipline, his sentence would likely be more lenient; however, in a tremendous showing of support not only for his gay son, but for the LGBTQ community at large, Rev. Schaefer, stating he was prompted by the Holy Spirit to "not back down," refused to do so and was therefore defrocked by the Board of Ordained Ministry on Dec. 19, 2013.
During his 30-min. sermon at HUMC on Sunday - aptly titled "Compassion Trumps Doctrine, says Jesus" - that was peppered with applause and more than a few tears, Rev. Schaefer spoke of receiving a call from Minerva Carcaño, Bishop in Residence for the California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church, after his sentence was handed down.
"The church had rejected me, that's how I felt. After giving 20 years of service to the church, I was defacto excommunicated. Then just a day later, Bishop Minerva called me on the phone. I'd never talked to her before. I never even knew about her, actually, and she welcomed me back into the United Methodist Church. I not only thanked her, but when I hung up, I thanked God, because that was a momentous occasion."
Bishop Carcaño, who was also present at yesterday's service and an openly-vocal supporter of the LGBTQ community, invited Rev. Schaefer to join the California-Pacific Conference, a regional body of the UMC made up of 400 churches throughout Southern California, part of Central California, the Pacific Region, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.
In a statement on the Cal-Pac website on Dec. 21, 2013, Bishop Carcano acknowledged she lacked the power to reinstate Rev. Schaefer's credentials; however, she went on to say, "what I can do, however, is invite and welcome others to love and serve Christ Jesus among us, accompany those who choose to be faithful, and exhort us all to be biblically obedient. This I will do for as long as God gives me breath. Frank Schaefer chose to stand with Jesus as he extended love and care to his gay son and his partner. We should stand with him and others who show such courage and faithfulness.”
Rev. Kathy Cooper-Ledesma, Senior Pastor at HUMC, also shared her support. "Hollywood United Methodist Church is honored to welcome the Rev. Frank Schaefer to the pulpit this Sunday. As a welcoming, inclusive community of faith, we share his commitment to loving all God's children, without exception. For over 40 years, the denomination has offered preferential grace to those of us who are straight. It's time for that hurtful stance to end.”
The United Methodist Church has been sharply divided over LGBTQ inclusion in the church, and Rev. Frank Schaefer's defrocking and the subsequent invitation from Bishop Minerva seems to indicate the gap is not closing anytime soon.
Rev. Schaefer painfully shared how the UMC's discrimination left him torn, and even knowing he might face consequences, he could not deny his son's request to perform his wedding.
"The message my son had received growing up from the United Methodist Church, the church he grew up in, was that you are not normal. You are a freak. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. We cannot perform a wedding for you and your loved one in our church. You cannot be ordained here because there is something fundamentally wrong with you, and that message drove my son into depression and to the brink of suicide."
With tears in his eyes, Rev. Schaefer went on. "So six years ago, when my son came to me and said, 'dad, will you do the wedding for me,' there was no way in hell that I would have said no to my son."
He spoke openly of his conflict with those who profess their so-called "Christian" knowledge of homosexuality.
"When people who talk of homosexuality being a sin, you know what they're doing? In reality, they're criticizing God. They're criticizing the creator for making these beautiful people, and I can imagine God right now being pretty upset with these people, telling them, 'don't condemn my beautiful, beloved children I have created in my own image. If you have something to say about my beautiful, beloved children, take it up with me.'"
See the video in left sidebar for Rev. Schaefer's sermon in its entirety.
Hollywood United Methodist Church Associate Pastor Rev. David Stambaugh has himself officiated a number of gay marriages in California and shared photos of two of the weddings with Examiner (see slideshow). As the issues with Rev. Schaefer have garnered more and more attention, especially on social media, Rev. Stambaugh has made a point to add the hashtag #IStandWithPastorFrank along with a photo himself performing a gay wedding whenever possible.
When Examiner asked Rev. Stambaugh if he fears discipline from the UMC, he staunchly replied "while yes, I could get in trouble for performing same-gender weddings, I feel it's an important issue and one the UMC is wrong about. I feel it's well worth the risk to make a statement of full inclusion for LGBT folks, and I think performing these weddings says to gay couples 'you deserve and are entitled to the same ministry from your pastor as straight couples.'"
Rev. Rene Ledesma, husband of Rev. Kathy Cooper-Ledesma, is himself a retired pastor of 43 years, and when Examiner asked his feelings on the issue, he had no hesitation in sharing his disdain for the UMC's stance.
"The UMC, like many 'Christian' churches, are using tenants instituted in the Dark Ages to keep children of God they don't like away from them. From the beginning of our nation, segregationist doctrines ruled the evolving cultures, and some groups are still being led by those wrong choices. The General Conference declared 'homosexuality is incompatible with scripture,' and our Bishop Minerva is taking these verdicts head on, declaring the rules of our church are wrong and that the gospel of Jesus Christ is what we in the California-Pacific Conference and United Methodists in California will obey."
While it's unclear what his appointment would be should he accept Bishop Carcaño's invitation and relocate to California, Rev. Schaefer made it clear he will continue his support of the LGBTQ community. He also made that declaration to his jurors, who are pastors themselves, on the day of his defrocking.
"I told the jurors I can no longer go back to being a silent supporter, and I will now be an advocate, an activist, speaking for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the church and beyond."
Follow Rene' Thurston on Twitter @LGBTQ_Reporter