The former minister of a United Methodist church in Pennsylvania, who was defrocked after he performed the same-sex marriage ceremony of his son, was reinstated to his office by the church’s judicial council. Frank Schaefer was suspended for 30 days after a complaint was filed by a church member who found out about the 2007 marriage ceremony. He was also stripped of his credentials because he declined to make any promises about performing future gay marriage ceremonies.
Quoted as saying, “I did what I did based on my heart and my conscience,” Reverend Schaefer indicated that his son’s emotional pain after realizing that he was gay was such that he had considered taking his own life. Schaefer currently serves at a California church where he has joined countless others in the fight for gay rights. He has also published a book entitled, Defrocked: How a Father’s Act of Love Shook the United Methodist Church.
The original discipline, which constituted his suspension and loss of credentials, was overturned on appeal and the nine-member panel of the United Methodist Judicial Council recently upheld the appeal council’s decision. The council reinstated the minister’s credentials, saying that the initial decision to punish Schaefer for same-sex marriages that he may or may not perform in the future was wrong. In its decision, the panel made no comment for or against same-sex marriage, but rather based the judgment on a technicality.
With approximately 12 million members, the United Methodist Church, which seeks to include all people regardless of color, race or sexual orientation, is largely divided on the subject of gay marriage. The Book of Discipline, which outlines the doctrine and the law which guides the church, does not condone any sexual relationship that does not fall within the scope of the heterosexual marriage covenant.
The church, like the United States, continues to be divided on the issue of same-sex marriages, and many were dissatisfied with the outcome of this particular case. Christopher Fisher, another minister of the United Methodist denomination who spoke in defense of the church’s initial decision to defrock Schaefer, was also disappointed in the council’s determination. He does indicate understanding of “…the legal technicality they have hinged it on,” but worries that the validity of the initial action is unclear to the church jury that imposed the sanctions.
Meanwhile, media outlets nationwide continue to cover news stories which offer varying sentiments regarding same-sex marriages. With six more states recognizing same-sex marriage and the federal government refusing to hear appeals from five states seeking to keep same-sex marriage bans in place, it appears that the tide is turning. With North Carolina, Alaska, Idaho, West Virginia, Arizona and Wyoming now recognizing same-sex marriages, the total number of U.S. states where the unions are legal rises to 32, plus the District of Columbia.
Eric Holder, attorney general of the U.S. affirms that, “With each new state where same-sex marriages are legally recognized, our nation moves closer to achieving full equality for all Americans.” He also assured the American people that government agencies are working expeditiously to ensure that same-sex couples are afforded the full array of federal benefits to which they are entitled.
The fight for equal rights continues and many religious and political leaders are speaking for or against the idea of legalizing gay marriages. Thirty-two states have made their decisions and churches are under fire for either including or excluding those who seek to be legally joined to partners of the same gender. For at least one father however, a United Methodist Church minister who performed the same-sex marriage of his own son, the fight, at least the fight to be reinstated to the ministry, is over.
By Constance Spruill
Rainbow Flag Photo by Benson Kua – License