Justice of the heart and Frank Schaefer

frank schaeferThis week, the United Methodist Church put a pastor on trial named Frank Schaefer for officiating at the wedding of his gay son. The judge, retired bishop Al Gwinn, ruled out as inadmissible any defense arguments based on scripture or other sections of the Book of Discipline, reasoning that only “the facts” of what Schaefer did were relevant to determining the verdict. While I understand the rationale and practical limitations that necessitate this approach to justice, I do not think it does justice to justice. The promise that we receive in scripture is that God judges according to the heart. Hebrews 4:12-13 says: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

The heart matters to God, and not just when people do the right thing for secret wrong reasons, but also when they break the rules for noble reasons. The journey that Frank Schaefer took from having the traditional views on sexuality typical of an evangelical pastor to becoming an LGBT advocate because of his love for his son may be inadmissible in a United Methodist church trial, but it is not immaterial to the God who judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

The difference between our finite capacity for justice and God’s infinite capacity is that God can account for all the mitigating circumstances perfectly. We’re used to assuming that God’s infinite nature means only that He judges more harshly than we would. That at least is what evangelicals have drilled into our heads as the basis for sharing the gospel with non-believers (“They may seem like good people to you, but to God, they are utterly wicked, because God’s ways are ‘higher’ than our ways”).

But why would we assume that God’s “higher ways” do not actually make Him capable of infinite nuance? That certainly seems to be the implication of the passage in Isaiah 55:7-9 from which that phrase is taken:

Let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
Let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Nuance may be a challenge to the simple-minded folks who end up talking the loudest in religious conversations, but it isn’t to God. I get that if you have a group of people who are bound together by a set of rules you agree to follow, there have to be consequences for violating those rules, or the agreement has no meaning. But it has hurt my heart to see the utter lack of sympathy among my fellow Methodist pastors who have been thumping their chests online about how furious they will be if Schaefer doesn’t get the book the thrown at him. Paul addresses the relevance of the heart to God in his polemic against the circumcision evangelists in Romans 2:28-29:

For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.

The basic game that God’s people have been playing since the beginning is to find a way to leverage their meticulous devotion to the letter of the law to their advantage. Doctrinal and moral purity are pursued ferociously as a means for dominating others. As Jesus says about the Pharisees of His day, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,and lay them on the shoulders of others” (Matthew 23:4). Their zeal for moral purity was more about being able to lay heavy burdens on others than it was about devotion to God.

My blog is named after Matthew 9:13 where Jesus says to the Pharisees, “Go and find out what this means, ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice.'” In the verse that Jesus quotes, Hosea 6:6, the word chesed, which gets translated into mercy, is actually referring to steadfast love for God, but Jesus reinterprets this verse to mean mercy for sinners. This suggests that the way we show our faithfulness to God is through our mercy for others, which is of course corroborated by Matthew 25: “Whatever you have done for the least of my brothers you have done for me.”

It seems that there are two approaches to holiness represented by “sacrifice” and “mercy.” The holiness of “sacrifice” assumes that God calls us to austerity for austerity’s sake (i.e. show how much you love me by what you’re willing to give up). When you think that holiness is about being harsh with yourself to demonstrate loyalty to God, then the holier you are, the harsher you will be with other people. Thus, holiness and mercy are at odds with one another and have to be “held in tension,” as some would say.

The holiness of “mercy,” on the other hand, assumes that God is not looking for an exhibition of self-deprivation to prove your loyalty, but rather that we are to be emptied of our idolatry and “fleshliness” for the sake of emulating Christ’s radical cruciform love, which is why Paul shares the Christ-hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 as the basis for exhorting the Philippians to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (vv. 2-3).

When a teacher of the law asks Jesus in Luke 10 what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus’ summary of the entirety of Torah is to share the parable of the Good Samaritan. That was actually the parable Schaefer cited in his comments about what he did (which were of course inadmissible in his church trial). The reason that the priest and the Levite didn’t touch the wounded man was because of the Torah’s regulations on ritual uncleanliness. They were being “Biblical.” The Samaritan violated the Torah to fulfill the Torah because his heart was “moved with pity.”

