SPRING CITY, Pa. – A United Methodist minister from Pennsylvania has been given an ultimatum before the Eastern Pennsylvania Methodist Conference to repent of officiating same-sex ‘weddings’ or lose his ministerial license.
As previously reported, Frank Schaeffer, 51, who oversees Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, was found guilty on Monday 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.”
Schaeffer 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,” 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.”
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, and Schaeffer was ordered to stand trial.
On Monday, following hours of testimony before a jury of thirteen fellow United Methodist ministers, Schaeffer was found guilty of violating The Book of Discipline by conducting the ceremony. On Tuesday, the hearing reconvened for the sentencing phrase, during which a defiant Schaeffer wore a rainbow stole to show his support for homosexuals.
“I cannot go back to being silent,” he said. “I am now an advocate for LGBT people in the world and in the Church.”
Former longtime member William Bailey also testified at the hearing, stating that attendance at Zion United Methodist Church had plummeted after the congregation learned that Schaeffer had officiated the ceremony. However, he agreed that there were other matters that also caused division.
“It came to the point when we could no longer attend church there,” he said.
According to UMConnections, Paul Stallsworth of Whiteville United Methodist Church in North Carolina provided expert testimony, opining that those who violate the word of God should be “openly rebuked that other pastors may fear to do the same.”
“The penalty should be determined for the good of all,” he said.
Prosecutor Christopher Fisher, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Schuylkill Haven and director of United Methodist Studies at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, questioned Schaeffer as to whether or not he would repent of his actions. He refused.
“I will minister to all people equally,” Schaeffer asserted during the hearing. “We as a Church need to stop judging people, stop treating people as second-class Christians, and that is going to be my message.”
“You have heard him. He is non-repentive, unapologetic and committed to disobeying the Book of Discipline,” Fisher told the jury. “We should let him go and wish him well.”
After the jury left for deliberations, Schaeffer’s supporters began singing Were You There When They Crucified My Lord? and Shaeffer distributed communion elements to those present.
At approximately 9:00 p.m., the jury returned and issued its sentence, giving Schaeffer an ultimatum: He would be suspended for a period of thirty days, and if he will not repent of officiating homosexual “weddings” at the end of that period, he must turn in his credentials.
Shaeffer told reporters following the sentence that he will not recant.
Church trials are stated to be rare within the denomination, but the issue of homosexuality has resulted in several disciplinary hearings as of late. Three other United Methodist ministers—all from New York—are 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.