from “Anthem”, by Leonard Cohen

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Dark Day in UMC History

Today, the majority of a Board of Ordained Ministry in a United Methodist Conference voted against the heart of the Gospel, saying they had no choice but to do so.

Today Frank Schaefer received the harshest possible punishment available from the church, simply because he stood up for his own child.

Today, the UMC won a significant victory against people who, though harming no one and having no choice in the matter, are not heterosexual.

Today, our church officially ignored the salient and important insight that in 
every single verse where the Bible refers to homosexuality, 
the writers who wrote those verses were saying that 
since ALL human beings are             
totally and completely heterosexual,             
they should not be having sex with
with other human beings who were
totally and completely heterosexual.

(In that context, few of us would disagree with the Bible's view - that two people should not have sexual relationships if neither is attracted to the other.

HOWEVER, in our own time, we have come to realize that our sexual orientation can be other than hetero - a truth unknown to Bible writers.

THEREFORE – the Bible says absolutely nothing– has no specific advice - zero – about sexual morality as it pertains to people 
who do not have a heterosexual orientation.

 - - - - - - -
In 1836, the General Conference of the Methodist Church voted the following Resolution, almost unanimously:
"Resolved, by the delegates of the Annual Conference in General Conference assembled, That they are decidedly opposed to modern abolitionism, and wholly disclaim any right, wish, or intention, to interfere in the civil and political relation between master and slave, as it in the slave holding States of this Union."

A few years ago the General Conference of the United Methodist Church proclaimed an Act of Repentance on behalf of those who had harbored and encouraged racism.

That act of repentance included language in which we (white people) acknowledged the ways in which the BIBLE was used WRONGLY 
against BLACK FOLK.

Our church had a similar act of repentance for WOMEN.

And, most recently for NATIVE PEOPLES.

How long will it be before we offer the same service of repentance
for all we have done against GAY folk?

All of which begs Bob Dylan’s perennial question -

How many years can some people exist

Before they're allowed to be free?

Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head,

Pretending he just doesn't see?

How many times must a man look up

Before he can see the sky?

Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have

Before he can hear people cry?

Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows

that too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
the answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Today has been a terrible day in the history of a 
communion of people who should know better.

Jesus weeps.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Galileo, Sunspots, and Theologians of the Time

Florence, Italy 1613  
400 Novembers ago, exactly.


Galileo had published his remarkable book,
Letters on the Solar Spots
after which, at the speed of horse and printing press,
his scientific conclusions went viral all over Europe.

In his book, Galileo described the precise and careful method by which he had observed, over the course of several months, mysterious dark blotches appearing on the surface of the sun.

He described how each “sun spot” seemed to traverse the surface of the sun, disappear over its right “edge”, and then a few days later, reappear on the left side of the sun’s face.

The pattern repeated itself about every 28 days.

He concluded that the movement of sunspots indicated that the sun, just like the earth, rotated.

It was a dramatic confirmation of his cosmology.

After publishing his observations in the summer of ‘13, Galileo was well on his way to becoming a rock star.

Holy Church was not amused.

Storm clouds of ecclesiastical discontent and disapproval quickly gathered around Galileo and, by late autumn, Church’s self righteous rage thundered angrily against him.

It began with a sermon delivered by Niccolò Lorini, 400 years ago this month.
It was an excoriating assault against Galileo.

Lorini was a member of the Dominican Order.

In that era, the Dominicans considered themselves zealous for the work of rooting out heresy in the name of Jesus.

No known copies of Lorini’s sermon survive, but witnesses remember it as a long, damning harangue against the person and work of Galileo.

Ironically, it was preached on All Soul’s Day as part of the celebration when the church’s martyrs were honored !

In Church’s view, Galileo advocated an astronomical orientation which was incompatible with Christian teaching.

Imagining that the Bible’s integrity was at risk and believing that Galileo’s “private astrological conclusions” were a threat to the Church’s order, charges were brought against him.

Church posted warnings, advising that . . .

publicly advocates that

God created sunspots or that
sunspots are a normal and natural phenomenon or that
belief in sunspots does not contradict Christian teaching,

Among the princes of Church in those days, one Christoph Scheiner, a conservative Jesuit priest, was especially infuriated that Galileo had published his discoveries.

Scheiner decided that God’s perfect creation needed defending against the likes of Galileo and that he himself was just the man to do the job.

Countering Galileo, Scheiner declared, without a shred of evidence, that it was impossible for the sun to have any offending spots or other blemishes on it because -

since God is perfect,
he (sic) could not have created
an imperfect sun.