I believe that holiness is supposed to give us that kind of heart. Sin is sin for two reasons: it hurts other people (injustice) and it poisons our hearts (idolatry). Someone will say, “Well what about honoring God?” The reason God demands that we worship Him and not idols is not because He needs the flattery, but because worshiping Him purifies our hearts and worshiping idols poisons our hearts.

As 1 John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” If we don’t have a heart that can “love deeply,” that is evidence that we haven’t “purified [our] souls by [our] obedience to the truth” (1 Peter 1:22). Those who follow the rules meticulously but lack mercy reveal an insidious idolatry at play inside their hearts.

The heart matters to God, and right now Frank Schaefer isn’t the only one on trial; we all are. Based on my understanding of holiness, I do not see how officiating a same-sex wedding for your son is idolatrous or unjust (I have examined the Bible as faithfully as thoroughly as I could). I am starting to wonder whether elevating a book other than the Bible above the Bible is the real idolatry here.

Furthermore, regardless of whether you consider homosexuality to be a sin or not, it is unjust to compare Schaefer’s deed to driving drunk or embezzling money from the church, which is what several of my fellow pastors have done. The facts of the case aren’t all that matters. Schaefer’s heart matters. And our hearts matter too. God judges all of it.

Friends, there’s plenty of repentance to go around. My heart is impure, and yours is too. That’s why I exhort you to do what Peter says: “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:1-3).

59 thoughts on “Justice of the heart and Frank Schaefer

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  2. Pingback: Rev. Frank Schaefer Trial - Facts and Media Coverage « Reconciling Ministries Network

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  4. Morgan
    Reading your post I am disturbed that a denomination can put a pastor (or equally, any other member) through what is clearly a legal or quasi-legal process. I fully accept that there is a place for church discipline, but this sits uneasily with me. However I was shocked that the Bible could be inadmissible in a church. (I was going to write “church court”, but I think it’s truer to leave it at “church”.)
    I totally agree with you that justice of the heart is what should matter. It’s a freedom of the Spirit which I fear has been underplayed in most of our churches.

    • To be fair, what they would say is that they can’t rehash the same debates they’ve had over doctrine at our quadrennial General Conferences every church trial. But I’m not sure that there’s been genuine Biblical conversation at General Conference. I have never received a genuine engagement with my Biblical argument regarding the patriarchal context of the homosexuality prohibition. Nothing in the Bible is going to change the traditionalists’ minds. Their investment in their position goes beyond genuine Biblical fidelity.

      • I’m sure you’re right, but one thing your post focussed me on was the possibility of maintaining unity in the Spirit despite differences of interpretation. Biblical argument centreing on doctrine leads to division, but Biblical argument centreing on the heart can, hopefully, bring unity, if we recognise that God accepts diversity in many areas of life. Someone takes a stand I disagree with, but having debated it I recognise (whether I change my own position or not) that the other person’s position is genuinely one of faith. As Paul puts it, in disputable matters each lives to the Lord (Romans 14).

        • I agree. I think this should be the way we are with everything. Strangely, sola scriptura can actually be liberating as long as we understand what we’re dealing with in the Bible.

  5. Paul H
    You said:
    Good point, d. We should avoid an equivocation or slide in meaning between “one flesh” in the physical sense (which the apostle Paul definitely alludes to) and “one flesh” in some spiritual (or Platonic) sense. Recognizing the latter doesn’t necessarily justify the former, regardless what gender category we fall into.
    —————————————————————————————————————

    Just so there is no confusion:
    You will remember the confusion of Nicodemus by the words Christ spoke when Christ said
    “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
    John 3:2-4

    How is it possible a man be born again and How is it man and a woman in Holy Matrimony become one?
    It is in that context I ask the question

    The Church historically has held the view a man and woman become one. That concept is not recognized in the secular world or by the law of secular government today. That is why the law has many laws governing marriage. In the secular world a husband and wife are bound by contract. In the Christian Church they are bound by covenant. The Historical Church had just eleven laws governing marriage because as “one” the husband and wife owned and operated everything as one and there was no need to have laws of inheritance etc.etc. etc..

