Friday, November 22, 2013

Frank Schaefer's trial and the crux of the UMC same-sex divide

 CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this blog I stated that the Transforming Congregation Movement believes "in the kind of 'reparative therapy' recently recanted by Exodus International (and rejected decades ago by mainstream psychiatric medicine)."

Rev. Karen Booth of the Transforming Congregation Movement corrects my statement in a comment below. She states that the organization has disavowed reparative therapy because it is Freudian and not Christian-based.

My statement was based on my interpretation of an article Rev. Booth wrote entitled "Transformation Is Still Possible: The Closure of Exodus International."   Rev. Booth's article says the Transforming Congregation Movement believes in "a more strenuous and lengthy process involving various counseling approaches and spiritual disciplines to foster emotional and spiritual growth and healing."

I encourage everyone to read Rev. Booth's essay for clarity on the position of the Transforming Congregation Movement.
a more strenuous and lengthy process involving various counseling approaches and spiritual disciplines to foster emotional and spiritual growth and healing. - See more at:

I apologize for any misunderstanding I may have communicated.

For many years, Transforming Congregations was an Exodus affiliate member and even merged with Exodus at one point. Within the last several years, however, there has been a dramatic shift in the theological and ministerial perspective at Exodus. - See more at:

Pastor Frank Schaefer and his son Tim.
During the trial of Pastor Frank Schaefer, my friend Rev. Bob Coombe --his clergy counsel -- made the point over and over again that Frank presiding at his son's wedding was the expression of a father's love for his son. 

The prosecutor Rev. Christopher Fisher had a drum he consistently beat as well. His mantra: There is a rule against United Methodist pastors doing same-sex weddings; Schaefer broke the rule; he will not promise not to break it again; ergo he cannot remain a United Methodist pastor. 

Only once during the trial did Fisher leave his main point. It was during his closing argument in the verdict portion of the trial. 

Fisher seemed irritated by my friend Bob's emphasis on a father's love for his son. He had to set us straight. He spoke rapidly so it was hard to take notes and we have no transcript of the trial yet, but I thought his message was clear. It is not loving, he argued, for a father to endorse his son's "disordered" sexuality by doing his same-sex wedding. He seemed piqued that we couldn't understand this. He repeated the word "disordered" at least 5 or 6 times, maybe more.

Fisher said that all sexuality is disordered  unless it is redeemed by Christ. He said his own sexuality before he became a Christian had been disordered. "I know what it is to be dead. I know what it is to be redeemed by the savior," he said.

Rev. Christopher Fisher
Increasingly more and more United Methodist pastors of various theological stripes are saying they do not want to communicate hate but want to be in loving ministry with LGBTQ people. The big question is what loving ministry means.

For Fisher, loving ministry with LGBTQ persons means changing or suppressing their "disordered" sexual behavior.

Sitting at the prosecution table with Fisher was Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, vice-president and general manager of the Good News Movement. Good News and the Transforming Congregation Movement recently merged, according to an article by Rev. Karen Booth in Good News Magazine.The Transforming Congregations Movement was the unofficial organization of United Methodists who believe that persons who experience same-sex attractions are "sexually broken."

In an editorial in Good News Magazine entitled "What Does Love Require?" Robert Renfroe, executive director of Good News, articulates the viewpoint that Fisher tried to get us to grasp at the trial. He is responding to an essay by Rev. Sandy Brown, pastor of First UMC of Seattle. Renfroe writes:
For example, the word “love.” Brown uses the word 18 times in his article and along with “listening,” he states that love should be the determining factor in how we think about homosexuality. But he never defines “love.”
We must love our neighbors, Brown rightly contends, but he never defines what it means to love another person. The closest he gets is that love requires us to be in “an attitude of compassionate service” to those around us. But that simply begs the question, “What does it mean to serve someone?” “What does it mean to love?”
I facilitate a course at our church titled “How to Love and Help Your Adult Child.” Parents attend who have children who are alcoholic, guilty of criminal behavior, and/or repeating bad decisions regarding their love life. And every parent who attends, no matter how much pain he or she has experienced, still loves his or her child.
But the question becomes: “What does it mean to love a child who is making poor decisions?” Some want to give the child money and shelter so he or she will be safe. They’re certain that’s what love would do. Others feel they must let the child live with the consequences of his or her choices, even if it means living on the streets. These parents believe that’s the loving thing to do. Both sets of parents love their child, but they disagree about what love requires.
I think in some ways that’s where the church is.
Does loving others mean that we must celebrate their lifestyle? Does serving another person mean we must accept and support every choice he or she makes?
For Fisher and Good News, same-sex love is a "poor decision" and loving ministry means getting gay and lesbian people to stop loving someone of the same gender.

Along with mainstream medicine and a growing majority of Americans, some of us believe that traditional western negative attitudes toward gay and lesbian persons were simply wrong. Same-sex attraction is not disordered for those who are gay and lesbian. A loving committed relationship with someone of the same gender is healthy for those who are gay and lesbian..

