Is There a Doctor in the House?Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 12:25 am
The body is sick, friends. Sick and tired. For over 40 years, our beloved United Methodist Church has suffered with an illness called bigotry and homophobia. Not even the doctors (of the Church) and our Episcopal leaders can seem to heal us our institutional maladies.
Today began the “church trial” – two words that should never be seen together – of Rev. Frank Schaefer at Camp Innabah near Pottstown, PA. It’s a lovely camp and retreat center and I’m certain some great young people grew in faith and love at this hallowed place over the years. Some of them may have even come to recognize their own sexual orientation or gender identity in these rolling hills.
For many faithful United Methodists, however, Innabah has become synonymous with being a triage unit for a church with a gaping wound. For years I have seen my friends and colleagues leave The United Methodist Church in droves because of the denomination’s stance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. The very community which nurtured and called them into ministry has become their adversary in ministry, and so they find other places to live out their call: Metropolitan Community Church, United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, even some progressive American Baptist Churches. Our loss has been their gain.
Rev. Frank Schaefer testified today that “he was like the Samaritan on the road and he couldn’t cross to the other side like the Levite and Priest.” Frank was willing to bandage the wounds of those, like his son Tim, who had learned that being gay was not to be affirmed, especially in the Church. And what was the balm given to him to share with the world? Two guilty verdicts – one for officiating at his son’s wedding to another man, another for knowingly violating the part of the Book of Discipline which prohibits such pastoral care.
That wasn’t the only harm inflicted today, however. Sitting amongst the 100 or so of “the public” who were “allowed” to view the proceedings, I listened to Counsel for the Church, Rev. Christopher Fisher, finish his closing argument by condemning Frank Schaefer by stating that a loving father would never condone a son’s sexual orientation and love of another man, “supported” by a reading from the Book of Jude, recalling the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Queer United Methodists were visibly shaken. In solidarity, Sue Laurie and I stood to show them they weren’t alone and to make a visible witness that this was unacceptable. As we stood, over 100 other stood with us, and for just a moment, the triage ward became a place of healing.
I know tomorrow will likely be a long day as the “penalty phase” begins– one of bandages, salves, and temperature taking. I pray for the members of the trial court who feel this is their sacred duty; I pray for the Presiding Bishop, Al Gwinn, that he does not allow for harmful language to be spoken by witnesses and counsel; and I pray for a world that is watching to decide if they want to hear good news from the lips of The United Methodist Church or to seek healing and hope elsewhere, like so many of my friends and colleagues have been forced to do.
Good physicians know the first rule of medicine is always this: Do No Harm. Today’s events have proven this -the body is sick, friends. Only Christ’s healing can bring the comfort we truly need.
Chett Pritchett is Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. He is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and Wesley Theological Seminary, and is a member at Dumbarton UMC in Washington, DC.