A disappointment --actually, I admit, a resentment-- is that the prosecutor was repeatedly referred to by the bishop who served as judge and others as "The Church." I understand that his official title is "counsel for the church," and that he was appointed by the resident bishop to "represent the interests of the church." (Para 2701.2.b) But he was referred to repeatedly as "The Church" as though he were the only one in the room who was church.
The whole trial was about who would be treated as fully included in the church. Then during the trial there is only one person who is actually called "The Church," and his job was to argue that someone who had ministered to his gay son and who refused to say he would not minister to other gay and lesbian folk in the future be removed from the church.
All of us in the room were, of course, the church. But the prosecutor was the only one who was named out loud as "The Church." I understand this this imitates civil courts and is just a technicality, but I wonder if you can understand why this felt uncomfortable and I struggled with feelings of resentment?
Another disappointment concerns the testimony of Professor Thomas Frank who wrote the text book on United Methodist polity. His testimony was clear and honest and true. "We are a big tent," he said. "What results is a book that is itself quite diverse in its points of view."
He argued that the Book of Discipline is not a set of laws that are consistent and coherent but instead laws that sometimes conflict and are not consistent. He suggested that we make a mistake if we pick a verse out of the Book of Discipline and treat it as absolute. We should honor the complexity of the book and not be Disciplinary fundamentalists (my word, not his).
The disappointing part was that you got the sense that his teaching, which made so much sense, was floating right over the heads of some of those in the room and on the jury. The prosecution's argument was that there is a law, Frank broke it and will not promise not to break it again, so the consequence should be self-evident.
The same thing happened with Janet Wolf's testimony concerning the difference between retributive and restorative justice. "In restorative justice we listen to all of the stories, not just a law that has been broken," she said. In answer to a question from the prosecutor, she added: "Repentance is the repentance of all folk who have contributed to the harm in the community."
Professor Wolf showed how the Book of Discipline supports and advocates restorative justice rather than retributive justice over and over again. Obviously what she said flew right over the heads of the majority of the jury.
In short, I am feeling as if the trial was a victory for simplistic thinking. Wesley, if you read him, was a complex and profound thinker. Methodism has not been a movement based on simplistic thinking. The verdict in this trial was based on simplistic thinking.
Let me paraphrase the simplistic argument that won the day:There is a law on the books. We will not consider its context or other conflicting laws. The only question is whether Frank Schaefer broke this particular law and whether he will or will not promise not to do what he did again. If he will not promise not to break this one law again, he is the guilty one and he must be subjected to the maximum consequences.
I like clarity. I do not like pseudo-clarity. I like simplicity. I do not like simplistic thinking.
According to the lingo of the trial, "The Church" won. Really, it is clear to me that the church lost this trial ... but only for a moment.
Pastor Schaefer and Steve Heiss who faces a trial in Upper New York serve Communion following sentencing