The idea that homosexuality is a disorder or perversion (excuse me for using such ugly words) is a prejudice. The American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a disorder in 1973 and the American Psychological Association followed suit in 1975.  Thinking gay and lesbian people are disordered is a prejudice that may have worked itself into a few verses of the Bible like some other prejudices have, but it is still a prejudice.

The American Psychological Association says:
Since 1975, the American Psychological Association has called on psychologists to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with lesbian, gay and bisexual orientations. The discipline of psychology is concerned with the well-being of people and groups and therefore with threats to that well-being. The prejudice and discrimination that people who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual regularly experience have been shown to have negative psychological effects.

For those of us who are convinced by contemporary medical thinking, loving ministry with LGBTQ people means listening, accepting, supporting gay Christians as they work out how traditional Christian teaching about relationship applies to the lives of gay and lesbian Christians, and celebrating same-sex loving, committed relationships.

Admittedly, the belief that same-sex affection is disordered  is not the entirety of the reason good pastors like Frank Schaefer are being tried and exited. Some United Methodists are just very literal about the inviolability of a rule no matter the context, circumstance, or even the existence of conflicting rules. Others who help facilitate the trials, like bishops, may think they are fulfilling their obligation as a bishop or they are afraid of their authority being threatened.  

Nonetheless, the two different meanings of loving ministry is the crux of the current divide between United Methodists. Either we agree with Rev. Christopher Fisher that loving committed relationships between gay persons are disordered and loving ministry means helping them live straight or celibate lives. 

Or else we agree with the overwhelming majority of psychological and psychiatric medicinal professionals and our own experience that lesbian and gay persons are just as capable of mature loving relationships as straight people are. 

We have learned to transcend our prejudices before. Jewish persons are not Christ-killers. Persons with epilepsy are not demon possessed. Self-affirming women are not witches. People who use wheel chairs are not too lacking in faith to be healed. 

Listen, we need to understand that we can't have it both ways. We can't find a good pastor like Frank Schaefer guilty and still claim we accept our LGBTQ members and neighbors. 


  1. Hi Dean. Just recently I have heard that the AMA has declassified pedophilia as a disorder. If this is so, it lends serious doubts to the infallibilty of modern medicine.

    I use that word deliberately. I think you do need to show why you place the amount of authority you do on modern medicine.

  2. Ryan, I am amazed you would state such a thing based on gossip. Bearing false witness is a biggie.

    1. Wow,that was over defensive.

      I see the APA said it was a mistake and they recorrected it.

      Still, I fail to see why you seem to place so much authority on them.

    2. If people like Fisher and "Good News" (now there's a contradiction) uses the word "disorder" surely they are referring to some medical or psychiatric sense or they would have used "sinful". So, medical and psychiatric authority must be used to point out that "disorder" is an inappropriate term in the discussion. Dah !!!

    3. Dennis, to a point I agree with you. This is actually my point - why, when this is a church issue, and a theological issue within the church, are secular words and secular definitions being used as some kind of authority in what is a theological debate?

      The United Methodist has a theological conviction on this matter; Dean's conviction is different. Fair and well. But according to what I read here in this post, I have good reason to think that Dean's theological position isn't so much about careful study of the Bible and tradition as much as looking at what the APA and the American people think.

      "Along with mainstream medicine and a growing majority of Americans, some of us believe that traditional western negative attitudes toward gay and lesbian persons were simply wrong. Same-sex attraction is not disordered for those who are gay and lesbian. A loving committed relationship with someone of the same gender is healthy for those who are gay and lesbian."

      You see, for me, this quote above is perplexing given the context of this discussion - a church matter, a theological matter, and a relational matter within the church. What the APA thinks and what the American people think has nothing to do with a theological matter. So I am asking Dean the question: Why, as one with a pastoral calling, does he place so much authority on the the APA?

      What Fisher has to say is equally as perplexing because, as you say, these are medical terms, not Bible ones.

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  4. Thanks for reading and responding. Medicine is a gift to us from God and a part of theological discernment. It is a major part of the aspect of theological discernment we call reason. It is not infallible but it is instructive. This blog posting is not a full-blown theological discussion of same-sex love. But no theological discussion can ignore medicine, science, and philosophy. Certainly no Wesleyan theological discussion can. Study of the Bible cannot be done in isolation from the full body of all human learning.

    1. Thanks Dean,

      Fair enough and you make a good point. However, medical science cannot make moral declarations. It then ceases to be medical science. For example, discovering that AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease isn't, by itself, a moral statement, it simply is a fact. That's science.

      I think you would agree. But my point is that the APA's decision makes no difference to me as to how I view things morally, because the APA is in no position to decide on morality, only on cause and effect. I don't believe that Wesley's quadrilateral means that morality changes depending on medical science, but it might effect how we approach medical science being applied. For example, smoking has been proven to give people cancer, so we therefore encourage people not to smoke. Wesley himself smoked tobacco in his early years (I don't know about his latter). However, we cannot make smoking into a moral issue, because it's simply nowhere in the Bible.