Therefore, the sun,
a creation of a perfect God,
is obviously without spots of any kind.

That was it.
That was the essence of his theological argument.

What appeared to be dark spots, he continued, were in fact shadows on the sun, not spots.

These “shadows” on the sun were caused by various objects God had (apparently) floated in the space just above the sun.

With such stellar logic, Scheiner defended God’s reputation as a flawless Creator, while simultaneously attempting to trash Galileo’s “tale” about a blotchy sun.

Scheiner was triumphant.
At least for awhile.

Yet, Galileo’s theology from the lens of a telescope was not his only problem.

Church also argued, naturally, that Galileo’s astronomical observations were wrong because they contradicted Holy Scripture.

At his eventual trial, church counsel would enter (as evidence against Galileo) the 6  cosmological “clobber passages” in the Bible which confirm Church’s teachings over and against  Galileo’s learning.*

And so, within a year and a half of Lorini’s wretched diatribe (in the name of gentle Jesus) against Galileo, Church initiated a long, painful, bitter, graceless grinding toward a foolish, costly and unnecessary trial.

When church court finally announced the verdict of guilty upon him, Galileo was given two options.

He could either pledge to uphold the Discipline of Church in its entirety, or prepare for torture.

To avoid pointless torture, Galileo signed an apology, recanted of all his hard won scientific knowledge, promised not to speak or write anything more about his ideas and concurred publicly with Church’s (medieval) teachings about its cosmology.

After trial, he remained under “house arrest” until the day he died.

  - - - - - - - - -

In November of 1992, Pope John Paul II tried to explain why the Roman Catholic Church had failed to welcome Galileo’s insights. The pope said,

“The error of the theologians of the time,
when they maintained
the centrality of the Earth,
was to think that our understanding
of the physical world's structure was,
in some way, imposed by the
literal sense of Sacred Scripture.”

May I be so bold as to suggest that some years from now,
when church historians try to explain
why our beloved  United Methodist Church
was unable to fully accept and celebrate
gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender human beings
will their explanation be much different than this . . . ?

“The error of the theologians of the time,
when they maintained the
exclusiveness of heterosexuality,
was to think that our understanding
of human sexuality was,
in some way, imposed by the
literal sense of Sacred Scripture.”

- - - - - - - -

In November of 2013, the bishops of the United Methodist Church announced they were bringing a complaint against their colleague, Bishop Talbert. Their charge is that he officiated at a wedding for a gay couple; a practice, they allege, against their rulebook.

In November of 2013, a trial court in the United Methodist Church found the Rev. Frank Schaefer guilty of officiating at his gay son’s wedding. The court then ordered him to decide - either continue in ministry without officiating at gay weddings or lose ordination credentials.

- - - - - - - -

* The most prominent among Bible story chosen by Church to “clobber” Galileo’s facts was a selection from Joshua 10. There it is recorded that God “stopped the sun” in order to give the Israelites additional daylight to win an important battle. Had the Bible said “God stopped the earth from revolving”, Galileo could have used the Bible in his own defense!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Trial Time

“It is surely harmful to souls
to make it a heresy
to believe what is proved.”

“The idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder
or that the emergence of same-sex attraction and orientation
 among some adolescents is in any way abnormal or mentally unhealthy
                                                                  *Homosexuality and Youth

“. . . homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

The United Methodist Church

Bishop Webb (Upper NY Conference) has referred the complaint he received against me (from the Rev. Dick Barton, district superintendent of the Finger Lakes District) to the Counsel for the Church who will determine if there is enough evidence to support a chargeable offense and then forward his conclusions to the trial process.

In short, I am going to a church trial.

The following words are extracted (slightly edited) from my final e-mail to
Rev. Barton and Bishop Webb, sent October 23. 2013


My great grandmother was so deaf that visitors needed to write down on paper their side of the conversation so she could read it and respond.

I clearly remember, when I was about 10, visiting her apartment.

Attempting to “catch her up” on what her great grandson had been doing, I printed on her writing pad something about a Halloween party our youth group had had the week before.

I wrote something like this:

Everybody dressed up for Halloween.
We played games.
We dunked for apples.
We went trick or treating in the neighborhood.
We had a blast!

She took up her writing pad and with the help of an over-sized magnifying glass (pressed almost on her forehead) she slowly read my words.

All of a sudden, a bit aghast, she looked up at me and asked in a tense voice:

“Was anybody hurt?”

It was the word “blast”.

For my great grandmother, the meaning of the word “blast” in the context of a party for children was cause for concern.

