Rev. Frank Schaefer, a Methodist pastor, was defrocked today for his demonstrated support of same-sex marriage. The 51-year-old Pennsylvania clergyman appeared before the United Methodist Board of Ordained Ministry and refused to agree to obey church law which prohibits clergy of the United Methodist (U.M.) Church from presiding over same-sex marriage ceremonies. He further refused the opportunity to voluntarily surrender his credentials his belief that they come not just from the church, but from God.
The official position of the U.M. Church on homosexuality is explained in its Book of Discipline. The church purports to accept gays and lesbians as members of the church but opposes the active practice of homosexuality, referring to it as “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Book of Discipline is also the document that prohibits U.M. clergy from presiding over same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Schaefer has taken the position that the church’s doctrine is discriminatory. He describes having struggled with his position on this issue but has ultimately reached the conclusion that he can no longer be just a “silent supporter” of LGBT rights. He has also taken exception with the Book of Discipline as a whole and says that he does not believe it is possible for anyone to uphold it in its entirety. He now feels that the only way he can reconcile being a Methodist is to be an active voice for LGBT community within his church.
Trouble started for Schaefer back in 2007 when he presided over the wedding of his son to another man. His son is one of his three gay children. The marriage took place in Massachusetts and was legally recognized in that state at the time.
A member of Schaefer’s congregation at the Zion United Methodist Church of Iona reportedly filed the initial complaint against him last April, based on his performance of the marriage ceremony for his son. He was found guilty of violating his pastoral vows by a jury of 13 fellow clergy in November, at which time he was placed on a 30-day suspension. The 30 days was apparently intended to give Schaefer the opportunity to reverse his support of same-sex marriage or be defrocked. He has now refused to do so.
In anticipation of today’s final appearance before the U.M. Board of Ordained Ministry, Schaefer and 43 fellow U.M. clergy members sent a petition to Schaefer’s regional bishop requesting intervention. Specifically, they requested that she denounce the Book of Discipline for its discriminatory position on homosexuality and make a plea for the end of LGBT-related actions against clergy in the U.M. church. She made some statements in support of their position but was ultimately unable to change Schaefer’s fate.
Complaints similar to that filed against Schaefer have been filed against at least six other U.M. clergy, with three reportedly awaiting trial.
Schaefer has received a large outpouring of support from not only fellow clergy and members of the U.M. community, but the LGBT community as well. No doubt this decision to defrock Schaefer as a result of his support for same-sex marriage will come as a blow to gay rights activists.
By Michele Wessel