That was the first word the Rev. Paul Stallsworth thought about the defrocking of former Methodist pastor Frank Schaefer after an
Eastern Pennsylvania Methodist church trial ruled last month that he had violated Methodist policy by performing his son’s same-sex union.
But Stallsworth, who is the pastor of Whiteville United Methodist Church in Whiteville, N.C. and an expert witness in the penalty phase of the trial, said he believed the jury did the right thing. Schaefer was formally defrocked on Dec. 19.
Stallsworth also said he had never met Schaefer before he was invited to give testimony at his trial about the Methodist Book of Discipline.
Stallsworth is the editor of the Lifewatch newsletter, which states its mission as: “Out of obedience to Jesus Christ, the Task Force of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality (TUMAS) will work to create in church and society esteem for human life at its most vulnerable, specifically for the unborn child and for the Woman who contemplates abortion. Therefore, TUMAS’s first goal is to win the hearts and minds of United Methodists, to engage in abortion-prevention through theological, pastoral and social emphases that support human life.”
The Whiteville pastor said the jury of other Methodist pastors seemed thoughtful in its deliberation.
“Nobody was excited about establishing a penalty for Rev. Schaefer. I didn’t relish being an expert witness in this trial. It was a tragic event, very tragic,” Stallsworth said. “However, tragedy is more common of the Christian faith than people would believe. It’s an important part of life in Christ together. It’s something that the church had to do for the sake of her own fidelity and integrity, and this was not done with a victor’s glee. It was done with a strong sense of tragedy.”
The United Methodist Conference is of two minds on acceptance of gays and lesbians in its congregations. The denomination allows gay and lesbian members, but its Book of Discipline prohibits pastors from presiding at gay wedding ceremonies and calls the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Since he was defrocked, Schaefer has received speaking invitations and support from other churches across the nation.
But Stallsworth said, while it was clear the jury respected Schaefer as a person, he had defied the letter of Methodist law on performing a same-sex union.
“It was clearly established that Rev. Schaefer broke the rights and ceremonies of the church, which were inspired by God’s word, so he needs to be rebuked openly, and he needs to be rebuked openly so others fear to do the like. This should be a deterrent,” Stallsworth said. “Some people say ‘Oh there’s that word fear again.’ But fear involves respect. We should respect the church and her doctrines enough not to go out and break those rites at will.”
Stallsworth also said church trials were a backwards way to settle conflicts over major social issues.
“The best way to do this is not to go out and break the discipline, but to argue in the conferences of the church for reform in this area,” he added. “Church trials are not the best way to inform the church.”
At the trial, the Whiteville pastor said Schaefer was honest about his feelings about performing same-sex unions.
“He said he was a new kind of minister, an activist, a revisionist pastor who would promote LGBT concerns,” Stallsworth recalled, “so I believe he exhibited some integrity in saying who he is and what he planned to do with his future. He made it very clear where he was headed.”