(RNS) A deep divide within the United Methodist Church over how to minister to gays and lesbians has led a Washington, D.C. pastor to suggest the denomination should not wait until its 2016 General Conference to change its policies.

Bishops could call a special General Conference to address the policies that are splitting the church, said the Rev. Dean Snyder, senior pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church, a large and prestigious church near Dupont Circle, often visited by sitting presidents.

“Some of us believe this issue is critical enough to do that,” Snyder said in a telephone interview. “There’s more and more pressure from one side to enforce the rules and more and more pressure from the other side that thinks the rules are unjust and unloving.”

Frank Schaefer leads the congregation in singing “We Shall Overcome” during a Dec. 22 worship service at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington. A UMNS photo by Erik Alsgaard, Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference.

Frank Schaefer leads the congregation in singing “We Shall Overcome” during a Dec. 22 worship service at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington. A UMNS photo by Erik Alsgaard, Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference. Photo courtesy United Methodist News Service


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

On Sunday (Dec. 22), Snyder’s church welcomed Frank Schaefer, a former Lebanon, Pa., United Methodist minister, to his Washington congregation. Schaefer was found guilty last month of violating church law for performing a 2007 same-sex wedding of his son to another man. When he said he would refuse to quit performing additional same-sex weddings, church officials in Pennsylvania stripped him of his clergy credentials.

At least four clergy trials are possible in the near future for other Methodist pastors who have officiated at same-sex marriages.

Snyder, who has performed as many as a dozen same-sex weddings, but has not been prosecuted by the church, does not oppose using trials to enforce the church’s rulebook, the Book of Discipline.

“But these trials are about enforcing obedience to just some of the rules of the church,” he said. “That draconian effort to force obedience to selected rules leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths. Trials are counterproductive and we have to find other ways to negotiate our differences.”

The denomination, the nation’s second largest Protestant group, accepts gay and lesbian members, but its Book of Discipline calls the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” and bars clergy from performing same-sex unions.

Since he was defrocked, Schaefer has received an outpouring of support. Foundry invited him to join as a member and he gave the sermon there on Sunday.

In another sign of the growing rift, Bishop Minerva G. Carcano, based in Southern California, invited Schaefer to join the church’s California-Pacific Conference.

“We should stand with him and others who show such courage and faithfulness,” she said in a statement.

Schaefer told worshippers at Foundry that he and his family were considering Carcano’s invitation. Carcano said Schaefer’s former bishop, Peggy Johnson of Eastern Pennsylvania, supported her invitation.

Carcano said that only a board of ordained ministry could restore Schaefer’s clergy credentials. But, she said she can “welcome others to love and serve Christ Jesus among us.”

On Friday (Dec. 20), Bishop John Schol of the Greater New Jersey Area released a tearful video statement in which he called on the church to stop using church trials to decide questions of faith, and told gays and lesbians many people in the church support them.

“You are children of God, of sacred worth,” Schol said. “There are United Methodist churches that open their doors wide to you, and are ready to be in ministry with you and treat you just like every other member of their church.”

YS/LEM END GADOUA

12 Comments

  1. Yes the church should finally resolve if they are going to trust Gods created order for sexuality and marriage or not. Schaeffer did not and he was rightfully removed. Anyone else who does what he did should be removed en masse immediately. They can go and start a fake church.

  2. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The biased “news” coverage Bill observes as being very much in evidence here is also at tsunami level in most of the media. And like Bill I expected more unbiased news coverage from this site. How one can pretend to be presenting news when only people on one side of a controversy are quoted. The so-called “news” then becomes biased reporting.
    It is apparently the secularized media and addled academics who count for more than the Bible among some clergy who appear to have been corrupted by the “world, the flesh, and the devil.”

  3. The issue has been decisively resolved at every General Conference beginning in 1972. It was most recently brought to resolution and decided at the 2012 GC.

    As far as the vast majority of the denomination is concerned, the issue IS resolved.

      • As far as Jesus is concerned this issue is over. God made them male and female be fruitful and multiply. Affirmed and confirmed by Jesus. Its only selfish humanity that is confused.

  4. What does Rev. Snyder believe that a special General Conference will decide. The 2012 General Conference was the first one where a move to change the Social Principles failed to come out of the Church & Society B legislative committee and failed on the floor by a wider vote. Moves to change our ordination standards and chargeable offenses didn’t even come up for a vote. What would be different now?

  5. Ah, yes, the almighty “Book of Discipline.” Well, I imagine that it may well have once contained an endorsement of slavery or a condemnation of inter-racial marriage. Just because it’s in this book doesn’t mean it’s just or morally sound. If the UMC wants to stand by its anti-gay policy, so be it, but they should drop the “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” because the defrocking of Frank Schaefer is proof of the exact opposite.

  6. Here is the rub in what this pastor is saying all of these sudden well publicized “acts of rebellion” and calls for changes now…rather than the 2016 General Conference has more to do with the liberals in the UMC knowing full well they are losing the fight in the General Church at large….This coming General Conference will be even more conservative in its make up than the 2012 Conference where the Liberals and Gay lobby threw there embarrassing temper tantrum on the floor of Conference.

    In fact the 2020 GC will most likely be held in Nigeria which scares the Reconciling movement and the MFSA to death.

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