SPRING CITY, Pa. – A United Methodist minister from Pennsylvania has been found guilty before the Eastern Pennsylvania Methodist Conference for officiating his son’s same-sex ‘wedding’ against the denomination’s prohibitions against it.
As previously reported, Frank Schaeffer, 51, oversees Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon. In 2007, he traveled to Massachusetts to officiate a ceremony between his son Tim and Tim’s homosexual partner. Massachusetts has permitted same-sex nuptials since 2004, but Pennsylvania defines marriage as being solely between a man and a woman.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline outlines that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” may not be ordained as ministers in the denomination. It also forbids ministers from hosting or participating in “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.”
“The love for my son took over the fear of losing my job with the United Methodist Church,” Schaeffer told the Lebanon Daily News. “It was a tough decision in some sense, but I just knew I had to make it. I had to follow my heart.”
Schaeffer states that when his son came to him to advise that he was struggling with homosexual temptations, he and his wife expressed their support.
“He prayed to God that God would change him and make him ‘normal’ and when that didn’t happen he became suicidal,” he outlined. “When he came out, my wife and I just loved and supported him and told him there was nothing wrong with him. I said, ‘You were created in the image of God just like everyone else.’”
However, some in Schaeffer’s church was not so supportive when they learned that their shepherd had officiated over the ceremony. One member, Jon Boger, filed a complaint with the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference just before the statute of limitations ran out. He appeared at Schaeffer’s church trial on Monday at the Innabah Camp and Retreat Center in Chester County.
“He loves his son. In a way I felt bad for him,” Boger said. “But he’s also shown no remorse or repentance, nor has he apologized to anyone.”
Longtime church member William Bailey also testified as well.
“I believe in the Bible, and the [Methodist Book of Discipline] is enforcing the Bible and the Ten Commandments,” he stated. “Violating a rule makes me very, very stubborn. Because if I violate a rule, I expect to be punished, and I expect nothing else from our church.”
But Schaeffer told those gathered that although he knew he was violating the Book of Discipline, he believed he was pleasing God by being a minister to all people.
“I did not want to make this a protest about the doctrine of the Church. I wasn’t trying to be an advocate,” Schaeffer stated to a jury of thirteen fellow United Methodist Ministers. “I just wanted this to be a beautiful family affair, and it was that.”
Prosecutor Christopher Fisher, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Schuylkill Haven and director of United Methodist Studies at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, condemned homosexuality in a strong speech to both those gathered and the jury of his peers.
“You’ll give an account for that at the last day, as we all will,” Fisher warned the panel, urging them to find Schaeffer guilty.
In the end, the the jury agreed and found Schaeffer guilty of two offenses: “conducting a ceremony that celebrates same-sex unions” and “disobedience to order and discipline of the Methodist Church.” Sentencing hearings are underway today as the jury decides whether to defrock Schaeffer or issue a lighter sentence.
According to reports, Schaeffer could have avoided punishment had he agreed to never conduct a same-sex ceremony again, but he refused the offer as three of his four children are homosexual.