A one-time pastor who was stripped of his priestly title for marrying his gay son has resurfaced in a United Methodist Church in Binghamton, delivering a sermon on sexual tolerance.
Former United Methodist pastor Frank Schaefer has found redemption in the Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Binghamton. The church, which recently adopted a statement welcoming members of the LGBT community, is an outlier of the United Methodist church which openly accepts same-sex couples and the LGBT community. Tabernacle United Methodist Church celebrated its seven-year anniversary of becoming a Reconciling Congregation by inviting the defrocked pastor to speak at their ceremony this Sunday.
The similarity in the situation between Rev. Shaefer and Tabernacle’s minister is what led the church to invite the reverend to their congregation. Tabernacle’s minister Rev. Stephen Heiss is also being charged with violating denominational rules handed down by the Tabernacle United Methodist Church, prohibiting him from conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Rev. Heiss said that Rev. Shaefer’s visit had given him “hope,” and that it was comforting connecting with a pastor who is in the same position as he is.
Rev. Frank Schaefer started out as a pastor at a United Methodist Church in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, where he practiced for nearly 10 years. Rev. Schaefer was stripped of his title after evidence surfaced that he officiated a same-sex marriage for his gay son in Massachussetts in 2007. While same-sex marriage in the state is legal, according to United Methodist Church guidelines, it is against their policy to allow a pastor from their church to administer such a ceremony.
Rev. Schaefer was put on trial in November, and a jury of 13 United Methodist priests found him in violation of the church’s code. When Rev. Schaefer stood his ground and refused to step down, he was defrocked by the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, the “official” process for stripping a priest of his title. Rev. Schafer has appealed and is awaiting a decision later this year.
In the wake of the decision, Rev. Schaefer has openly spoken out against the church’s stance against same-sex marriage. He has made speeches all around the country in hopes of enlightening congregations about the need to recognize the rights of the LGBT community and their place as members of the religious community.
Rev. Heiss is soon to follow in the footsteps of Rev. Schaefer, and is being brought up on the same charges. Rev. Heiss has sent an open letter to Bishop Mark Webb in regard to officiating same-sex marriages and says he will continue to do so and hopes that the church will come around on the issue.
Unfortunately for the two priests, the official policy for the United Methodist church can only be amended at the church’s General Conference, which is only held once every four years. The international body made up of United Methodist ministers from around the world upheld the ban in 2012. Rev. Schaefer and Rev. Heiss will have to wait until 2016 to see if they even have a chance of seeing the policy reversed in their favor.
By John Amaruso