LEBANON, Penn. — A United Methodist minister from Pennsylvania has been summoned to stand before the Eastern Pennsylvania Methodist Conference for officiating his son’s same-sex ‘wedding’ against the denomination’s prohibitions against it.
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 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 filed a complaint with the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference just before the statute of limitations ran out.
As a result, Schaeffer could have his credentials revoked, and could consequently be prohibited from serving in a ministerial capacity–whether temporarily or permanently.
A hearing is set to take place on November 18th at the Innabah Camp and Retreat Center in Chester County, where retired bishop Alfred Gwinn will preside over the meeting. Christopher Fisher, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Schuylkill Haven and director of United Methodist Studies at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, will serve as prosecutor.
As previously reported, 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.”
However, during a number of regional conferences, resolutions have been passed that challenge the doctrine in the Book of Discipline. Last year, a number of conference attendees expressed support for a declaration entitled the “Statement of Gospel Obedience,” which asserts that the United Methodist Book of Discipline is wrong to denounce homosexual behavior.
But in an article entitled Why Many Methodists Still Oppose Same-Sex Marriage, John Lemperis, the Director of the UM Action program of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said that the Bible is crystal clear on the matter.
“Even liberal Biblical scholars now agree that the Old and New Testaments are very clear in their moral disapproval of homosexual practice,” he wrote. “More fundamentally, Scripture paints a beautiful picture of marriage as a holy covenant of intensely intimate, self-giving community between man and woman, uniting the two most basic, equal categories of humanity.”
“We submit to Jesus as Lord,” Lemperis stated. “If He is truly Lord, then no area of our lives can be off-limits to Him. Jesus spoke strongly about the centrality of self-denial in following Him, which often means dramatic personal sacrifices, including not acting on powerful desires for things outside of God’s best for us. … Jesus and new life in Him are more than worth it.”
Three other United Methodist ministers–all from New York–are also set to stand before regional conferences at future dates. Stephen Heiss and Thomas Ogletree are accused of officiating same-sex ceremonies, and Sara Thompson Tweedy is charged with coming out as an avowed and practicing lesbian.
Photo: Facebook/Zion United Methodist Church of Iona