A Pennsylvania pastor who was suspended for performing the same-sex marriage of his son refused to give up his credentials Monday and vowed to try to remain in the Methodist Church as an advocate for gay equality.
A church jury last month suspended the Rev. Frank Schaefer for 30 days and told him to report to church officials this Thursday and tell them if he can uphold Methodist doctrine “in its entirety.” If not, the jury wrote, “he must surrender his credentials.”
But Monday morning at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Schaefer told a news conference he would do neither.
Methodist doctrine is “filled with competing and contradictory statements,” he said in a statement. Schafer and his counsel had argued at the church trial that the Methodist Book of Discipline, which holds the denomination’s law and doctrine, in many places calls for gays and lesbians to be treated and ministered to equally.
Schaefer also said he would not give up his credentials voluntarily because he feels he would be letting down gays and lesbians and their supporters.
“I have received hundreds of petitions from LGBT members, colleagues, and even bishops, not to surrender my credentials. By surrendering my credentials, I feel as though I would abandon those under my spiritual care and especially those I feel called to advocate for,” he said.
The case has drawn national attention among Methodists and other Mainline Protestant groups who have been struggling with disagreements over their denomination’s interpretation of scripture. Dozens of advocates for gay equality came to the trial and are pushing for bishops to halt similar proceedings and find a different way to deal with an issue that has split the denomination, as it has American opinion more broadly.
Schafer’s small country church, Zion United Methodist of Iona, in Lebanon, Pa., was torn apart in the months and years before the trial as older, more traditional members felt alienated by a new contemporary service and by Schaefer’s more liberal, less literal view of Methodist teachings.
It was not immediately clear what impact Schaefer’s decision to buck his punishment would have.
Counselors for the church said the penalty was clear: Suspension for 30 days, during which the pastor was “to discern his newly discovered calling” to minister to the gay community. He was to report to the regional board of ordained ministry at the end of the suspension to say whether he would stay or go.
But Schaefer and his counsel say the penalty did not specify what would happen if he said he would not turn over his credentials and would not uphold the Methodist doctrine banning same-sex weddings.
“This is what I see as a higher calling,” Schaefer said in an interview over the weekend. “Isn’t God involved in the ordination process?”
Jon Boger, the Zion member whose complaint about Schafer set off the trial, said in an e-mail this weekend summing up his feelings on the case that Schaefer has used his church to put himself at the center of a divisive national debate. The e-mail noted that Zion has lost half its membership since news of the wedding became public in the spring.
“Many pray daily that he maintains what is left of his integrity and his dying love for Iona and simply just surrenders his credentials,” said Boger.