Discrimination and Hate Speech in the United Methodist Church

A pastor who was suspended for officiating at his son's same-sex marriage speaks out

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Schaefer Family / AP

The Rev. Frank Schaefer and his son Tim are seen in this Sept. 2013 family photo.

When I addressed the jurors at my trial by the United Methodist Church on Nov. 19, 2013, they had already found me guilty of violating church law by performing a same-sex wedding for my son Tim in 2007. The hearing that day was for the purpose of finding an appropriate penalty. In a moment of total honesty, I shared with the jury that I would continue to be an advocate of LGBT persons, and asked the Church to stop treating them as “second-class Christians.”

Here’s why: The United Methodist Church does welcome gay and lesbians to be a part of the church; they can become full members, they can serve on church councils and become involved in all aspects of a local church’s lay ministry. And that’s great, until we realize that they are not entitled to certain ministries and opportunities that are available for everybody else, such as having their marriage blessed by the church. “Practicing” gay and lesbian believers are also prohibited from becoming licensed and ordained pastors.

To refuse rights and ministry to a certain group of people that are otherwise offered to everybody else is obviously discriminatory.

But there is more: even worse than being refused certain blessings and opportunities, gay and lesbian believers who are in a same-gender relationship are also relegated to a special status of “sinner.” Para. 161 (F) of the Book of Discipline states: “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”

To homosexual believers, this feels as though their acts of love are regarded as sinful. Since “practice” is not defined by the church, we must assume that it includes sexual, romantic, and ceremonial aspects of a homosexual relationship. If what you understand to be an act of love is declared a sin by the Church, what does that do to your soul, your understanding of morality and salvation? It’s a terrible message that puts our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in inner conflict and turmoil.

Wikipedia defines hate speech as “speech perceived to disparage a person or group of people based on their social or ethnic group.” It may not be intentional, but calling homosexual practice “incompatible with Christian teachings” is a form of hate speech. What’s really incompatible with Christian teachings is discrimination and hate speech, and I will continue to speak out about it despite the disciplinary actions that have been taken against me.