    So I ask the question, “How do a man and woman in Holy Matrimony become one?”
    As far as your Platonic comment that is another issue and another point of study.
    I would like to focus on the question asked if possible.

    • d, I’m not sure what you are getting at here, or why you are asking ME the above question.…

      What does being “born again” (metaphorically speaking) have to do with “becoming one” in matrimony? They are two different contexts, so why are you linking them? Surely you don’t think that since “born again” is to be understood in a non-physical sense, therefore “one flesh” is to be understood in a non-physical sense?

      Incidentally, a “contract” in secular marriage (if you care to think of it that way) is equivalent to a “covenant” in Christian marriage; the two terms connote the same idea—that of a mutual commitment. So I don’t know why you mentioned that or digressed about laws of inheritance, etc.

      If you’re asking me “How do a man and woman in Holy Matrimony ‘become one’ in a non-physical (spiritual) sense?”, then I’ll have to give you a very mundane answer: They “become one” in THAT sense by about 20 (or more) years of living together, during which they discover each others’ likes and longings, try to discern what God might want for them to do in life, learn to respect each others’ differences, learn to communicate and negotiate, and perhaps argue a lot over how to raise the kids, what to buy or not buy, and what temperature to set the thermostat in the house, etc. I’m sure you can think of dozens of marital “adjustments” that contribute to “becoming one”—which, of course, is never achieved perfectly.

    • Well you know they’re just zealous for other people to be delivered from their sins. There’s no blood lust or spiritual pride or anything else at play at all.

  6. Pingback: The Trial of Rev. Frank Schaefer | SWTX Reconciling Ministries Team

  7. Sorry, this just seems like politics. I know every community grapples with this sort of thing. Nondenominational to some degree, and mainstream denominations more so. The heart of Christ seems to fade away when politics get in the way. Whether or not I agree with Pastor Schaefer (I do) and whether or not I would officiate a same-sex ceremony (I would and have) is between myself and my Father.

  8. Morgan, IMO this is one of your best blogs ever. The paragraph 4th from the end is beautifully poignant. I was refused ordination in the North GA Conference of the UMC because I said I would marry same sex unions. It is also disconcerting to realize that but for the African delegation the Discipline would be changed. I fully believe that Jesus wholeheartedly supports gay marriage. I’m not so sure about how John Wesley would react. Although loving G-d with all your heart, doing good, and doing no harm certainly appears to embrace those who find their love in G-d, regardless of their sexual orientation.
    The unfortunate effect of the UMC continuing in this vein is the harm to many, many young people who are discovering their sexuality at the same time they are yearning for a community of spiritual believers. And if they grew up in the UMC and they realize they are gay – they are being told by the church that they are not worthy of G-d’s full love.
    Because of the number of supporters of Frank and the increasing number of pastors and congregations who believe gays and the LGBT community are loved by G-d just as the rest of us, it would not surprise me to see a split from the UMC

  9. ” I do not see how officiating a same-sex wedding for your son is idolatrous or unjust (I have examined the Bible as faithfully as thoroughly as I could)”

    You may not be able to see why but the prophets and the Apostles of God did see why and they preached against the practice of homosexuality from beginning to end.
    The Bible also teaches you will know them by their works and we have gotten to see their works often. Their works show us the condition of the inner man.
    Their manipulation, underhanded pre planned divisive tactics are a view of what’s inside.
    It is not pretty. It is not good works.
    They are so proud of the divisions and pain they cause others that they write manuals on the procedures to use on how to disrupt. Do you think that is the Spirit of God driving that agenda Morgan?

    • I think that’s a very selective interpretation of their movement. Every movement of people that are not in power has been disruptive and subversive. The Methodist bishop of Alabama pleaded with Martin Luther King to stop the civil disobedience in Birmingham. The response to that was the famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail. I see the same kinds of fruits of the flesh on the opposite side though I realize that I’m probably doing the same thing.

    • Seriously? There are 7 passages in the Bible that are generally interpreted as relating to homosexuality and there are problems with all of them. I would hardly call that, “from beginning to end.”

