To make my point, I want to insure that the original decision, and it’s intentions, are known. The original decision was a suspension of 30 days where Frank Schaefer’s credentials were suspended. The church court asked that in those 30 days he pray, and consider his position as a pastor in the UMC and whether or not he could continue as a pastor in the UMC while upholding the discipline. It was asked that after that time, he return to present an answer and if that answer was in the negative he voluntarily surrender his credentials as he was unable to uphold the discipline of the UMC. Upon Frank Schaefer’s decision that he could not uphold the discipline of the UMC and his refusal to voluntarily surrender his credentials, they were removed by the court in which he was heard. There is a lot to be said about how Frank Scheafer chose to handle himself before, during and after this process, but that is a different subject for a different time. I mention this only to dismiss his actions as not a part of the subject of this post.
The appeals committee over ruled the decision because of it was not in accordance with the BoD of the UMC and as such was an improper penalty according to the laws of the UMC. The decision can be found here. Upon my reading of the decision and my limited understanding of the rules of the UMC, I believe that this is the correct legal decision. I also think that while being the correct legal decision, it is the worst thing that could have been done. No, not because Frank Schaefer was reinstated as a pastor in the UMC. While I do have issues with that, it is a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. No, the problem is what the decision said…it said that we are broken. Badly.
The original ruling, I believe, was very good. It had aspects that are easily related to how God handles us, His children. First, there was discipline. Yes, God disciplines His children. He does not punish us for the sake of punishment, but He does discipline us to bring us back into accord with Him. The initial suspension and subsequent appeal for prayer and discernment by Frank Schaefer was an attempt at discipline to bring him back into the fold of the UMC under the BoD that we have as a guide and that pastors are to uphold. That was the hope and the intent. Secondly we have free will. God allows us to walk away from Him. This might best be illustrated in Jesus’ interaction with the rich young man who loved his things more than God. He was allowed to walk away. I have no doubt that our exercise of free will often pains God, but it is still our gift to use. Frank Shaefer was given this opportunity as well. The decision to continue on was his, contingent upon him upholding the BoD. Third there was a judgement. No, not condemnation as found in the oft misquoted and badly misunderstood Judge not verse, but a judgement made that it was in the best interests of the UMC that Frank Scheafer not be allowed to continue on as a pastor. This judgement was not to say that Frank Schaefer was not a Christian, it was not even to say he was unfit to be a pastor of another denomination, simply that it was in the best interests of the UMC he not continue to pastor in the UMC. We don’t like to think of it often, but judgement with discernment is a Godly thing and we are in fact called to do so in scripture regarding one another. This ruling had key aspects of how God deals with us. It had discipline to correct action, it had time for reflection and prayer and it had the opportunity and the hope of reconciliation. Those things were just found to not be in line with the BoD. We are broken. Badly.
The other thing that this ruling said is that we are cowardly. the rules and regulations needed to govern a church, or any organization really, are important. They are required for us to function as a whole and to move forward. We have apparently crafted our rules and regulations in such a way that there are so many loopholes and so much ambiguous language to hide behind, that a decision, crafted in an attempt of mimicking how God deals with us, can not be upheld. It says that a movement rooted in the Holy Spirit, propelled forward by common laity and steered by it’s pastors has been hijacked by bureaucrats and politicians. Please think this through. Please move past the issue that Frank Scheafer was on trial for and see the larger issue of what this says about us as a church. It says we are broken. Badly.
I also want to comment on how we, as Christians, are responding to this. I have spent some time reading the responses of my liberal and conservative brothers. Not, the usual suspects mind you, just the little people. I have seen many of my liberal brothers and sisters respond that grace and love have prevailed in this decision. I am sad to report that they are mistaken. I have seen some of my conservative brothers saying that all that needs done is to defrock people right off the bat so this is a win for them. I am sad to report that they are mistaken. What has won here is our brokenness. Not love, not grace, not liberal, not conservatives, not the middle, and certainly not God and Christ. Our brokenness has gotten the better of us. Us, as individual Christians, as a denomination and as the world wide body of believers need to realize this and change it. We are broken. Badly.