Frank Schaefer: To Err on the Side of Love
By Amy Pazan

On the weekend of March 29, defrocked pastor Frank Schaefer visited the Seattle Area to meet and greet supporters and to preach at Queen Anne United Methodist Church. Young person, Amy Pazan had an opportunity to listen to Schaefer’s message on Sunday as he preached a message based on the healing of the blind man.


NEWS_SchaeferLast week, I had the opportunity to hear Frank Schaefer give a sermon at Queen Anne UMC. Schaefer preached on the story of Jesus healing the blind man on the Sabbath.

During the sermon, Schaefer shared that a connection can be made between those who refused to help the blind man and those who were in the trial and in the jury. The jury members and the would-be good Samaritans decided to follow the given law (whether it was local law or general rules from their own established beliefs) instead of following their own good conscience.

As a pastor in Lebanon Pa., Schaefer was asked by his son Tim to marry him and his partner in 2007. For Tim, the church is a big part of his life, so having his father officiate the wedding was important to him. Schaefer, in an act of love for his own son, went against the Book of Discipline to conduct this ceremony. Similarly, Jesus went against the local laws of the Sabbath and healed the blind man.

In his reflection, Schaefer said during worship “You cannot err if you are on the side of love”. When you do something out of love, you are putting yourself on the line by doing what is right for you, and no one else – this was a risk Schaefer was willing to take.

With our current discussion on homosexuality and the Church, we will continue to ask different questions. When love and ministry are on trial, where do we stand after seeing both sides of this story played out over social media, different websites, and weekly conversation with our fellow congregants? As a Church, how can we be in ministry WITH the LGBTQ community for conversation that is welcoming, life-affirming, and expressive of the grace given to us by God?

As we too err on the side of love and seek answers, we are in prayer for everyone involved – from our bishops to our pastors, to critics and supporters, and for those struggling for acceptance in our local churches in the PNW.


Amy Pazan is a young person and a member of Aldersgate UMC (Bellevue, Wash.)
and attends Central Washington University (Ellensburg, Wash.)
Be sure to stay tuned to The PNW News Blog for an interview with Frank Schaefer, coming soon!

17 COMMENTS

  1. Ah, I heard portions of this sermon on-line from Foundry United Methodist Church. He is doing what I can do in retirement: preach the same sermon over and over again. And since his is a good one, it is worth preaching (and hearing) over and over again. Frank and I may be related, though one of us doesn’t spell our last name correctly.

    Thanks to those at Queen Anne UMC who bring good speakers to the Seattle Area. We are all blessed by those efforts.

    • Special thanks for Amy to writing this article. I am glad Amy is on board to help support in sharing stories of the Conference! John….ever think about writing?

      • I am in the process of creating a “blog” to fulfill some of my writing needs. The first one is about the most significant event in my life (next to getting married) when I caught a 57 pound King Salmon in Sitka Sound. Not very spiritual, but very inspirational at the time. It was just before my 57th birthday. Some present!

        When I write something more significant (and timely), I will let you know my blog address etc. etc.

        Some one in my Connexion Group at church just sent an item to me, not know that I have left instructions (which may or may not be followed) to have this quote in the worship bulletin or folder at my Memorial Service, which isn’t scheduled anytime soon, but who knows?

        Talk about a poor memory. I have not left that instruction. Some thing to do to update in my instructions for the Celebration of Life. Here is my “instructions” to the person who delivers the sermon or “homily”. Will it be followed?:

        Message (be brief and to the point) John liked the word “All”. I spent much of my life trying to help persons be open to new ways of seeing and believing, so don’t blow it at my memorial service by suggesting that the only way to God is through Christianity. I hope God worked through me, but I also believe God works through all people.

        (Footnote: if I had read this statement to the Board of Ordained Ministry prior to my ordination, would the vote to ordain me have been unanimous? Hypothetical, as it was not written then.)

        Also included is my 4th verse for “This Is My Song”
        This is my goal, O God of all the world’s faiths,
        Respect for all, for those with conflict rife.
        An end to hate, war and all bitter bloodshed,
        For all persons have hope, a love of life.
        Help reach our goal, Thou God of all the world’s faiths,
        Doing our part, to lift us from dark strife.”
        (copyrighted) However, sadly, one phrase does not work well with the music. Rejected by the hymnal committee for inclusion in the next hymnal. Hopefully, there will never be another hymnal. Hymnals do as much damage as good, theologically speaking.