      • Beginning:
        The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him…..
         That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.Genesis 2: 18-24

        Middle:
         And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?”
         They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.”
         And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6 But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’[a] 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
        Mark 10:39

        End:
         Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.” And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

        • Of course you understand that I’m going to challenge all of these. There’s no reason based on what’s written in these passages that a person who falls outside of the normal gender categories cannot become one flesh with another person who likewise is outside of normal gender. I just don’t think you can make a coherent case against homosexuality without also buying into patriarchy.

          • “one flesh with another person who likewise is outside of normal gender.”

            Really?
            I’ll take you up on that one.
            Now please explain how one becomes one flesh with another.
            Then explain if “one flesh” is a physical impossibility but a spiritual oneness, how that is accomplished, who is the authority over, who get’s to regulate and declare what is one flesh?

          • Good point, d. We should avoid an equivocation or slide in meaning between “one flesh” in the physical sense (which the apostle Paul definitely alludes to) and “one flesh” in some spiritual (or Platonic) sense. Recognizing the latter doesn’t necessarily justify the former, regardless what gender category we fall into.

  10. As a Methodist newbie (only a follower of the Despised One for seven years now, and only a Methodist for the same.) I am fascinated by the history of this denomination and its relationship to society as a whole. I also have the advantage of distance and an appreciation for time. I have actually been somewhere else besides here. Here are my observations from this point of view.

    This Book of Discipline-thumping crowd is scared. If not, they would have left Frank Shaeffer alone. What did they have to lose? Their immortal souls? Or their positions of authority? They fear losing control. Loss of control is suffering. And they are now in control and unwilling to lose it. They are functioning from fear. When fear is your starting point you stop walking with Christ. We follow the Fearless Man. He stopped people from stoning people, even if they deserved to be stoned according to the rules.
    You can read it in their statements and see it in their actions. Key indicator? They are the ones saying “Stop what you are doing. You are not supposed to love people that way!” When somebody tells you to follow his rules for love or you are going to hell, run the other way. That is the voice of fear. Fear shuts down your heart and you start functioning with the most primitive part of your brain. You go into the Alligator Hole.
    While converting to the UMC I read the BOD eagerly, as well as several histories of the UMC. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the Methodist church was the largest denomination in the nation before the U.S. Civil War, and that it was splintered by slavery. Then we had the whole “No Women Preachers” thing we got past.

    Must we always be one of the last denominations to see the light? If we don’t try to change that trend we may be some of last Methodists in general. The fact that Methodists supported slavery and sexism for such a long time should make it obvious that our Book of Discipline can be a Book of Dumbness if we begin to think that its supposed to be an Ex-Cathedra Publication. And how do you think those changes in the past took place? I just know there were many Frank Shaeffers who were put on trial in our churches for opposing slavery, and many who were put on trial for opposing sexism (AKA No Women Ministers), too,

    Let’s change the anti-gay stuff like we did the part about Africans and females, But then, we are “the species that makes false idols,” aren’t we? Assume we get things wrong first. Start there. Assume you are wrong and you will learn much. Your ears open fast that way. That’s why I am staying with the Methodist Church, even though there is much I don’t agree with. I assume I am wrong.

    But this is how it looks,(wrong as I might be):
    It takes a special kind of blindness not to see Frank Shaeffer as acting justly in the path of the God of Love. How long before he is seen as a hero? He’s a hero to me, and a martyr to the idolatry that is so obvious in our ‘rules is rules’ crowd?

    In my home church we have become a gathering place for the rules-types by holding the most traditional services in the conference. People come from near and far to avoid weekly communion, keep the guitars out of the sanctuary and to see the American Flag. Of course, we have more than our fair share of funerals each month, as our average age in the pews is in the 70s.
    Christianity is the religion of contradictions (a dying man who dies but lives, etc.)
    And I love the rules crowd very much. They have so much to teach me, mostly about how to perhaps be involved; of use to Christ as he reveals himself to us all.