It would never have occurred to her that a blast could be a good thing.

 - - - - - - - - -

In 1972, United Methodists added words to the Discipline to the effect that something called “homosexuality” was incompatible with Christian teaching.

During that conference, those who supported the statement likely presented biblical evidence against this “homosexuality”- perhaps a story or two about people who were “homosexual” – and probably a few anecdotes about “the homosexual lifestyle”. Doubtless the word “promiscuous” came up.

Bishop Webb and Rev. Barton, my brothers in Christ - you need to know

I have never officiated at the wedding of people
who were homosexuals
as homosexuality
was understood by most church folk
when the “incompatibility” language
was added to the Discipline
in 1972.

Nor would I.

It would be wrong to do so.

Although the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973, in the year 1972 homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder.

In that era, this so-called “mental disorder” was popularly (though not scientifically) associated with pedophilia, neurotic sexual obsession, violent behavior, promiscuity, drug and alcohol abuse, emotional abuse, psychosis, and the breakdown of social and of family life.

Officiating at a wedding for two people who were mentally disturbed, and had a propensity toward promiscuity, sexual obsession, and pedophilia would be a gross violation of my ordination.

I think you would agree.

 - - - - - - - - - - -

I also want you to know

I have never officiated at a homosexual wedding
which violates the Bible’s teachings about homosexuality.

Why would I?
It would make no sense !

That is because every Bible verse addressing “homosexual attraction” assumes that all people are obviously and naturally “heterosexual”.

For Bible writers, heterosexuality was a given reality - true for all people - no exceptions. All people are heterosexual.

That “truth” was simply taken for granted in the biblical world. It would never have occurred  to a Bible writer that a person would be other than heterosexual.

Obviously then, when the ancient biblical authors and editors addressed what we might call “same sex attraction”, they were astonished that anyone would even be tempted to “fool around” with members of the same sex.

In their view, such uncanny behavior would not only be odd – it would be crazy!

The notion that a person may have a “sexual orientation” other than heterosexual was not thought of as “wrong” in the Bible – nor for that matter as “right”.

It was simply never thought about at all.

No wonder Paul was upset! 
He must have suspected that some “dark side” was involved when he discovered men seeking relations with men.

He can barely find words by which to register his disbelief and confusion about these “men with men working that which is unseemly”.  KJV

Had we lived in his sandals - and his culture - we would likely have been confused with him. How or why could heterosexual men even consider such things!

So, here is some more good news.

In accord with Paul and all other biblical witnesses who were against heterosexual people having sex with other heterosexual people,
I unequivocally state -

I have never officiated at the wedding of
two heterosexual men who are,
sexually attracted to each other,
nor have I ever officiated at the wedding of
two heterosexual women who are,
sexually attracted to each other -
nor will I ever do so.

I guess what it comes down to is this:

If, in 2013, one still believes homosexuality is best understood as it was doubtlessly understood by a majority of those who wrote the “incompatible” clause in 1972, then

I am in violation of section 2702.(b)
and, perhaps more seriously,
I am in violation of Scripture.

On the other hand, if one believes homosexuality is best understood in 2013
as a normal and harmless expression of sexuality,
as received unbidden,
as neither morally superior nor inferior,
not better, not worse than heterosexuality then

I am not in violation of section 2702.(b)
and, perhaps more importantly,
I have applied a helpful biblical exegesis
in a way which honors the Bible as the word of God
in the context of what it means to follow Jesus in 2013.

Obviously you, bishop, have the last word on this.
Should you ask me,

I would recommend dismissing charges on the grounds that
the Discipline is contradictory and duplicitous about
         what constitutes homosexuality,
         who homosexual people are, and
         how gay and lesbian people,
         justice making, and
         non-judgmental compassion

As evidence, you might note that
          “sometimes a blast,
           harmful in one century,
           means joy in the next”.


So, that was the letter I sent.
Even at that late date in our negotiations, I was naïve.

I was hoping that by presenting yet one more biblical insight,
someone  - anyone with authority in our church conference
might yet have pushed a PAUSE button,
named bigotry for what it is, and
stalled this unholy crusade against gay people.

That just did not happen.

