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Methodist appeals body to hear case of Pa. pastor defrocked for son’s gay wedding

Former United Methodist pastor Frank Schaefer listens during a news conference Dec. 19, 2013, at First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Pennsylvania Methodist Frank Schaefer, who lost his pastor credentials for officiating his son’s same-sex wedding, will get an appeal hearing in June before a committee that has the power to reinstate him or call a new trial.

Soon after he was defrocked in December, Schaefer turned to the Committee on Appeals for the United Methodist Church’s Northeast Jurisdiction. He learned this month that it has agreed to hear his appeal and has set a date of June 20.

The decision to hear his appeal is procedural and doesn’t indicate the committee’s chances of approving it, Jen Ihlo, its president, wrote Tuesday in an e-mail.

Schaefer, a small-town pastor who has three gay children, drew national attention last fall when he was put on trial by a Methodist panel and found guilty of violating the denomination’s Book of Discipline. He is the first in a cluster of pastors facing trials for participating in same-sex marriages, a violation of Methodist doctrine but a topic on which Methodists and their clergy are deeply divided.

United Methodists on both sides have become more vocal about the tension over gay equality in the church, and advocates of full equality – particularly in states where same-sex marriage is legal – say they won’t stop performing the weddings for congregants. Schaefer’s defrocking has become a rallying point, with a California bishop inviting him to serve in her diocese and churches and universities around the country inviting him to speak. Schaefer is speaking at American University on Tuesday evening.

The appeals committee has nine members – some clergy, some not – and none can come from Schaefer’s region around Philadelphia. The committee, Ihlo wrote, will consider two questions: Whether the evidence supports a conviction and whether there is a conflict between the conviction and penalty and “errors of Church law.”

The committee’s decision must be a majority.

Michelle Boorstein is the Post’s religion reporter, where she reports on the busy marketplace of American religion.

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