    I was unable to see Christ almost completely until I was 54. So I know Christ doesn’t just change young hearts, He makes old hearts young, too. I am convinced that Christ will change their hearts of stone to flesh, and I stay nearby in case He can use me in that work. He will do it with or without me. If I hang I can have my heart re-softened, too. It can never be too soft, I say.

    We are an old denomination in need (as humans are wont to be) of more heart-rending. The Book of Discipline will be changed through the heart-changing of the old guard. That’s obvious to me.

    Of course, few of them seem to have read it, or they would have changed that part already because of all the wonderful things in it that contradict the anti-gay stuff.

      • Control and fear and patriarchy are not the issues. Few LGBT critics doubt that God loves all people, or that LGBT individuals may love each other (where ‘love’ is meant in the sense of ‘cares for’). Rather, sexuality is the issue, and whether the sexual expression of love entails some notion of normalcy and perversion. The relevant scriptures (and, one might argue, human anatomy) suggest that is does. Therefore, to point out the “fear” of those who are inclined to control amounts to an ad hominem attack that, however accurate psychologically, doesn’t bear on the moral question—that is, whether God condones same-gender sexual behavior (or, to put it in teleological language, whether God INTENDED love to be expressed homosexually).

        To call anyone “phobic” simply because they voice a criticism begs the question by precluding critical review. E.g., if you disapproved of Reagan’s policies or Clinton’s policies (substitute any name you wish), are you Reagan-phobic or Clinton-phobic? Phobias do exist, but voicing a criticism of behavior or policies doesn’t constitute one. We must be careful to attack the argument, not the arguer. Arguers may have a penis, but arguments do not (e.g., women can proffer anti-abortion arguments). So patriarchy is irrelevant to the merits of an argument.

        Please note: Nothing I’ve said here constitutes a justification of slavery or racism or sexism or speciesism or the like. My main point is that too many defenses of same-sex marriage resort to ad hominem attacks that focus on the psychological ATTITUDE (fear, or gender) of their critics (which may be merciless), rather than the REASONS for their criticism (which may have merit).

        • If it’s not a control issue, why are dissidents being put on “trial”? When one side of the debate is throwing around “law” and “discipline”, aren’t they replacing REASONS with CONTROL? When the judge sticks to “the facts” and refuses to listen to any REASONS defending same sex marriage, why should we have to listen to theirs? If it’s not about fear, why isn’t the UMC willing to take a close look to see whether this could be another in a long list of mistakes?
          I agree with you, in the sense that control and fear SHOULDN’T be the issues. But the “custodians of God’s honor”, unfortunately, do not.

          • I agree. (My comments were not directed to the UMC, about which I know little and do not care to comment.)

        • If I use the term patriarchy related to the homosexuality debate, I’m not using that word in a pejorative sense. Patriarchy is a social system in which women and children are protected from sexual violence by the men in their lives. In the Old Testament, there was no sense that women could say no to sex (c.f. rape of Dinah and Tamara). The way to keep them safe was for their fathers to guard them until their husbands could. In such a world, men had to be uncompromised and it made sense for one of the boundaries to be that a man could not take another man as a “wife” because men had a very specific protector role. Patriarchy was a necessary phase of human social development. It’s anachronistic now. The same “normal” that makes Paul call same gender intimacy “against nature” (he nowhere says “Thou shalt not” or this is a sin) causes Paul to say the man is head of the woman like Christ is head of the church and women should not teach or have authority over men. So if you’ve decided to view Paul’s commands about women pastors to be “culturally contextual,” but you maintain that the same views about gender are permanently normative regarding homosexuality, then your account of gender and sexuality is incoherent for the sake of a pseudo-“moderateness.” That’s why I say the prohibition of homosexuality stands or falls with patriarchy. There are Christians who continue to believe that a man’s job is to lead and protect and women are to submit. Those Christians have a case for saying that homosexuality disrupts the social order. We Methodists are just trying to resist being pigeonholed as a dying mainline denomination so we throw the gay people under the bus in order to have a basis for claiming that we’re not like those Episcopalians. The anti-gay side does bring up the Episcopalians A LOT.

          • “Patriarchy is a social system in which women and children are protected from sexual violence by the men in their lives.”
            Morgan you are going to have to a lot better than that.

