NORRISTOWN, Pa. — A United Methodist Minister who was ordered last month to repent of officiating same-sex ‘weddings’ within 30 days or relinquish his rights to pastor within the denomination has been defrocked after refusing to voluntary give up his credentials.
As previously reported, Frank Schaefer, 51, who oversees Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, was found guilty in November of “conducting a ceremony that celebrates same-sex unions” and “disobedience to order and discipline of the Methodist Church.” In 2007, he traveled to Massachusetts to officiate a ceremony between his son Tim and Tim’s homosexual partner.
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.”
Schaefer said that the knew what he was doing was against church law, but chose to proceed with the ceremony anyway.
“The love for my son took over the fear of losing my job with the United Methodist Church,” Schaefer 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.”
However, some in Schaefer’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, and Schaefer was ordered to stand trial.
Last month, Schaefer told a jury of thirteen United Methodist ministers that he would continue to advocate for homosexuality and wore a rainbow stole as a sign of his support.
“I cannot go back to being silent,” he said. “I am now an advocate for LGBT people in the world and in the Church.”
At the end of the three-day trial, Schaefer was found guilty and given the ultimatum of repenting of his actions within 30 days or turning in his credentials.
But on Monday, at a press conference at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Schaefer told those gathered that he would not voluntarily relinquish his ministerial license.
Therefore, after a short meeting on Thursday at the offices of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, Schaefer was officially defrocked.
Bishop Peggy Johnson, who heads the conference, said that the organization had no other choice.
“He no longer holds the ministerial office in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference by virtue of his decision,” she wrote in a statement. “Schaefer met with the board of ordained ministry today and declared that he is not willing or able to uphold the laws of the Book of Discipline in its entirety in the future as required by the trial court’s verdict.”
“When asked to surrender his credentials as required by the verdict, he refused to do so,” she continued. “Therefore, because of his decision, the board was compelled by the jury’s decision to deem his credentials surrendered.”
However, Johnson also wrote in a blog post earlier this week that she herself wrestles with how the United Methodist denomination should handle the issue of homosexuality.
“There appear to be contradictions between the many affirming statements [in the Book of Discipline] and these statements,” Johnson said. “This has led to confusion by many from the outside of the church wondering how we can talk out of two sides of our mouth.”
But John Lomperis, director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, told Religion News Service that he believes the Conference made the right decision.
“This episode highlights the importance of churches in all traditions protecting themselves and the cause of Christ by carefully screening would-be pastors for biblical grounding and moral character, and having effective means of accountability,” he said. “He was not the first United Methodist minister to be defrocked for crossing these lines and will not be the last.”
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