        We have sung this in my last two churches and some actually paid attention to the content and asked questions about what it meant. A few even disagreed. Welcome to my world. I disagree with the content of so many hymns that I have lost count.

        I expect others to be brief and to the point, but I don’t always practice what I preach.

  2. Seriously, is there no end to the confusion? How can any responsible person argue that “since Jesus broke the Sabbath rules I can break my Book of discipline”? There is a VAST difference and too long to debate here. However, to say that “you can not err if you are on the side of love” is so simplistic and Twitter-fied that it makes for a warm fuzzy feeling until you start thinking about it (and its logic).
    It seems to me to be BLATANT subjectivism and borderline hedonism (“Do whatever feels good to you”). I would argue that there are plenty of things you can do that you think has to do with love but really don’t. This is as far from Biblical love as you can get…almost.

    So a hyper-sexualized secular world finds fault with God’s view of sexuality and a church man sides with it and finds that God is in the wrong becasue it hits close to home?

    • Hi Andreas,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this article. I think you make some interesting points. Be sure to check out the blog again for my interview with Frank Schaefer during his visit to the Seattle Area. -JNL

    • Making the Bible equal to “God” is also simplistic. Lots of things in the Bible are attributed to God that are just plain wrong. Or to put it more clearly, sometimes the Bible is just plain wrong.

      Now let the discussion begin.

      • Well, without trying to be rude…how is it possible for anyone to argue that the Bible doesn’t contain the word of God and yet claim to be a Christian? People are free to chose whether the Bible is wrong or invented or a bunch of fairytales or the infallible Word of God…but I don’t understand why some people confuse categories by claiming to be something they are not.
        If you don’t believe that the Bible is God’s word and that it sometimes is “plain wrong” you are not a Christian because that is what Christians believe (that it is the Word of God and always correct). Since you didn’t invent/start Christianity you are not free to define it. It already exists and it is independent of you and your opinion. It will not force you to believe but if you chose to believe there are already existing things that you will then in fact believe.

        • Where to start? First of all, thank you for your respectful style of disagreeing. I will try to match you as much as possible. You are correct that the Book of Discipline is a human invention. The same is true of the Bible. Human beings decided what would be in and what would not be in. We know when and who made those decisions. For the most part they did a very good job. For example, it was appropriate to leave out some of the gnostic scriptures. Some parts of the Bible are inspiring and truly inspired. But to hold that Psalm 137 is inspired scripture separates me from thee. Anyone who suggests that I should believe in a God who would take delight in bashing out the brains of little children is tackling a very tough job.

          I have studied the Bible’s treatment of eunuch’s. We are able to see biblical writers treat them very badly and other biblical writers, under the influence of the spirit of Jesus, treat them much better. Eunuch’s were not allowed into the inner part of the temple. There is documentation of one standing in the outer court and then as he returned home to Ethiopia he encountered Philip and was the first Christian convert. Many Bible verses badmouth eunuchs and this story in Acts Chapter 8 includes eunuchs.

          I don’t have to leap very far to include persons who have a different style of sexuality than me, that is, homosexuals, into the Kingdom. It is a Bible thing. It is a God thing.

          It was also interesting to see how Jesus treated divorce. In his challenge of the Jewish practices of his day, he brought equal rights to women in a very male centered society.

          One time a woman came to me for marriage. She was divorced from her preacher husband and she had six children. She first words, believing as you do, was “how can you in good conscience, officiate at my marriage”? The Bible is clearly against remarriage after divorce except in some very narrow circumstances. It does not give women permission to divorce abusive husbands. I do and I have.

          I told her I would get back to her and I did a quick, but deep biblical study on the question. I learned that Jesus forbade divorce to bring justice to the women in the lst century. So I could remarry this woman in the 20th century because it was the just thing to do. Justice relates to the homosexual question, too. I really, really believe in justice.