- - - - - - - -

* the source of quote at beginning of article:

Homosexuality and Youth
a publication for educators endorsed by:

American Academy of Pediatrics
American Association of School Administrators
American Counseling Association
American Federation of Teachers
American Psychological Association
American School Counselor Association
American School Health Association
Interfaith Alliance Foundation
National Association of School Psychologists
National Association of Secondary School Principals
National Association of Social Workers
National Education Association
School Social Work Association of America

Monday, September 23, 2013

Numbers (updated June, 2015)

9 million - number of gay people in the USA.
8 million - number of United Methodists in the USA.
56% - percent of people in our country who support gay marriage.
78% - percent of people between the age of 18 and 30 who support gay marriage.
63% - percent of the Upper New York United Methodist Conference who voted to support gay marriage at the last conference
4 - the statistical number of gay teenagers who commit suicide, for every "non-gay" teen who commits suicide.
0 - number of the top 6 medical and mental health associations who believe it is possible to change a person's sexual orientation.  

6 - number of those top 6 which believe that trying to become straight instead of gay will be emotionally or medically harmful.

6 - number of Bible references teaching homosexuality is wrong.

6 - number of Bible references teaching that Galileo's astronomy is wrong.

20 - minimum number of Bible references supporting polygamy.

60 - minimum number of Bible references supporting slavery.

140 - minimum number of Bible references supporting the subordination of women.

2000 - fewest possible Bible references teaching that God desires mercy, not judgment; forgiveness, not self-righteousness; and grace, wastefully and freely given, especially to the most vulnerable among us.

358 - number of years after Galileo's death before the Roman Catholic Church apologized for its role against him.

389 - number of years after slavery began in this country until the year when the UMC apologized for our role in supporting racism.

2,700 - approximate number of years from when the first misogynous words in Scripture were recorded by scribes, until the current era.

44- the least number of years for which the United Methodist Church will eventually need to  apologize for adding the words "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" to our Discipline.

613 - number of commandments in the Old Testament.

10 -  number of commandments in Moses' summary.

3 - number of teachings in John Wesley's summary -
            (do no harm, do good, love God)

2 - number of teachings in Jesus' summary -
            (love God, love your neighbor)

1 - number of people it takes to love enough to make a difference.

 - - - - - -

The 6 Professional Associations referenced above -

American Academy of Pediatrics
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
American Medical Association
American Psychiatric Association
American Psychoanalytic Association
National Association of Social Workers

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Hopefully, this blog will become a forum for compassionate responses to the seemingly unending feud within the United Methodist Church around the issues of homosexuality.

As life would have it, I now have a “front row seat” to this strange, tragic drama.

On July 8, 2013 I received a registered letter from my bishop.
He wrote that he had “received a written, signed formal complaint” against me.

The complaint is based on a sentence I had written in a previous letter, widely circulated, but addressed to Bishop Webb, in which I state -

“I have officiated at several weddings
 for brothers and sisters
who are lesbian or gay.”

The bishop’s letter to me continued,

“Engaging in this practice is in contradiction
to the 2012 Book of Discipline
paragraph, 2702”

And so, this blog intends to share, report, and reflect something of my own journey as I grapple with the structures of the United Methodist Church. I hope it will be as helpful for those of you who log on here, as I expect it will be cathartic for me to write here.

On August 1, 2013, I travel to Syracuse to meet with Bishop Webb and the one who submitted a charge against me at 2:00 pm. The purpose of our meeting will be to discover if a course of reconciliation can be found.

If no resolution can be found, Bishop Webb will either dismiss the charge or submit the case to the next level of judicial authority.

I am as ready and prepared as I can be for our initial meeting next week.

I will tell you (on this blog) what happens then. As long as my case is relevant, I will continue to report about it with as much transparency as possible.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

One more thing.

Some have suggested that my ventures with Bishop Webb and the Rev. Richard Barton (who brought the complaint) are reminiscent of the battle between David and Goliath.

I suppose they mean to cast me in the role of David, the underdog.
 (I don't think I have to tell you who gets to play Goliath!)

I believe they are trying to say -

                      "Stay strong. Trust God.  Don't be afraid.
                       Speak truth to power until the powerful fall.
                       You never know what God can do, . . . and so on"
I truly appreciate their support.
They mean well.

Yet, they miss the deeper truth.
My real adversary is not one of the others in the room.
We are all on the same side - all of us seeking justice,
                all of us seeking God's direction.

Our struggle is truly not with each other, but rather with Goliath itself - those spiritual forces of evil which rule over all of us, undermine the authority of God's Spirit, and create havoc in our midst - 

                and when it comes to understanding homosexuality,
   those dark powers condemn our beloved community
           to a perpetual state of duplicity,
                helplessness, and fear.

Regardless what happens with Webb, Barton, Heiss and company, until we find a way to end Goliath's reign in our hearts and the hearts of our beloved community, Goliath will continue to undo us.