The refrocking

I’ll leave to others the deep analysis of the “refrocking” of Frank Schaefer.

It does appear to me that Judicial Council Decision 240 rules out the kind of penalty imposed on him. Here is the paragraph that seems most relevant to me:

Thus the Trial Court had the power to impose one of three alternate penalties, each of different severity. It is a well established rule that statutes prescribing penalties are to be strictly construed. When punishment is imposed under one of the alternative procedures, that particular punishment should be applied justly without added penalty or onerous condition borrowed from the other alternatives which were not invoked.

It seems as well that the trial court should have known about Decision 240 when it devised its penalty the first time. It appears that the 30-day suspension — whatever its motivation — was an error if the court felt he deserved to be defrocked.

I’ll be curious to see if there is another line of argument that emerges in an appeal or among those who defend the original penalty.

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9 thoughts on “The refrocking

  1. This ruling dates back before merger. There have been thirteen General Conference sessions since 1963 and the argument was made that the language has been changed in GCs since. But, the NEJ Committee on Appeals was selected in order to overturn these verdicts. So, it is highly likely that the original trial court ruling will be reinstated.

    1. So here is the language about trial court penalties in the current version of the Book of Discipline, under which Frank Schaefer was defrocked:

      The trial court shall have the power to remove the respondent from professing membership, terminate the conference membership, and revoke the credentials of conference membership, commissioning, ordination, or consecration of the respondent, suspend the respondent from the exercise of the functions of office, or to fix a lesser penalty. The penalty fixed by the trial court shall take effect immediately unless otherwise indicated by the trial court.

      Looking at the verbs, I see three penalties described. The first includes the verbs “remove,” “terminate,” and “revoke.” The second is suspension. The third is fixing a lesser penalty. (By the way, the grammar is a mess here. Can I get the General Conference to hire me as grammar editor?)

      The argument in Decision 240 was that you cannot fix a suspension and then also throw in a conditional defrocking. One penalty (suspension or defrocking) must be chosen. The language in the Discipline in Decision 240 is different than the paragraph above, but the principle in Decision 240 does not appear to be moot. Unless there is some other language in the BOD or a later Judicial Council ruling, I don’t see an error in the ruling.

  2. You raise a good point, John. I haven’t had time to analyze the decision, yet. The problem is that the trial court is made up of pastors like you and me, with almost no knowledge of Judicial Council decisions or church law. The presiding officer (bishop) cannot influence the trial court. And he probably has only a little more knowledge of church law. This eventuality was not covered in his instructions to the trial court. I believe that the respondent argued that the bishop and the bishop’s counsel unfairly influenced the penalty already. So it is a tricky line to walk. It’s what happens when amateurs are working our judicial system. It’s why the Catholic Church has professional canon lawyers.

    1. Tom, thank you for posting your comment.

      I must say that seems like a crazy system. If the decisions of the court are going to be thrown out because they do not follow the law, then there should be some sort of way to help make sure the court knows what the law is.

  3. Your post makes a signature contribution to the language around the entire issue: you have given us a new word, “refrocking.”

    Words cannot thank you enough.

    1. I wish I could take credit for coining that term. I picked it up somewhere else. I think Schaefer might have used it himself.

  4. When I read this I could not help but compare the plight of Meriam Ibrahim to Schaefer and the choices they made. Meriam Ibrahim, a woman out of Sudan, was imprisoned for her Christian Faith and gave birth to her newborn in prison. Meriam, who I am sure loves her husband and family also, had to make a choice to deny her faith in Christ or be put to death. Meriam chose to uphold the first commandment even if it meant death.

    In the early church there were other women who suffered a much worse fate named Perpetua and Felicity. Perpetua was a nursing mother and Felicity was a pregnant woman who also gave birth while imprisoned. They too were from the continent of Africa. Perpetua loved her father but would disobey his please for her to turn from the Christian Faith. It is said the story of Perpetua and Felicity plight would be made famous in the Early Christian Church. Both women are considered Saints in the Roman Catholic Church.

    Schaefer is pastor and leader. Meriam Ibrahim, Perpetua and Felicity, held no such position of authority and made very different choices. The difference in character and allegiance is striking. It makes you wonder who should be leading who and if Meriam Ibrahim’s story will be made famous in the CC of today.

    1. “d” reminds us of what real Christian character consists of, real courage, real commitment, not to temporal novelties but to Christ at all costs. I appreciate the witness that ekes out in spaces like this one. We may not relish the moment God has appointed for us, but it IS our moment, and we best use it to boast only in the cross of Jesus Christ.

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