It’s All Over But The Whining II: The Schaefering
Two weeks ago to the day I wrote that the matter of how we United Methodists minister to and with sexual minorities was all over except for some formal work. With the news this morning that Rev. Frank Schaefer will retain his orders, despite having performed the wedding of his son and his son’s now husband, I am more convinced than ever that formal, legal change within the United Methodist Church will come; I am more convinced than ever that “the facts on the ground” – there is no longer any penalty to be paid for violating the Book of Discipline when it concerns ministry to and with gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, queers, and other sexual minorities – make it clear that, from the Council of Bishops through the Judicial Council to local districts and churches, the decision has been made.
The next question is: What does this mean for the future of the United Methodist Church? I do not believe “schism” will happen. Oh, a few churches and clergypersons might leave, although the local churches might find the matter of the Trust Clause a bit of a sticky wicket. For the most part, the forces of our reactionary status quo will bemoan our slide in to heresy and apostasy while most the rest of us celebrate then continue to do the work we’re called to do. One important matter that I think has not received enough attention – who likes to talk about money, right? – is the whole question of what happens to giving should we legally change our stance and allow sexual minorities full participation in the life of the church? Right now, there is a bit of a crisis of giving across the denomination. I haven’t heard anyone say it out loud, but I’m quite sure someone somewhere is blaming our liberalizing our relationships to LGBTQs is posited as at least part of the cause.
Whether it’s schism talk, or giving, one thing no one seems to have said is that neither church membership, membership in the clergy, a church’s participation in the connectional life of the United Methodist Church, nor even the future of the denomination are zero-sum games. While we might lose some, we might very well gain more – in terms of members, in terms of attendance, giving, participation in ministries at the local, conference, and general church levels. There are still plenty of churches willing to discriminate and insist that sexual minorities are horrible people who have to become straight in order to get in to heaven, although trends suggest their numbers are shrinking at roughly the same rate as the old mainline churches. By opening our churches to everyone in all parts of the church’s life and ministries, we will at least be able to offer ministries with integrity to all persons.
As I noted on Facebook, I am quite sure no one is happier than Rev. Schaefer that this ordeal – which all began years after the actual event occurred – is finally over and he can continue his ministry without any cloud hanging over his head. I am a bit worried about the celebrity status he’s achieved, for our church already has a few too many of those while ignoring the hard, and blessed, and holy work of so many unknown faces and names, both clergy and lay, around the world. Still, this affirmation of Schaefer’s ministry is yet more proof that, for all intents and purposes, the United Methodist Church is finally and truly the Church of Jesus Christ for all persons. Thanks be to God.