by Loren Seibold
As we watch the political muddle of states trying to sort out policy on gay marriage, spare a thought for a group caught in the middle: the clergy.
I recently wrote on another blog about a Seventh-day Adventist pastor who was dismissed from his position as a Bible teacher because he signed the legal (for Washington state) license for his stepdaughter's marriage to another woman. But what was legal for the state wasn't legal for Brett Hadley. In the authoritarian Seventh-day Adventist church, Hadley was quickly fired.
The Methodist church handles the matter by holding trials for pastors accused of marrying gay couples. Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist minister of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, was in November found guilty of violating UMC's Book of Discipline by officiating (back in 2007) at the wedding of his son to another man. Schaefer subsequently had his credentials revoked. (Underlining the similarity to a civil court: Schaefer is appealing the decision.) According to Religious News Service, four other Methodist clergy trials may be convened soon.
To some, the matter may seem simple: if your denomination prohibits marrying gay couples, then don't do it, no matter what state law permits. But in a profession known for organizational compliance, there are still some pastors motivated by conscience and belief more than by polity. A pastor once said to me, "God called me to minister. The denomination I landed in was an accident." As gay marriage is recognized by a growing number of states, it should hardly be surprising that some pastors who hold views that differ from the denomination or congregation they work for will perform weddings for gay couples.
It's hard to know what to make of the UMC's clergy trials. On one hand, they are indicative of defined process and, one hopes, justice. Yet the mere mention of pastors "on trial," especially over something that many regard as a matter of justice to a long-persecuted subgroup, sounds vaguely persecutory itself. (Some Methodist leaders are demanding a discussion of the matter, earlier than the denomination's next General Conference in 2016, perhaps hoping to mitigate PR-damaging situations like Schaefer's.)
We are far from a consensus. Churches are divided. So are citizens. With SCOTUS's passing up the chance to ban gay marriage, state courts are opponents' last chance, and they've generally been supportive of gay marriage. (More likely: renewed challenges to gay marriage bans.) A popular HuffPo piece contrasts Pope Francis' comments on homosexuality with those that got “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson suspended from the popular A&E reality show. Never mind the number of ways the comparison between the two men is absurd: it's one more demonstration of how polarized we are.