I recently had an opportunity to catch up with Frank Schaefer, who is the prolific United Methodist pastor who was very publicly defrocked (fired and stripped of his credentials) for officiating the wedding ceremony of his gay son. He has since been “refrocked” and is serving at a UMC in Isla Vista, CA – and he is continuing to speak about what he learned through his experience. I asked Frank four key questions about what the future might have in store for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the Church, and his wisdom and vision were palpable. We won’t go much into Frank’s back-story here, but you can learn more from his book Defrocked or by watching this video which nicely recaps his experience in three minutes or so.
Eric: Thank you for having this discussion with me Frank. You often say that officiating the wedding of your gay son, and your overall support for the LGBTQ community, is an “act of love.” Can you be more specific about what that means to you?
Frank: When my son Tim came out to us, he shared how the doctrine of the United Methodist Church had hurt him. His faith had always been very important to him, so when he heard the Church say to him that he cannot be a practicing homosexual and go to heaven, he tried to pray his gayness away. When it didn’t work, he considered ending the pain by taking his own life. My wife and I affirmed our total love and commitment to him and reaffirmed to him that the church was wrong, that God had created him in God’s image–gay and all. When my son asked me several years later whether I would perform his wedding, I remembered the harm the church had done to him and I knew that I (not only as his father, but as a representative of the church of Christ) had to do this even though I might lose my career and Church affiliation. It was an act of love as I saw my son very much in the role of the person in Jesus’ parable, beaten up, dying, and I knew I could not pass by on the other side of the road, like the priest or the scribe (who did not want to become ritually unclean), I had to reach out to help my son with an act of love and healing. After all, that’s what the Samaritan did, and that’s the example Jesus used to illustrate how to love your neighbor. Refusing my son would have meant to negate all the affirmations I had given him. I knew for me this was the moment when I had to walk the walk.
Eric: Do you believe that the Bible is anti-gay?
Frank: I don’t believe that the Bible as a whole is anti-gay in that I don’t see it speaking about committed and loving homosexual relationships at all. Perhaps with one exception (Leviticus 18:22), the passages often quoted on the topic of homosexuality are really decrying inappropriate sexual behaviors such as homosexual rape (Genesis 19), prostitution and pederasty (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), as well as un-natural sexual acts as described in Romans 1:26 (straight women having homosexual encounters). Besides, the Bible shows a progressive revelation: as humankind has learned more about itself and the world, previous bible passages have been revised by later biblical authors, foremost by the prophets as well as by Jesus of Nazareth. Also, the Church has (reluctantly) accepted the view that the earth is a sphere, that it is not the center of the universe; it has accepted that slavery is not God-intended, though there are many biblical passages that endorse slavery, such as Exodus 21:7. Most importantly, there are a multitude of passages in the Bible that affirm the humanity and sacred worth of all persons and an even greater abundance of passages that urge us to refrain from judging others and call us instead to love and serve our neighbors, especially those whom society marginalizes.
Eric: What might you say to church leaders worldwide, even such as Pope Francis, who seem to recognize the validity and value of allowing full inclusion of LGBTQ members (including marriage) within the Christian community – yet who delay in making it official for various reasons?
Frank: I applaud pope Francis and other leaders who are pushing their faith communities in the right direction. I realize that they are trying to walk a fine line between advocating for LGBTQ rights and losing their standing, reputations or even careers. I did that for many years. However, I want to encourage them to lead and speak without fear. If there is one lesson I have learned it is this: I will never be fearful of speaking out on what is just and right again. When I spoke out, I did lose my career and was wondering how life would continue for me and my family. But in the very act of losing it all, I gained it all back and more. Jesus once put it like this (Matthew16:25): “For whoever wants to save their life will los’se it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
Eric: What are a few actions that everyday non-LGBTQ Christians can take to help drive universal LGBTQ support within the Christian community?
Frank: 1. Be supportive and loving toward your gay friends/family/church members; 2. defend them when you see discrimination or witness people being heterosexist; 3. make it a point to use social media and blogs to educate your friends and followers, 4. introduce your gay friends to conservative church folks including pastors (once they get to know your friends, they will likely change their minds) 5. sign petitions; 6. write letters of support to your local newspaper; 7. get out to pride fests and parades…..
Eric is an author, speaker, and the founder of Christian Evolution. Be sure not to miss upcoming interviews by following Eric on Facebook and signing up for the ProgressiveChristianity.org newsletter below.
Recent interviews include:
Ben Corey of Formerly Fundie on Progressive Christianity and Original Sin — Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist on synergies between progressive Christianity and Atheism — and Sociology Professor Paul Nemecek on “What Would Jesus Occupy”
Upcoming scheduled interviews include:
Roger Wolsey of Kissing Fish, on modern day progressive Christian Evangelism — David Haward of The Naked Pastor, a case study on the future of progressive Christian pastoring — and Ro Waseem of The Huffington Post, discussing similar trends in Progressive Islam.