Minister who presided at gay son's wedding: 'I will never be silent again'

The Methodist minister was convicted by his ecclesiastical peers of breaking church law for presiding at the same-sex wedding. But in a hearing Tuesday to determine punishment he was increasingly defiant.

Chris Knight/AP
The Rev. Frank Schaefer, of Lebanon Pa., walks back to the trial after a lunch break at Camp Innabah, a United Methodist retreat, in Spring City Pa., Nov.19.

The Pennyslvania Methodist minister convicted by a jury of his ecclesiastical peers of breaking church law for presiding over his son's wedding to a man is refusing to repent.

"I did not want to make this a protest about the doctrine of the church. I wasn't trying to be an advocate," The Rev. Frank Schaefer, a father of four, testified Tuesday in a hearing to determine his punishment. "I just wanted this to be a beautiful family affair, and it was that." 

Rev. Schaefer took a visible and increasingly clear stand over the course of Tuesday's proceedings, wearing a rainbow-colored stole on the witness stand. He declined the church prosecution's offer to "repent of and renounce his disobedience to the (Methodist Book of) Discipline," the Associated Press reported, and refused to promise that he wouldn't officiate at more same-sex unions.

Later in the day, his tone became more defiant. The church "needs to stop judging people based on their sexual orientation. We have to stop the hate speech. We have to stop treating them as second-class Christians," he said. "I will never be silent again."

The Rev. Christopher Fisher, who served as prosecutor for the church, argued that "ministers are not free to reinterpret (their) vows according to personal preference," according to the Associated Press. "As a father, I understand the desire to show love and support to my children," he continued. "It's not always true we can do for our children everything they want us to do. True love draws boundaries."

Schaefer, who was raised in a conservative Evangelical home in Germany, told the Washington Post that he, too, had once believed that "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” but decided as a seminarian that there were many possible ways to understand the Christian scriptures.

When he arrived at Zion United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Pa., a community with mixed views on sexual orientation, he avoided discussing the subject both at church and at home. He only learned that his eldest son was gay when he got an anonymous phone call letting him know that the boy, then 16, was considering suicide.

Since then, three of Shaefer's four children have come out as gay.

"In a nation where places of worship tend increasingly to line up on one side or the other on hot-button issues, something beyond Schaefer himself seemed to be on trial: the possibility of a spiritual middle ground," writes the Washington Post.

When his eldest son asked him in 2006 to preside over his wedding, Schaefer told the Post, “seeing my son needing ministry, asking me for help ... I couldn’t pass on the other side of the road like a Levite to preserve a rule. All I saw was love for my son.”

Schaefer's superior acknowledged on the stand that Schaefer had written in 2006 to inform the church that he planned to officiate at his son's wedding, but says he never saw the letter, and would have objected if he had.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a former clergyman testified that both church attendance and financial giving dropped off dramatically after congregants learned that Schaefer had officiated over the wedding, which took place in Massachusetts. Later, another church minister testified that most of those who left supported Schaefer, and were upset at how the church had handled his church.

Earlier this month, according to another Inquirer report, more than 30 United Methodist pastors from eastern Pennsylvania presided over a gay marriage, in an expression of solidarity with Schaefer.

The church, which has 12 million members worldwide, currently accepts gay members but prohibits gay marriage, United Press International reports. Pastoral trials are an unusual event in the Methodist Church, and according to the AP, Schaefer's jury of 13 could decide to reprimand, suspend, or defrock him.

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