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Since we began filming shorty after Rev. Schaefer’s trial, it has been our goal to bring this story to a wide audience before the UMC’s General Conference in 2016. We believe that if released at the right time, this film could have a significant impact on the direction the Church takes on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ clergy. Beyond influencing Church law, the personal stories told in the film speak to the hearts and minds of those opposed to or on the fence about fully embracing their LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the UMC and beyond.
What We Need
An Act of Love is currently in post-production and the team is raising the funds necessary to complete the film in time for a wide release prior to the UMC’s 2016 General Conference. Making a direct donation or a tax-deductible donation towards the project is the best way to have an immediate impact on moving the film forward. We are also looking for organizations, churches and individuals who can help connect us with potential donors. A current cut of the film is available for private fundraising screenings and/or to show to individuals who are likely to make a significant contribution to the project. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Any organization, church, or individual who gives $1,000 or more will be listed under "Special Thanks" in the end credits of the film.
Breakdown of Costs
Legal Fees: $2,000
Errors and Omissions Insurance: $10,000
Post Lab Package: $20,000
Sound Mix and Mastering: $15,000
Office and Admin Costs: $3,000
Additional Footage Licensing: $5,000
Staff Stipends*: $20,000
*For the majority of this project the core team has worked for free, however at this point a small living stipend is necessary in order for us to continue to work full-time on finishing the film.
Like many other Christian denominations around the world, the United Methodist Church (UMC) is at a crossroads. The debate over same-sex marriage has reached a point where it threatens to irreparably divide the Church. Will Rev. Schaefer’s trial be the final breaking point for the Church? Or will his story be a part of the final chapter in the long struggle for LGBTQ equality within the UMC?
At the beginning of his career, Schaefer had no intention of getting involved in the controversy over gay marriage in the Church. However, several years into Frank’s ministry at a small church in Pennsylvania, his eldest son, Tim, began to take an interest in Church politics. Frank brought him along to the UMC’s “Annual Conference” where Church legislation is debated and decided on. During that conference, a heated debate sprung up over LGBTQ inclusion in the Church. Unbeknownst to Frank, Tim had been struggling with his own sexuality at the time. After that conference Tim became withdrawn from the family. Amidst fear of rejection from his Church and his family, Tim contemplated suicide. Were it not for an anonymous phone call to his parents, warning them that their son needed help, this story might have ended in tragedy.
Once the Schaefer’s assured their son that they accepted and loved him regardless of his sexual orientation, a new fear arose – what would Frank’s congregation in Lebanon, Pennsylvania think? Tim never felt comfortable in Lebanon, so he moved to Boston for college in an effort to live in a more progressive area. It was in Boston where he met his future husband, Bobby. After college, they were married in a private service in Massachusetts, where Frank officiated. The Schaefers knew that having Frank officiate Tim’s wedding was a risk to his career, but they figured since it was a private family affair that it wouldn’t ruffle any feathers.
The Schaefers were not naïve to think that this wedding would be no big deal. Many ministers have conducted same-sex marriages without penalty, even though it is against Church law. However, there are times when ministers have been brought to trial within the Church and defrocked for officiating same-sex marriages, such as in the case Rev. Jimmy Creech. The possibility of losing his job loomed over Schaefer in the years following the wedding.
Nearly six years passed after Tim and Bobby’s wedding, and no one had brought up the marriage. Only weeks before the statute of limitations ran out, a member of Frank’s church brought an official complaint against him. In November 2013, Frank Schaefer’s Church trial was held over two days in a Church camp gymnasium.
At the end of the trial, the Church gave Frank a choice: promise to never perform a same-sex wedding again, or turn in his credentials as a minister. For Frank, there was no more debating; he would not promise to stop performing same-sex marriages because three out of his four children are gay. He was subsequently defrocked.
But Frank was not done preaching. Immediately after his defrocking, he began a nearly year-long speaking tour, going to churches and rallies around the nation and appearing on several TV shows. While touring the country, Frank filed an appeal for his defrocking in hopes to be reinstated. But he feared that he would lose the appeals process like other ministers had in the past.
Nearly a decade earlier, UMC minister Beth Stroud had been through a similar trial and appeal process. Beth had been tried and defrocked after coming out as a lesbian to her congregation in Philadelphia. She then appealed the decision of the Church to revoke her credentials and won back her ordination. Then, in the last step in the appellate process of the UMC, the Church brought her case to the Judicial Council, where she was again defrocked.
Like Beth Stroud, Frank Schaefer won his first appeal and was reinstated. But also like Beth, the Church brought his case up to the Judicial Council. In an unprecedented decision, the Judicial Council upheld Frank’s reinstatement and he was able to continue as a minister in the UMC. Once he had won his ordination back, Frank accepted a position with the UMC in Southern California and moved from Pennsylvania with his wife, Brigitte.
But as Frank’s story winds down, the storm within the United Methodist Church is just picking up speed. In 2016 the United Methodist Church will meet again for their General Conference, where the rules about same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy will again be debated. As the third largest Christian denomination in the United States, which direction the UMC takes could have ripple effects throughout the entire Christian community, in the US and the world. Frank and his family’s story will undoubtedly have an impact on this discussion.
Why Does This Film Matter?
Full equality for the LGBTQ community cannot exist in the U.S. without the support of the Christian community. Laws may be passed that provide more rights and protections, but those rights will be routinely ignored in places where the community does not agree that LGBTQ citizens should be treated as equals under the law and under God. Just as the struggle for racial and gender equality made huge strides forward once they gained the support of influential religious communities – so will the LGBTQ movement.
This film could be a strategic and important tool to bring about change in one of the most significant Christian denominations in the U.S. – the United Methodist Church. The UMC has been teetering on the verge of change for decades with regards to LGBTQ equality. In May 2016, at the denomination’s General Conference, there will be another chance for the rules of the UMC to change and allow for ordination of LGBTQ clergy and for same-sex marriage within the Church. We want to help influence that decision alongside the thousands of UMC members who have been championing this cause for decades.
For additional information, questions or to organize a fundraising event please contact Kate Logan at email@example.com