          This woman’s pastor had refused to remarry her, but he sent her to me, saying that “John Shaffer will do it.” Her pastor didn’t attend the wedding, but he and his wife baby-sat the six children while they went on a brief honeymoon AND THE PASTOR AND HIS WIFE PROVIDED a nice wedding reception back in their church. Interesting way to handle his problem with trying to take the Bible literally. It is much easier to suggest that the biblical directive is wrong for my time and place in human history. Even the United Methodist Church (ie. Methodist Church) changed its rules on this subject six years before I was ordained.

          And now the United Methodist Church should change its rules because it is an issue of justice. Not an issue of sin, but an issue of justice.

          • Although I don’t agree with your conclusion I actually agree with your basic argument, i.e how can a church who keeps changing the rules (that at the time were deemed Biblical) claim any moral or Biblical authority?
            This is why I struggle with being a UMC pastor. While I believe that homosexuality is a sin when practiced I also believe that divorce is, so how come we allow one but not the other?

            My conclusion is that to be consistent we should disallow divorce, not approve gay marriage…if the Bible is to be seen as authoritative and the word of God.

          • We should allow both and will in time. We should back off from making decisions about other people’s lives in these two areas: marriage and sexual orientation and let people work it out without “passing” restrictions in the Discipline (UMC) that are wrong, cruel and unworkable, past and present.

            Good luck on taking a stand against divorce. It will cut down on your work load if you refuse to officiate at marriages of divorced persons. The former position of the church on marriage was cruel and the current position of the church on homosexuality is cruel. And both were and are unworkable.

            Don’t get too excited about being consistent. Thank God or Microsoft or whomever for the Internet. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” He actually said more. Look it up.

            Oscar Wilde said: “Consistency is the hallmark of the unimaginative.” I will try to remember those when I am next accused of being inconsistent.

            We have learned a lot since biblical times and I, for one, vote to use some of the insights that have come to us through the ages. I accept the fact that the earth does rotate and moves, even though the Bible has a different basis in some of its writings. And the Catholic Church threatened to kill anyone who disagreed with them. Recently they apologized for that position, but not to the people they killed or terrorized. You see, sometimes the Bible is wrong. How could that me? It is a product of human beings. Some of them were inspired, but then, sometimes so am I.

            There are lots of good books to challenge your position on homosexuality. I commend them to you. I was helped by Sara Boesser’s book “Silent Lives: How High a Price?” I was a colleague of her father’s for a few years. Virginia Mollenkott influenced me greatly in the 1980’s with her book: “Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?” (want to guess her answer to the question?) What some are saying about homosexuals in my part of the world is not loving. Some things could even be described as “hateful”.

          • I don’t know that we will get múch further since you and I obviously disagree at a very foundational level about what it means to be a Christian, mainly on the issue of the Bible. The basic question seems to be “how can we tell what really is the Word of God without letting our own biases decide?”. If you are correct then I fear that the church will cast off its historical moorings and start drifting on the sea of “the spirit of the age”. Today we “ok” homosexuality in the name of “love”…but what about tomorrow? If we cast off our fetters to the infallibility of the Bible then we must know that we also cast out into rampant subjectivism, never to return. Sure, some welcome that change but it makes me shudder with trepidation.

            I thank you for your candor and pray God’s blessing over you.
            Good-bye,
            /Andreas

    • And moving on to another subject, sometimes the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church is just plain wrong. There may be some virtue in following it blindly, but in the end, it makes the church look very foolish.

      When I got ordained, I signed a piece of paper that I would not smoke. It bothered me to sign that piece of paper, but I did it in order to get ordained. In other words, I followed the rules…then.

      A classmate tried to get ordained in his conference. He did not smoke, but he thought signing the piece of paper was wrong, so he refused to sign it. He was not ordained. Some of the members of the (sic) Board of Ordained Ministry were smokers. And I am not talking about the Bible Belt where, in some sections, many clergypersons smoked.

      I have no memory of church trials on that (not) important subject. But eventually the Book of Discipline got on the side of reality and a bit of compassion. There are some who say that smoking cigarettes is very addictive.

      There are some who still argue that the Bible is against smoking with the verse that describes our bodies as “temples”. Of course, they were probably never in any real temples where lots of things were smoking, I never converted to being Orthodox – could not handle the incense. So I could not join the “true” church.