            “The same “normal” that makes Paul call same gender intimacy “against nature” (he nowhere says “Thou shalt not” or this is a sin)…”

            Homosexuality had been defined at an earlier time.
            Homosexual act where at a previous time defined as sin and a picture of the acts associated where known and understood. You notice Paul did not have to paint a picture of what incest was. They already knew what incest was.

            “So if you’ve decided to view Paul’s commands about women pastors to be “culturally contextual,” but you maintain that the same views about gender are permanently normative regarding homosexuality, then your account of gender and sexuality is incoherent for the sake of a pseudo-”moderateness.”

            Does not compute.
            Considering the time frame and the culture and the necessary training that women did not have and could not have had in that time frame………………
            How much do you know about the making of a Rabbi during that period of history?

            “That’s why I say the prohibition of homosexuality stands or falls with patriarchy”
            By your reasoning is Christ a member of the patriarchy class?
            Does God not lead, protect, guide, teach and defend his people?
            Why did God choose to make himself known as a male?
            Why not a woman?.

            Exactly what rights, laws and precepts is God allowed to establish in your mind?

          • I see now that I should have used the word ‘gender’ instead of patriarchy. —i.e., the gender of the arguer is not socially irrelevant, but is logically irrelevant to the validity of an argument (about abortion).

    • The Christian Church has a history of not being afraid.
      We have a long history, with a few blips, of standing firm.
      We have had, in the pas,t some who gave their lives for their faith in their God.
      Don’t mistake patience with being a coward.

  11. “The way we justify ourselves is through our zeal about the sins of others.”

    Morgan, how long would it take me to skim over your blog posts before I come upon one which points out the error or sins of others?

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  13. this is my take on argumentation in general: if you feel the need to exclude relevant points by your opposition, you are hiding something or fear something or (worse) you know damned well you are wrong.

    by explicitly excluding arguments from the very basis for their religion (the bible) it is a prima facia admission that their derivative book (“of discipline”) is incongruent with the foundational book.

    by explictly excluding arguments from their own book, it is a bold faced admission that their own words contradict each other.

    i find this lynch mob tactic of the kangaroo court to be the most poignant statement on the state of official “ordered” dogmas.

  14. We agree on one thing, that it is a heart matter: http://seedbed.com/feed/the-heart-of-the-matter-can-methodism-be-reborn/

    And the heart is deceitfully wicked, who can know it? The Church has spoken on this issue for 2000 years, and our own denomination has spoken consistently as a whole for the past 40. I have no doubt that Schaefer was sincere in his actions. But sincerity does not make one justified.

    Our sin-nature will do all it can to justify sin and to ask, “Did God really say?” When the church which he (and you and I) willingly submit to and vow to uphold (not under coercion) has spoken, naming this as sin and incompatible with Christian teaching, it matters not how sincere or heart-felt the violators of that covenant are. What matters is will the Church administer discipline and will the one being disciplined humble him/herself and repent? Schaefer’s answer thus far has been “no.”

    • Thanks for your comment. I didn’t make the argument you’re imputing to me. I didn’t use the word “sincerity” at all, which makes me wonder if you read the whole piece. I’m interested in your engagement on the deeper question of the nature of holiness, particularly whether it’s a matter of mercy or sacrifice. Your blog is named after the same verse in scripture as mine.

      Prayerful exegesis of scripture that comes to different conclusions than Christians have come to in the past, no matter how many centuries, is not reducible to asking Satan’s question, “Did God really say?” I’m not trying to justify my sin. I’m trying to be just to people whose hearts I do not know.

      • I did read it, and I understand your appeal to trying to understand Schaefer’s heart as an appeal to emotion. As if to say, “well he meant really well, we should let this slide.”

