The Rev. Frank Schaefer, a Methodist minister who performed his son’s marriage to another man, has been suspended for 30 days, and was warned that he’ll be defrocked if he doesn’t promise to obey church rules.
Schaefer, 51, came under scrutiny by church leaders for officiating at his son’s same-sex marriage six years ago in Massachusetts.
It’s against the Methodist Book of Discipline for ministers to officiate at same-sex wedding ceremonies.
A formal complaint was lodged against Schaefer earlier this year, and a two-day trial for Schaefer was held this week in Chester County.
On Nov. 18, the 13-member jury determined that Schaefer disobeyed and violated the Methodist Book of Discipline.
His discipline was an immediate 30-day suspension, during which time he’ll be monitored to ascertain if he’s making progress in obeying church rules.
If it’s determined after 30 days that Schaefer won’t promise to obey church rules in their entirety, he must surrender his credentials.
Schaefer couldn’t be reached for comment. But his public testimony indicates he won’t promise to refrain from performing another sex-sex marriage.
“I must continue to be in ministry with all people, and speak for LGBTQ people,” Schaefer told jurors. “Members of the jury, before you decide my penalty, you need to know I wear this rainbow stole as a visible sign that this is who I am called to be.”
For the past 11 years, Schaefer had served as pastor of the Zion United Methodist Church of Iona, in South Lebanon Township.
In his trial testimony, Schaefer emphasized God’s command to minister to everyone.
But Jon Boger, who lodged the complaint against Schaefer, said Schaefer should be defrocked immediately.
According to published reports, Schaefer had a falling-out with Boger’s mother, a longtime choir director at Schaefer’s church.
But Boger said Schaefer’s dealings with his mother didn’t motivate him to lodge the complaint, according to published reports.
Dozens of Schaefer’s supporters attended the trial, and called for an updating of Methodist rules relating to same-sex unions.
They also suggested a moratorium on trials such as the one experienced by Schaefer, until church rules are updated.
Several of Schaefer’s detractors also attended, and said his defrocking would send a strong message that disobedience of church law is not to be tolerated.
They said Schaefer’s actions splintered his congregation, and caused it to suffer financially.
The possible discipline faced by Schaefer ranged from a reprimand to defrocking.
A parent of three LGBT children, Schaefer has been an outspoken supporter of LGBT equality.
His case has received widespread attention in the news media.
In a prior interview with PGN, Schaefer said he would consider pursuing ordination in a more LGBT-friendly Protestant denomination if he’s defrocked.
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church issued this statement:
“We recognize that this is an issue that causes pain for many in our church and we hold all those affected in our prayers. We know that United Methodists have diverse opinions on this issue and our hope is that we pray and work together toward unity and greater understanding and healing.”
Schaefer’s trial took place at the Innabah Retreat Center in Spring City. Alfred W. Gwinn Jr., a retired Methodist bishop, presided.