Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Conversation Matters (Even in Church Trials)

Rev. Christopher Fisher had one simple job, and it was probably one of his easiest assignments. All he had to do was say, “Look, here’s the church’s law.” And, “Look, here’s what happened.” Then, “Obviously you can see that what happened here broke the church’s law.”

And then Rev. Frank Schaefer would have been convicted. In fact Rev. Schaefer doesn’t even deny breaking the law. He freely admits it, even celebrates it, as many do. It would have been Rev. Fisher’s easiest case ever.

It could have been calm, reasonable, respectful, and grace-filled. It could have been what it was designed to be: a rational, relational process of church discipline.

But, according to the Associated Press article, his closing argument completely derailed any possibility of that happening. I don’t know why he said what he said, if it came from inside his own mind, if he was instructed to say what he said, or what. I do not know Rev. Christopher Fisher at all, and so I do not know where he is coming from. I do not know his perspective. All I have is the article:

“Fisher used his closing argument to condemn homosexuality as immoral and said Schaefer had no right to break a Methodist law that bans pastors from performing same-sex marriages just because he disagreed with church teaching. He told jurors they were duty-bound to convict.
 ‘You'll give an account for that at the last day, as we all will,’ he told the jury, to audible gasps from spectators.

Well, that escalated quickly.

I wonder what Rev. Fisher was hoping to accomplish in his closing? Why the judgement day reference? Why the broad swipe at the morality of a particular sexual orientation? He had one simple job. One very easy job, in fact. But then he had to make it truly bizarre.

It isn’t church trials that give the UMC a bad name. It is remarks like were reported from Rev. Fisher’s closing statement. Such comments are an enormous obstacle to the mission of the church.

The denomination has processes in place for a reason. You can like those processes or not, but it’s no secret that they are there. There is one way to change those processes - the General Conference. And Rev. Schaefer has every right to break a Methodist law that he believes is unjust. He knew what the consequences of that decision were, and he did it anyway. And so it goes.

But the officially designated lawyer for the denomination seemed to make it a whole lot bigger than it actually was with his apocalyptic language and sweeping condemnation of an entire orientation. This was a case about a pastor doing the wedding of his son. That’s all it was. That was the “agenda” here. But apparently Rev. Fisher couldn’t resist the opportunity to lay down a little more oh, so unhelpful rhetoric that will do nothing but inflame emotions.

And distract the church from what we are truly supposed to be doing, namely, the mission to serve as ambassadors of grace on behalf of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.

(Caveat: Again I will repeat that I do not know the entirety of the closing statement that was referenced in the article. All that I have is what I included above. If I am overstating things, I apologize.)


Tommy Conder said...

thank you for the thought provoking article. I had not heard of the closing remarks....sigh

KC Bob said...

Good stuff Andy!

bob said...

I read the article on line a couple of days ago and the article wasn't real clear on the order in which the statements came. The Rev. Frank Schaefer's comments could be viewed as inflammatory as well depending on your point of view. I think Rev. Fisher is only human and probably lost his temper.

Your right Christians look bad when we speak in anger or claim that we alone know God's word. However much of what goes on in the homosexual marriage debate is meant to provoke.