        Yes, our blogs are named after the same verse but the whole of God’s will for us cannot be reduced to a simple rendering of that one verse (or any verse, as I’m sure you agree). Here you seem to imply that mercy is the same as tolerance or acceptance. I disagree. I believe it is mercy that I lost my job as a pastor 3 years ago. I believe it was mercy that my wife kicked me out of the house. I believe it was mercy which Schaefer is being shown now with this sentence upholding both the laws of our church and the teachings of Scripture. The question for Schaefer is the same one I was faced with: Will he humble himself and accept the mercy God is showing him which is for the purpose of bringing him to repentance (Rom. 2:4)? Will he one day say with David and me and many others who have come to love God’s mercy (in all it’s fierceness), “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71).

        And as far as legality goes, Bishop Gwinn did the right thing. Arguing the rightness or wrongness of same-sex marriage is something that must happen at our General Conference. To open the floor to a debate about what Scripture says on this issue, when the GC has already (repeatedly) made that decision, would be a breach of his vows to uphold our global church’s position. The only matter to consider here is did he break church law, and then what the penalty should be for doing so.

        • Where you’re missing the point is that I’m not questioning the verdict, process, or anything else. I’m simply saying that God’s justice is more beautiful and nuanced than our clumsy human efforts at it. There’s a world of difference between masturbating and looking at pictures of naked women and marrying your gay son because you love him and believe your church is wrong. They’re apples and oranges. So no, it’s not the same question you were faced with.

          • Actually, if you believe the latter is sin, as the Church states and I believe Scripture does as well, then they are not apples and oranges at all. The sin in both cases is pride – pride which says I will do what I want to do, what I think is right, and I’ll justify it all day long.

        • Good point, Chad: mercy is not the same as tolerance or acceptance. PC advocates (which Morgan is not) often mistake intolerance for the absence of charity.

      • This here, IMO, is the biggest flaw in your exegesis, Morgan, and continuing on that trail will lead to all sorts of error:

        “The reason God demands that we worship Him and not idols is not because He needs the flattery, but because worshiping Him purifies our hearts and worshiping idols poisons our hearts.”

        That is only partial truth, and a deadly one at that. What this does is open Pandora’s box to allow for anything and everything so long as it promotes human flourishing, and human flourishing is defined by whatever makes me most happy in the end. It is to allow your heart to wag the god rather than the other way around, and our hearts are, as Jeremiah said, deceitful.

        One of the glorious side-effects of worshiping God and honoring him is the thing you describe, but it is not sole reason. We glorify and honor and obey God because He is worthy of it and deserves it. You have been bought with a price, therefore glorify God (1 cor. 6:20). We worship him and give him glory because that is our chief end and for no other reason than because He made us (Psm 100:3) and because He made all things for Himself (Prov. 16:4, Isa. 43:21, 1 Peter 2:9). And if we do not praise and glorify Him, he will cause the rocks to do so (Luke 19:40).

        Morgan, don’t fall into the humanist trap that says our worship of God is for the purpose of benefitting ourselves, of making us “better” people. While it certainly will do that, so will Yoga. We worship God first and foremost because he demands we do, and has a right to demand such because he died for you and me.

      • I believe you Morgan.
        I also know it is not easy being a parent, a leader or a teacher.
        The very nature of the job demands decision.
        That requires rules, right and wrongs and law.
        It requires justice with mercy and that is what the UMC has followed in the penalty following guilty verdict continuously.
        Try raising a child in a home with no rules.
        If one would attempt to do such a thing they will raise an adult that cannot function in society, on the job, in the church or in a home.
        Everyone is sympathetic to the position this father is in.
        Everyone can relate to the conflict he must have.
        All parents and leaders must make critical decisions at some point and that is not an easy thing to do.
        Saying and hearing “no” is not always easy but is always necessary at some point.

        God Bless.

    • If only someone could have gotten that memo to Jesus, then he could have avoided that 3 day suspension. If only he knew: It mattered not how sincere or heartfelt that adulteress was. What mattered was will the Pharisees stone and will the one being stoned humble herself and repent?
      Christ’s answer was, and continues to be, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

      • You forgot the other part of Jesus’ answer: Go and sin no more. Schaefer was asked to repent, and to abide by the church’s teaching on this matter….to “go and sin no more.” He refused.

