Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
June 24th, 2014 by Joel Watts

What did the Committee really say in the #Schaefer decision? #UMC #UMCschism

English: Charles Wesley

“I…I… Dang, that is the smack down” – Charles Wesley

There is a key line in the ruling issues today, re-frocking Frank Schaefer.

The penalty the Trial Court imposed on Rev. Schaefer is unlawful for the additional and independent reason that revoking his credentials cannot be squared with the well-established principle that our clergy can only be punished for what they have been convicted of doing in the past, not for what they may or may not do in the future.

 

The entirety of the case rests on the penalty Schaefer initially received:

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.

During these 30 days, Rev. Schaefer must take the opportunity to discern his
newly discovered calling for the LGBT community. 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.

The District Superintendent of record shall monitor the progress. Rev. Frank Schaefer will provide a written report to and interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry within 30 days regarding his call and his willingness to uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety.

The initial penalty involved something out of the bounds of the Book of Discipline, and included something only used in Minority Report, the ability to tell the future. The committee referred to ¶2711.3:

3. Penalties—If the Trial Results in Conviction. Further testimony may be heard and arguments by counsel presented regarding what the penalty should be. The trial court shall determine the penalty, which shall require a vote of at least seven members. The trial court shall have the power to remove the respondent from professing membership, terminate the conference membership and/or revoke the credentials of ordination or consecration of the respondent, suspend the respondent from the exercise of the functions of office, or to fix a lesser penalty. The penalty fixed by the trial court shall take effect immediately unless otherwise indicated by the trial court.

Basically it’s like this, had the initial court simply defrocked Schaefer, they would have been in better legal standing. After all, they would have then fulfilled the tightly construed penalties prescribed in the Book of Discipline. But, in giving the 30 day penalty and then defrocking because of a possible future violation, they themselves violated the Book of Discipline.

The key word there is “or.”  You can either fix the lesser penalty (the 30 days suspension) or you can de-frock. You can’t do both. Further, you cannot charge a penalty before a crime is committed.

In a private conversation I have permission to make public, Kevin Carnahan suggested that to have had this de-frocking case stick, you would need to change the discipline to make “a stated disposition to violate the Discipline” a chargeable offense to make this carry legal weight. I don’t think anyone wants to see that happen.

While people are already crying “Let’s leave,” essentially, the de-frocking side has won. You can de-frock ministers for performing gay marriages, if you only de-frock them when they are found guilty. Further, the Book of Discipline has been upheld and justice carried.


Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

10 Responses to “What did the Committee really say in the #Schaefer decision? #UMC #UMCschism”
  1. It depends on what we view the definition of the word “or” as and how it is functioning. Is it given to suggest what powers the trial court shall have or is it to restrict options the trial court can take? In other words, does the ‘or’ function to adjoin a second power that differs from membership/ordination status, or is it mean to say that if you do one, you can not do the other? The semantics of conjunction or restriction, both of which are possible by the word ‘or.’

    If the ‘or’ is seen in a restrictive sense, then the interpretation provided is correct. However, if the ‘or’ is seen as conjunctive, then it is possible to see the original decision to defrock Schaeffer is consistent with the powers they have been given, and that his personal testimony about obeying the Discipline operates much like how the penitence of a criminal may be taken into consideration about what punishment may be offered. The only difference is that the sentencing has been extended, out of a desire to give mercy and a chance for change.

    This decision is very unfortunate, because it means that trial courts can not offer some grounds for repentance and change while still keeping the option of defrockment as a possibility. Courts must either give a light sentence OR take away credentials; this means there is a lack of flexibility in the decisions of trial courts and that is not a good thing, at all.

  2. From my limited understanding, the only thing I think is important is the statement, “The wedding was a small, private affair held in a restaurant in Massachusetts, a jurisdiction where same sex marriage was legal.”
    Being a pastor is a job. No offense, but what I do on my own time is my business, not my employer’s business.

    Luke 11:46 And he said, Woe unto you lawyers also! for ye load men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.

  3. And it was reported by the son of a former employee who was fired.

  4. It seems to me to be restrictive. Its like there is a choice of a major penalty or a minor penalty but not both.

  5. However, the range of penalties for the lesser penalties could be very expansive. Fines, community service, restricting his duties, the list can go on and on.

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