The New York Times sported a front page story extolling the actions and familial love of Rev. Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist minister, whose son Tim, now 30, had been raised in his father’s conservative church in West Germany, Pennsylvania, where sermons, policy and the congregation embodied the belief that homosexuality was a sin, and gay marriage a monstrosity. Then, after he had contemplated suicide, Tim told his father he was gay, and later that he wanted to wed his same-sex partner. The loving father accepted his son and presided over the wedding, causing him to become a target of criticism in his church, and the defendant in a church trial. To the Times reporter, Michael Paulson, he is an unequivocal hero.
He did the right thing, no question, just as Dick Cheney and Republican Senator Rob Portman did the right thing by changing their position on gay marriage when their children showed them the human side of the issue. I also agree that it takes courage to admit you are wrong, and that being able to change one’s ethical analysis is an essential ability for all of us. Indeed, in this post, I designated as an Ethics Hero an outspoken gay marriage opponent for changing his position after he became friends with gay men and women, leading him to realize, as he put it, that
“…as friendships develop, empathy becomes at least possible, no longer kept at bay by a wall of fixed belief. Put simply, becoming friends with gay people who were married or wanted to get married led me to realize that I couldn’t in good conscience continue to oppose it.”
Absolutely. My attitude toward figures like Schaefer and Portman, however, is different. They are in positions of leadership, they knew their organizations were causing pain and suffering by rejecting the needs and rights of other human beings, yet apparently were incapable of examining the consequences of their own conduct for ethical flaws until someone close to them was adversely affected. I don’t see anything admirable in that at all. As I wrote in the case of Portman,
“…Portman firmly, strongly, extensively and consistently declared in public forums, to interviewers and in op-ed pieces that the sanctity of the institution of marriage as well as the moral fiber of the nation depended on withholding the right to marry from millions of law-abiding American citizens, but that the minute one such citizen, someone he actually gave a damn about, risked being adversely affected by his supposedly heart-felt and principled position, he changed his “principles” like he was changing his socks…”
In Rev. Schaefer’s case, I feel even more strongly about this foxhole conversion. Prior to his son’s revelation, Schaefer would have explained to a gay man trying to gain acceptance in his church that this was God’s decision, not his church’s. God says that homosexuality is a sin, and that gay marriage is an abomination, and as God’s servant bound absolutely by morality—God’s immutable moral code, he couldn’t change his vies or his church’s opposition to gay marriage, just as he couldn’t change how the earth spins on its axis.
Oh…my son’s the gay individual involved? Never mind then…hey, want me to handle the service?
There is only one explanation for that flip-flop: Schaefer never bothered to challenge the beliefs and moral code that he was teaching others, even though those beliefs had significant consequences on people’s lives, psyches, and society itself.
Every opponent of gay marriage whose opposition is based in faith and morality should look at themselves in the mirror, and ask if they would hold on to that position if it was their own child seeking acceptance. If such opponents cannot conclude that their view would change and that they would support their child, then it isn’t morality that drives their opposition, but something else—bigotry, intellectual laziness, or simply a preference for the path of least resistance.
Source: New York Times