        • I didn’t forget anything Chad. We are in dispute over whether this constitutes a sin. You continue to project your own experience with deliverance from sin onto other people, making analogies that are inappropriate and exalting yourself by saying “I used to walk in your shoes” (which means now I know better than you) when the only shoes you’ve walked in are your own. Independent of the legitimacy of the verdict and consequence of the trial, it’s unjust to reduce everything about Schaefer’s journey to a question of pride. He has tried to be faithful to the journey of God’s revelation in his life as he understands it. That’s more than just “sincerity.” It is out of keeping with the discernment of the UMC as a whole and our process of seeking God’s will together would be incoherent if there were no consequences. But what he has done and what he suffers as a result must be part of our continued discernment process. We need to be open to the possibility that the Holy Spirit pushed him to do what he did. To moralize about it in the oversimplified way that you have is disrespectful to the mercy you have received. You seem completely unchastened by James 2:12-13. You used it to write a blog about saying a “mercy prayer” as a duty to God rather than recognizing that cultivating our actual heartfelt mercy *for other people* is God’s goal in humbling us. You found a way of talking about mercy that lacked mercy. I’ve really been trying to be open-minded and learn from you, Chad. I cannot see your heart right now. From my vantage point, it’s hard not to come to oversimplified conclusions about why you’re doing what you do. You seem just as confident in your own infallibility as you did when you were denying hell. Perhaps I look the same way to you. But if your goal is to influence me rather than just winning arguments for your self-satisfaction, I need to see your love. Zeal is all I’m seeing now.

          • but to your comment, in regards to the “walking in shoes” bit you got so upset about, I’m sorry for not being more clear. That is a common idiom and I figured it didn’t need explanation. I only meant by it that I once made the same arguments you and the others are making on this issue. Nothing more, nothing less. You read far too much into that – my fault for being a sloppy writer.

            Regarding being zealous over seeing others freed from the bondage of sin, guilty as charged! Would that all our pastors be so zealous! God changes desires, Morgan. He gives us new hearts. You would deny that to the very people you think you are defending and “loving.” I find that tragic, not to mention a lack of faith in God to do what God promises to do for those who will humble themselves before Him, rather than seek to win an argument at every turn.

          • Don’t say you’re “sorry” that I’m an idiot who can’t understand a common idiom. That’s not an apology. It’s a justification.

        • Sorry for the misunderstanding about who replied to who. And for intentionally leaving out “the other part” for slimy rhetorical purposes. That was inappropriate, and a sign of putting zeal over love.

          I’m just really upset at how this one point seems to transform the UMC into something completely different from what I’ve grown up with and believe in. Normally we seem to accept each others’ disagreements and strive for a healthy dialogue, even if that doesn’t always happen. But for some reason homosexuality is the big “incompatibility” that requires total conformity.

          I don’t understand why we don’t put pastors on trial for marrying idolaters, adulterers, drunkards, swindlers, etc., especially when we’re choosing to focus on convicting those already most despised by Christians as a whole. Especially when there’s so much opposition to this among United Methodists. It seems like it would be better for both sides to try to understand each other and allow for disagreement, rather than trying to silence and discipline us until we align our beliefs with yours.

          And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe homosexual acts are sinful, and maybe the Bible is actually clear about it, and maybe it’s one of the core principles of being a disciple of Jesus. But I have a lot of trouble understanding it when the people taking that stance seem to be playing the part of the Pharisees, eager to carry out their Biblical stoning of the heretic, instead of following Jesus’ example and waiting to tell her not to sin ONLY after understanding her and acting on her behalf. It makes them seem motivated by power and self-righteousness, not by love.

          I hope this doesn’t come across as more mean-spirited arguing. I really do want to understand where you’re coming from, since comments like my last one will never be of any help.
          Thanks for replying.

          • Calvin, thanks for your comment, particularly for the tone. As a pastor who no doubt marries idolaters and others, I hear you. I have some thoughts but none I feel comfortable sharing here. I’m choosing to reply here only to give you my email if you’d like to talk. cjwh74@gmail.com

            peace

  15. Morgan, an excellent post that I wish everyone would read. It is what is in our heart that matters, and nothing else. While “actions speak louder than words,” our hearts scream from the mountain tops.

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