The Pennsylvania man stripped of his ministerial credentials for officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding on Sunday joined a D.C. congregation of the United Methodist Church that embraces gay marriage in defiance of Methodist doctrine.
Defrocked three days earlier, Frank Schaefer stood within the Foundry United Methodist Church wearing a dark business suit and a necktie with a pattern representing a religious flame. He also donned
a rainbow-colored stole, to show his support for the gay community, and delivered a sermon urging Methodists who support gay marriage to remain in the denomination and reform it from within.
“This is not the time to give up the fight,” Schaefer told hundreds gathered at the church on 16th Street NW. “This is the time to intensify the fight — for inclusion of everybody.” He denounced what he called the “homophobic captivity” of modern Methodist doctrine. “Enough is enough,” he said.
Schaefer appeared with his wife, Brigitte, and two of their four children, sons Kevin and Jordan. They were encircled by congregants as the Foundry pastor, the Rev. Dean Snyder, led a ritual reaffirming the family’s Methodist faith. The congregation also took up a financial collection to help the Schaefers as they decide what to do next.
Schaefer’s cause is spreading at high levels in the denomination, with a New Jersey bishop releasing a tearful video supporting gay equality and a California bishop inviting Schaefer to be a pastor in her region. Schaefer said Sunday that he was considering her offer.
Last month, a church jury convicted Schaefer of violating Methodist doctrine for officiating at the 2007 wedding of his oldest son, Tim, in Massachusetts. Since then he has become a national figure. His case has triggered a public explosion of tensions long simmering in private in the United Methodist Church, the country’s second-largest Protestant denomination, over the place of gay men and lesbians in church life. His small church in Lebanon, Pa., has also been divided by the dispute.
Schaefer’s credentials were formally removed Thursday after he told a clergy oversight body in Philadelphia that he could not uphold doctrine “in its entirety,” saying church teachings were contradictory and un-Christian on the treatment of gay people. The jury had given him 30 days to decide whether he could abide by the ban on clergy officiating at same-sex weddings.
Schaefer’s case is not unique. Other Methodist clergy are also facing questions and possible trials after officiating at same-sex weddings.
On Friday, Bishop Minerva Carcano invited Schaefer to serve as a minister in the California-Pacific Annual Conference, a regional body of the United Methodist Church. In a statement, Carcano said she was inspired by Methodist leaders in the 1960s who came to the support of clergy fighting racial discrimination.
“I believe that the time has come for we United Methodists to stand on the side of Jesus and declare in every good way that the United Methodist Church is wrong in its position on homosexuality,” Carcano wrote. “Frank Schaefer chose to stand with Jesus as he extended love and care to his gay son and his partner. We should stand with him and others who show such courage and faithfulness.”
Schaefer is appealing his conviction. Carcano cannot reinstate his full credentials, but she can offer him a license to minister, Schaefer said, adding that her offer could be seen as a sign of rebellion. “It is defying the church,” he said.
A conservative religious group criticized Schaefer and his supporters. “The situation in Mr. Schaefer’s former congregation is a microcosm of how things have often gone in our denomination as a whole,” said John Lomperis, who oversees the Methodist program at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, which advocates for traditional views in Mainline Protestantism. “A secularized, liberal faction unlovingly drives out more conservative, biblically-grounded members in order to seize power. Then when there is accountability for a church leader’s blatant wrongdoing, there is all this sympathy for the unfaithful shepherd.”
Schaefer said he plans to continue to live in Pennsylvania for now. His new affiliation with Foundry brought fresh attention to a D.C. church that resolved to support gay marriage in 2010 after it was legalized in the nation’s capital. Snyder, the Foundry pastor, has performed more than 20 same-sex weddings without incident. The congregation, which traces its history to 1814, has drawn several U.S. presidents to its services, including Bill Clinton and Abraham Lincoln, according to its Web site. Next year, it will celebrate its bicentennial.
After Schaefer was defrocked, Snyder said, “I got sick to my stomach.” Snyder said he told himself last week: “Frank Schaefer needs to be at a church this Sunday that will appreciate and love him.”
Many in the pews wore rainbow ribbons, underscoring the church’s position as a member of a group called Reconciling Ministries Network, which supports full inclusion of congregants regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The congregants gave the Schaefers repeated standing ovations.
“On the front door it says, ‘All are welcome,’ and it’s true inside as well,” said Diego Miguel Sanchez, who came to hear Schaefer speak.
Toward the end of the service, Schaefer picked up an acoustic guitar and led the church in the song “We Shall Overcome.” Afterward, asked whether he still considers himself a minister, Schaefer said: “I do, by the power of God — without a church home.”