Pastor who officiated gay wedding keeps Methodist ordination

The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church ruled Monday that Rev. Frank Schaefer, who was suspended and defrocked in 2013 for performing his son’s wedding to another man, will be allowed to remain an ordained minister.

Karen Pulfer Focht/AP/File
Rev. Frank Schaefer (c.) and his son Tim (2nd l.) walk to a meeting of the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church, in Memphis, Tenn., Oct. 22.

A Methodist pastor who was disciplined after he officiated at the wedding of his gay son will be allowed to remain an ordained minister.

The Judicial Council of the second-largest US Protestant denomination ruled Monday that a Pennsylvania church jury was wrong to defrock Frank Schaefer last year after he would not promise never to perform another same-sex wedding.

The council ruled on technical grounds and did not express support for gay marriage in general. Its decision is final.

Reached by phone after the decision, Schaefer called it "amazing."

He said he was pleased, "not just for myself, but for everyone in the LGBTQ community and the church. This is a positive decision that keeps the dialogue going. They didn't bar a person who is an outspoken activist and who has said that, if asked, he would perform another gay marriage."

Although the United Methodist Church has welcomed gay and lesbian members, the church's Book of Discipline rejects sex outside of heterosexual marriage as "incompatible with Christian teaching."

Since his church trial, Schaefer has become a gay rights activist, galvanizing other Methodists who support full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church.

Following his Wednesday hearing before the Judicial Council, Schaefer said he had no regrets for his actions.

When his son first came out to him as gay, Schaefer said he learned that church doctrine had made his son believe he could not go to heaven.

"He did not want to live any more. He was in so much pain," Schaefer said. So when his son asked Schaefer to officiate at his wedding, the minister accepted. "I did what I did based on my heart and my conscience."

However, Schaefer hid his son's 2007 wedding from his conservative Pennsylvania congregation. The small, private ceremony was held in a restaurant in Massachusetts, where gay marriage had been legal for three years. Schaefer's actions did not become public until 2013, after a member of his congregation learned of the wedding and filed a complaint.

The United Methodist Church, with more than 12 million members worldwide, has been debating its policy on same-sex relationships for four decades, but recently frustration with the current policy has fueled a movement to openly defy church law.

Meanwhile, supporters of the church's stance on same-sex relationships have been pressing church leaders to punish ministers who violate church law. And some conservative pastors have called for a breakup of the denomination, saying the split over gay marriage is irreconcilable.

The council essentially found that Schaefer was subjected to two distinct punishments. First, he was given a 30-day suspension. Then, he was defrocked after he would not promise to uphold the church's Book of Discipline "in its entirety." It was wrong to impose a second punishment for a possible future violation, the council ruled.

The Rev. Christopher Fisher, who argued before the Judicial Council that the church jury was within its rights to defrock Schaefer, said he was disappointed in the decision.

"I understand the legal technicality they have hinged it on," he said. But he also said that it was not clear to the church jury that the penalty they imposed was not allowed.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.