December 19, 2013

Methodist pastor defrocked for performing gay son’s wedding

Last month, a church jury suspended the Rev. Frank Schaefer for 30 days for performing the 2007 wedding in Massachusetts, where same-sex unions are legal.

By Kathy Matheson
The Associated Press

NORRISTOWN, Pa. — United Methodist church officials defrocked a pastor from central Pennsylvania on Thursday who violated religious doctrine by officiating his son’s gay wedding and then, after being suspended, defiantly refused to resign.

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The Rev. Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist clergyman convicted of breaking church law for officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding, speaks at a news conference on Monday in Philadelphia, where he vowed to defy a church order to surrender his credentials for performing a same-sex wedding.

The Associated Press

click image to enlarge

Accompanied by his wife Brigitte, right, the Rev. Frank Schaefer, of Lebanon, Pa., departs after a meeting with officials at the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church on Thursday in Norristown, Pa. He planned to hold a news conference Thursday afternoon at a Methodist church in Philadelphia where an associate minister was defrocked in 2005 for being in a lesbian relationship.

The Associated Press

The Rev. Frank Schaefer met briefly with the Board of Ordained Ministry at church offices in suburban Philadelphia. Schaefer apparently made good on an earlier vow that he wouldn’t voluntarily surrender his credentials as ordered by a religious jury.

Officials had no choice but to terminate his ministerial office, church spokesman John Coleman said afterward.

“When asked to surrender his credentials as required by the verdict, he refused to do so,” Coleman said. “Therefore, because of his decision, the board was compelled by the jury’s decision to deem his credentials surrendered.”

Schaefer left the building without commenting. He planned to hold a news conference Thursday afternoon at a Methodist church in Philadelphia where an associate minister was defrocked in 2005 for being in a lesbian relationship.

Last month, a church jury suspended Schaefer for 30 days for performing the 2007 wedding of his gay son in Massachusetts, where same-sex unions are legal. Although the Methodist church accepts gay and lesbian members, it rejects the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching” and bars clergy from performing same-sex unions.

The issue has split the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination amid a rapid shift in public opinion. Same-sex marriage will soon be legal in 16 states, and opinion polls show that a majority of Americans now support it. Hundreds of Methodist ministers have publicly rejected church doctrine on homosexuality, and some of them face discipline for presiding over same-sex unions.

Critics say those pastors are sowing division within the church and ignoring the church’s democratic decision-making process. The denomination’s top legislative body, the 1,000-member General Conference, reaffirmed the church’s 40-year-old policy on gays at its last worldwide meeting in 2012.

Jurors who convicted Schaefer said he should use the suspension time to decide whether he could uphold the church’s Book of Discipline. If he decided he could not, he was told to give up his pulpit in Lebanon by Thursday.

Schaefer gave his answer publicly Monday during a news conference in Philadelphia, surrounded by dozens of sympathetic ministers and laity. Schaefer described the Book of Discipline as contradictory and biased against gay people, said he would not go quietly.

“I cannot voluntarily surrender my credentials because I am a voice now for many — for tens of thousands — of LGBT members in our church,” he said then.

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