Héctor Sánchez Castañeda
Isla Vista Beat Reporter
Reverend Franklyn Schaefer of the University United Methodist Church declared his church a safe zone for locals of all sexual orientations and identities on Sunday, May 1, in response to homophobic remarks made in the building by an outside group early last month.
The Isla Vista Church — headed by Jason Lomelino and known for its weekly distribution of “Jesus Burgers” in I.V. — invited Pastor Roger Joyner of Oroville to give its April 10 sermon. After some of Joyner’s comments on homosexuality reached Schaefer’s congregation, Schaefer opened a dialogue with Lomelino on the stipulations for using the church space. When Lomelino signed the building-use agreement, he had agreed not to promote themes that contradict the church’s mission statement, which Joyner’s comments allegedly violated.
“We’ve seen God break in with power [to reach] people who are struggling with same-sex attraction,” Joyner said at one point in his sermon, according to Schaefer. Schaefer said the LGBT+ community has been hearing these types of discriminatory messages for years, and recounted how they caused one of his sons to attempt suicide in the past.
Schaefer, a German-born American, addressed a crowd of approximately 20 on the church’s front lawn Sunday afternoon, starting his speech with an apology to the LGBT+ community for the incident.
“The homophobia, the transphobia, the heterosexism has to stop, along with the racism and the sexism and all the other ‘-isms’ that are seen around here,” Schaefer said.
Reverend Scott Claassen from St. Michael’s University Church spoke at the event and declared his church’s solidarity with Schaefer. “We want you to know that you are not alone,” Claassen said.
He recognized the transgender community and announced that his congregation will hold a transgender solidarity dinner at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 5 — the same day and time as an event hosted by the University of California, Santa Barbara chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty. The university group will host guest speaker Matt Walsh, who will discuss why transgenderism is “contrary to human flourishing,” according to a Facebook event page.
Reverend Scott Richardson, senior pastor for the First United Methodist Church of Santa Barbara, also denounced Joyner’s comments and said the church’s only place for homophobia is the altar, for people to ask for forgiveness on their “shameful lies of fear and exclusion.”
“The comments made by a preacher a few weeks ago… really put God’s love for human beings into a kind of conditional litmus test,” Richardson said. “Suggesting that the love of God gets through to many people, apparently many straight people, but praying that ‘people who are struggling with same-sex attraction’ would encounter the love of God.”
If Lomelino wanted to continue using the premises for his church’s gatherings, he would have to publicly denounce Joyner’s comments and state his willingness to initiate same-sex weddings, per a demand by Schaefer.
“My conscience cannot do that in faith,” Lomelino told The Bottom Line, also stating that his church “loves homosexuals” regardless and that, “at the end of the day, all people are welcome in Jesus’ church.”
Since Lomelino did not agree to Schaefer’s condition, the Isla Vista Church will no longer be allowed to use the University UMC, and will instead host their gatherings in Lomelino’s house at 6737 Sueno Road from now on. Their last gathering at UMC took place this past Sunday.
After the reverends gave their speeches at the rally, Schaefer invited audience members to speak. UCSB alumna Chely Rodriguez spoke about her spiritual journey and how she has struggled to find a religious community that accepts her and her partner.
“We’ve been to so many churches where we just felt the doors were closed on us,” Rodriguez said. “I just feel really blessed to be able to come and have a community and have a family within the church.”
After public speeches, Schaefer read a statement by UCSB Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Margaret Klawunn on some discriminatory chalk messages that appeared on campus several weeks ago, expressing gratitude for the stance she took in favor of all communities.
Schaefer made national headlines in 2013 when the UMC tried him for charges levied against him for performing his son’s same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2007. The UMC found him guilty and defrocked him after he refused to say he would not perform another same-sex marriage, and he lost his church in Pennsylvania as a result. He eventually appealed the decision and was reinstated in 2014, but was told his chances of being accepted by a church were slim due to his controversial history.
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, leader of the California-Pacific Conference of the UMC, accepted Schaefer and offered him his current position in I.V.
“Bishop Carcaño had compassion and she called me and invited me to minister here,” Schaefer said. “Sometimes I joke ‘this is quite the punishment,’ to be sent to Isla Vista and to Santa Barbara County, which is beautiful. I mean, they could’ve sent me to Alaska … or Siberia.”
A documentary titled An Act of Love recounting Schaefer and his family’s journey through the trial and defrocking will premiere at St. Michael’s University Church on May 20.
“It’s not just about my journey,” Schaefer said. “It’s also about other ministers who have been defrocked in the UMC, and it’s a [look] into the context of what’s going on in the UMC.”
After a prayer with a chorus of, “we pray for peace and justice in Isla Vista,” attendees migrated to the entrance of the church. With a new rainbow-colored flag waving from the adjacent church sign, Schaefer led the group, guitar in hand, in a rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”
“I have lived in many states, have traveled in many different nations and I’ve never found people to be different, even though they are different colors [and] different backgrounds,” said Anita Dutt, a member of the Maravilla Senior Living Community in Goleta, during the rally. “Notice that I’m not the fastest runner here,” she said, holding her walking sticks in the air, “and I’m not the youngest. But we have everybody here, and that’s the way I think the church is and shall be forever.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Schaefer declared the Isla Vista Church to be a safe zone. Instead, he declared his own church, the United University Methodist Church in Isla Vista, to be a safe zone.