      • Yes, the BoD is not infallible and a human invention. But it rests on the Bible. Thus, if a BoD doctrine is found to be counter to Scripture it should be voided. However, this is not the case here. This is a high-jacking of the word “love” to mean “whatever I at this point in time feel” and not the Biblical meaning of whatever God means.
        Look, if homosexuality is fine and not sinful then God and/or the Bible and/or the Church got it wrong for over 2000 years. But wait, a hyper-sexualized society has finally realized that it is fine and ok and beautiful and loving. Really? Some people claim to know what Paul meant by what he wrote in Romans as to NOT mean what it says…but that someone is also living in a world of serial monogamy, no-fault divorces, and a multi-billion dollar sexualized media industry (and that doesn’t include the pornography industry).

        Schaeffer’s argument is equally valid for marital unfaithfulness as he claims it is for gay marriage. If a man has an affair because he loves another woman, how can he err, mr. Schaeffer?

        • Well, now we are making some headway. The Bible got lots of things wrong, even it was getting it right.

          Creation stories in the Bible are very beautiful and spiritual, but that does not make them accurate, historically or scientifically. Does that bother me? Not in the least.

          What bothers me is persons claiming that they are accurate historically or scientifically. I have friends who believe the universe and the earth were created 6,000 years ago. They even claim that is what the Bible says. They are wrong on both counts, but I digress.

          Homosexuality, as we are experiencing it in our century is not dealt with in the Bible. Committed, long-term same-sex relationships are not dealt with in the Bible. Lust is dealt with. Sexual exploitation is dealt with. I am not in favor of lust (though I have experienced it) and I am not in favor of sexual exploitation (though I have probably been guilty of that, too), but I am in favor of loving, committed same-sex relationships. The first Bishop of our church to say “no” to the church’s stand on this issue was Mel Talbert. He had had experience with church members in 60 year committed relationships and he had a son who was gay. He stood up and said “NO” to what his church was saying about his members and his son.

          So who has a corner on the spirit of Jesus Christ in this discussion? Time will tell. But time is on the side of compassion, mercy and justice. And those concepts are very biblical, too. In fact, they are mentioned more often than same-sex relationships.

        • Andreas:

          One thing more… (just like Columbo)

          You asked, “How is it possible for anyone to argue that the Bible doesn’t contain the word of God and yet claim to be a Christian?” I don’t think I responded to that.

          Back when I was teaching these things, I would say: “The Bible contains the word of God, but the Bible isn’t the word of God.”, so I guess I would agree with you on part of this, but I am not into deciding who is or is not a Christian. I would prefer everyone decides that for themselves instead of having others stand in judgment over that question.

          I cut my teeth on this question early in my ministry when I served at Moose Pass, Alaska. I was out visiting in nearby Cooper Landing and happened to knock on the door of a fundamentalist Baptist preacher. When he found out who I was, he questioned me on this point. It was clear that if I didn’t give the right answer, I was not be welcome to come into his house for a cup of coffee. Sadly, I deceived the poor man and I got my cup of coffee.

          I said: “I believe that the Bible is the Word of God” (but under my breathe I said, “if by that you mean that the Bible contains the word of God.”) Not one of my better moments in life.

          In that same community I was visiting a young couple in their home and when they trusted me a wee bit, they told me about a preacher who had visited them and he was trying to convince them that his beliefs were correct and that theirs were wrong. Finally, he announced that they were going to hell and he stormed out of the house. A few second later (probably an eternity for him), he opened the door to the closet and came out and exited through the door to the out side. Now that is one of my favorite stories. I have never made that mistake. If you are going to make an ass out of yourself, be sure you know which door is the correct exit.

          I will never know if this pastor was the same one who grilled me on my beliefs before letting me into his house. If I had life to live over again, I would have declined his offer of coffee and been on my way.

  3. Goodbye. Hard to communicate when you are speaking past me to that other guy with a similar name to myself. One of the many problems with infallibility is that often those claiming infallibility for the Bible are actually claiming infallibility for their interpretation of the Bible or worse yet, claiming infallibility for themselves. Then you get the inquisition. Or, in the case of United Methodism, church trials. Wiser persons than I are putting a stop to that before we embarrass ourselves even more.

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