      Wesley's quadrilateral also includes tradition and scripture, as well as reason and experience. Tradition is obviously not in your favour here, and I find the idea that throughout all these years people have been reading the Bible wrong a pretty chronocentric idea.

      My experience has been different to yours as well. I've seen that when pastors have encouraged people to continue to be gay, it has had disastrous consequences on the well-being of that person. I also see pastoral implications where children won't know if they are male, female or gay, until a certain undefined age when they suddenly feel attracted to either same-sex or opposite sex. But that is highly subjective and it can be influenced.

      For example, a lesbian couple's daughter once moaned about how the boys weren't interested in her, and one of her moms suggested she 'try the girls' and 'see' if maybe she prefers them. That doesn't line up with the idea that you are born one or the other, and flies in the face of that entire argument. (This is a true story - I read it at a LGBT site, where her advice was deemed as encouraging and good.)

      I'm also reminded of a particular TV show where a woman decided she would be lesbian for a few weeks to see what it was like. There was particular emphasis on how she can make her own decisions and is in control of her life. Her choices were praised. While this is a TV show, it's reflective of society - while everyone says from the one side that we are 'born with it', from the other side they say, "But you can't know until you try." While people say, "They have no choice" they also praise people when they do make choices - if those choices go against what is generally accepted. The praise is on being a rebel, pretty much.

      The added confusion here - especially for teenagers - makes me come to the reasonable conclusion that this could not have been God's design. My reasonable conclusion, given what I read and from tradition (and we can only make a reasonable conclusion last, after seeing everything else) is to say that this is pretty much like any other sin - we all have a sinful nature, and we all fight against it, and we all trust God to make us wholly sanctified.


    2. It seems odd to me that if a man is born with a disability - be it a physical or mental one - and yet rises above that disability, we all praise him for defeating the odds. However, when it comes to this one issue, we chide anyone who encourages people to rise above it and we even chide those that do. I've often told people about stories of gay people I know who are no longer gay - who live as heterosexuals - and I find, more often than not, people are very judgemental of those people. Apply the pro-gay theology over that, and then it means that those gay but no longer gay people have gone against their nature, and are in sin! Because they were born gay, and have decided not to be! This boggles my mind and it means that every person in the past who 'went against their nature' - all throughout Christian history (and there were no doubt many) were actually sinning!

      This is another reason why the pro-gay theology, for me, is unreasonable and cannot be applied with any real consistency.

      As you can see, I've arrived to different conclusions using Wesley's quadrilateral. Does this mean I am against gay marriage? Well, let the State protect its people - if they want to marry, then let them, otherwise that is discrimination. The church is a secular organisation. Should the church marry them? No, I believe the church shouldn't, for theological reasons and those I mentioned above.

      Thanks for responding and engaging and letting me post my thoughts. Appreciate that :)

    3. Lastly, remember that for Wesley, the primary source of authority was Scripture.

  5. Best wishes, Ryan, as you study and pray about this. I find LGBTQ persons to be no less healthy than straight families and no less capable of having loving and committed marriages and thriving families. Try hanging out in a church with a strong presence of LGBTQ folk rather than websites. Thanks for engaging. The Spirit will move where it will.

  6. I want to clarify Dean's statements about Transforming Congregations because they are not accurate. Shortly after I assumed the role of Director of Transforming Congregations, the ministry stopped endorsing reparative therapy, which is a secular approach to orientation change that is based mostly on Freudian theory. From a bliblical perspective (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), we still affirm that transformation of sexual behavior and varying degrees of sexual and romantic desire are possible through submission to Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. There's a difference.

    Also, I think that Chris Fisher's use of "disordered" was theological and not psychological in nature, similar to the way that the Catholic Church understands homosexuality. In other words, God ordered sex and marriage in a certain way at creation (Genesis 1 and 2) -- as being a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman, also referred to as the one-flesh union. As a result of the Fall, any other sexual expression is therefore "disordered." Many on this thread probably won't agree with that, but that's what he was getting at.

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  8. So just to be clear, Rev. Booth's organization, Transforming Congregations doesn't endorse "reparative therapy" because it's Freudian based, instead, Transforming Congregations relies on the "Pray the Gay Away" approach. Forgive me, Rev. Booth @kbooth2013, but I don't see how this is any better. In fact, it almost seems worse than a psychoanalytical approach, because you're using people's faith against them, to make them think that there is something inherently wrong with how God created them. That's very sad. I hope the people you're trying to help are eventually able to able accept who they are without judgment.

    Regarding the concept of all sexuality outside of a heterosexual marriage being disordered, I think that anti-equality advocates are applying that concept in a spurious and hateful way. If the concept were applied equally, across the board, then the UMC should be persecuting masterbaters and non-celibate single people. Thank god we've yet to see that happen! People have sex, with themselves, with other people. Get over it. This view associating sex with "disorder" is very unhealthy and damaging to people. I'm sorry that in 2013, it's still being promoted.

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