United Methodist officials on Thursday stripped the clergy credentials from the father of a gay man who officiated his son’s wedding.
A church jury last month found Frank Schaefer, who had been pastor of a small country church in Lebanon, Pa., guilty of violating United Methodist law by doing the 2007 wedding and also of disobedience. He was given 30 days to decide if he could fully comply with the denomination’s Book of Discipline, or doctrine book.
Schaefer said at the time of the trial and again before the Board of Ordained Ministry Thursday that he could not uphold a book he sees as sending mixed messages on acceptance of gays and lesbians. Schaefer, who has three gay children, said he wants to become a public advocate for gay equality in the church.
At the meeting Thursday, which was closed to the public, Schaefer was asked to follow the jury’s verdict and surrender his credentials.
“He refused to do so. Therefore, because of his decision, the Board was compelled by the jury’s decision to deem his credentials surrendered. He no longer holds the ministerial office in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference by virtue of his decision,” said a statement Thursday from Bishop Peggy Johnson, who oversees the 900 Philadelphia-area parishes that includes Schafer’s former congregation, Zion United Methodist Church of Iona.
Schaefer says he is appealing the jury’s decision.
“I’ve given my best years to this organization, and all of a sudden I’m on the outside,” Schaefer said Thursday evening. “It’s not just an organization, it’s a church. For heaven’s sake this has been my spiritual home for 20 years. All my children were baptized in it. It was..is...was my spiritual home and now I am pushed out.”
Schaefer described an intense scene in the meeting Thursday in Philadelphia, with some board members in tears, others hugging him. Some told him they would pray for his redemption. The meeting began and ended with prayer.
Some more conservative Methodists said they were relieved.
“I commend Eastern Pennsylvania UMC officials for upholding our biblical standards and protecting the vitality of local churches from further destruction like what Mr. Schaefer brought to his former congregation,” John Lomperis with the advocacy group Institute on Religion and Democracy said in a statement.
About half of Schaefer’s former church left since news of the wedding became public this spring, a combination of supporters struggling with the turmoil and critics.
“What should be a neutral setting right now — a church — is not, it’s a hostile place,” said Jon Boger, whose complaint about Schaefer set the case off. “But time heals everything, right?”
Liam Casey, a Zion member, said he had hoped Schaefer would find a way to stay.
“I was hoping he’d say ‘I’ll fight while on the inside to help the LGBT community to get some ground in the church’. It’s tougher to fight from the outside,” said Casey, 46. “We are telling people: ‘Please come to our church. We’re strong and we’ll take you with open arms without judgment.”
Since the announcement this summer that he would be put on trial, Schaefer has become something of a hero to many gays and lesbians who are pushing for full equality in the church.
Several trials appear to be in the pipeline for other United Methodist clergy members who have performed marriages for same-sex couples, although Bishop Johnson has been one of the church leaders pushing for a halt to such proceedings.
She issued a statement Tuesday agreeing that the United Methodist Book of Doctrine contains discriminatory language and urging Methodists to work together regardless of theological perspectives.
“As one church of Jesus Christ we must commit ourselves to engage in ongoing prayer and reflection, sensitive, peaceful dialogue and diligent study, so that we can better understand the needs and concerns of LGBT members and their broader community and so that we can more effectively and lovingly minister to all people in the name of Christ,” Johnson said in a statement announcing the defrocking. “We also must strive to repent and forgive one another for the many hurts that have happened and are still happening as a result of this trial experience.”