The courage of couples

wedding rings 1Tim Schaefer takes the stand today.

Tim’s father, Rev. Frank Schaefer, was found guilty yesterday in a United Methodist Church trial for officiating at Tim’s wedding to his similarly-gendered partner six years ago. An inactive member of Schaefer’s church, angry because his mother and Schaefer had a disagreement which led to her being fired from her position as organist by the church’s personnel committee (SPRC, for Methopeeps), hunted down the marriage license and filed a complaint against Pastor Frank, just after his mother’s termination and just before the statute of limitations ran out.

Today, the jury will hear testimony to decide a sentence for Rev. Schaefer, which could range from a reprimand to being stripped of his credentials as a United Methodist clergy person.

Much has been made about Pastor Frank’s love for his son, which motivated him to officiate at the wedding. While this is beautiful and true, I rather think that all clergy should be motivated by their love of other people’s children as well. Nevertheless, Pastor Frank’s action is rightly heralded as heroic, courageous, and loving.

But what about Tim and his partner? What about the couple dragged into the spotlight for doing what couples everywhere long to do when they are in love and want to spend their lives together?

The sad fact is that when a United Methodist clergy person officiates at a wedding for persons who are of similar genders, that clergy person takes a risk with her or his livelihood. But the couple getting married takes a risk as well. Their names get printed online and flashed across TV screens. Their pictures are plastered on newspaper articles and church websites. Their marriage, relationship, sexuality, and very personhood are dissected, debated, shamed, and stigmatized. The counsel for the church yesterday used his closing argument to rant, not about a violation of church policy, but about the “unnaturalness” of homosexuality.

It takes a special sort of couple to be willing to subject themselves to such a spectacle, centered around what should be a celebration of their love and commitment before God and their loved ones.

I think this is why we see so many trials and cases in mediation involving pastors officiating for their children: Frank Schaefer, Tom Ogletree, Steve Heiss. The couple married have to agree to journey with their officiant into the dark pit of church policy, hateful rhetoric, and punitive judgements. It takes a trust that perhaps these children share with their parents. It takes courage on the part of the couples, to become the faces of the pain inflicted by the church’s injustice.

I have talked with similarly-gendered couples contemplating getting married, and we have discussed together (something I’ve never had to discuss with a heterosexual couple!) whether or not they are willing to be part of this frenzy, whether they want to take and disclose an action that could make their wedding day a political hot topic. Across the board, they have said that they did not want to be subjected to such public scrutiny, and I affirm their choices to maintain privacy and sacredness for themselves. The outcomes of those conversations are not mine to disclose; they belong to the couples themselves.

And so today I give thanks and I pray for the courageous couples who are so willing, who allow their love for one another to also be a call for justice, who invite the world to come barging into their relationships, so that God’s justice might one day barge into our church.

Today I give thanks for Tim.

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14 Responses

  1. Thank you for your faithful witness, Becca.

  2. Thanks. Waiting.

  3. UMC, stop hating LGBT. It’s ludicrous that the UMC has “convicted” a father of the “crime” of officiating at his son’s wedding to another human being. The UMC, like so many other haters and bigots throughout history, is using the Bible and other texts as an excuse to treat LGBT as second-class citizens.

    • Yes, this action is saddening and sickening. I think the UMC is better than this, and I hope and pray that the day comes soon when this discrimination stops for good.

      Until then, working in the struggle. Peace,
      Becca

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful insights re the couple(s) being married. As an ordained, retired elder, I’m considering asking a couple in California if they would be willing to undergo such an absurd scrutiny so that they could be married by dozens of clergy here. Do I even have the right to ask such a question?

    • Carole, I’m not sure how that question gets asked in your context. In my case, the couples and I have had conversations about publicity and what things could look like, and what they are comfortable with. Their responses flow from there.

      Grace and Peace,
      Becca

  5. I believe the United Church of Chrust would welcome hin with open arms!

  6. […] because I don’t know what to feel. I read Reverend Becca Girell’s moving words on the Courage of CouplesĀ and wept for the many men and women and their families who are torn apart. I wept because we are a […]

  7. […] 11/19/2013 – Rev. Becca Girrell – The courage of couples […]

  8. […] 11/19/2013 – Rev. Becca Girrell – The courage of couples […]

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