Methodist minister defrocked after LGBT dispute
by Timothy Cwiek
Dec 19, 2013 | 1123 views | 0 0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
THE REV. HERB SNYDER (CENTER) HOLDS UP A LETTER OF SUPPORT FOR THE REV. FRANK SCHAEFER (TO HIS RIGHT), WHO WAS SURROUNDED BY FELLOW SUPPORTIVE RELIGIOUS LEADERS AT A DEC. 16 NEWS CONFERENCE AT ARCH STREET UNITED METHODIST CHURCH. <i>Photo: Associated Press/Matt Rourke</i>
THE REV. HERB SNYDER (CENTER) HOLDS UP A LETTER OF SUPPORT FOR THE REV. FRANK SCHAEFER (TO HIS RIGHT), WHO WAS SURROUNDED BY FELLOW SUPPORTIVE RELIGIOUS LEADERS AT A DEC. 16 NEWS CONFERENCE AT ARCH STREET UNITED METHODIST CHURCH. Photo: Associated Press/Matt Rourke
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The Rev. Frank Schaefer has formally been defrocked following his refusal to pledge to never perform another same-sex marriage.

The Board of Ministry of the United Methodist Eastern Pennsylvania Conference handed down the decision Thursday during a meeting with Schaefer at its Norristown headquarters.

For the past 30 days, Schaefer has been suspended as a church pastor, after a jury of fellow pastors determined that he disobeyed and violated church rules by performing his son’s same-sex marriage.

After the jury verdict, Schaefer was told that he must surrender his credentials if he doesn’t promise to obey church rules in their entirety. But Schaefer said he had no intention of making that promise.

“I cannot uphold those discriminatory laws and the language in the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline that is hurtful and harmful,” he said at a Dec. 16 news conference in Center City.

Schaefer, 51, reiterated that he has a role to play in the church, including as an advocate for the LGBT community.

“If allowed, I’d like to continue my ministry and continue to be a voice and advocate for the LGBT community, until these discriminatory statements and laws will vanish,” he said.

Pastors sympathetic to Schaefer stood by his side at the news conference at Arch Street United Methodist Church and expressed support for their embattled colleague.

Schaefer said at the conference that he wouldn’t voluntarily surrender his credentials.

“I cannot voluntarily surrender my credentials because I am a voice now for many of the tens of thousands of LGBT members in our church.”

Schaefer will appeal the defrocking decision through the church’s internal appellate procedures.

The Rev. James F. McIntire, pastor of Hope United Methodist Church in Havertown, is among Schaefer’s staunchest supporters.

McIntire said earlier this week that church leaders shouldn’t condition Schaefer’s penalty on whether he promises not to perform another same-sex marriage.

“They’d be asking him to speculate on a hypothetical situation that may never happen in the rest of his ministry,” McIntire noted.

Church rules don’t always reflect the love and compassion God has for humanity, he added.

“Sometimes you have to go beyond the words of the Book of Discipline for justice to happen,” McIntire said.

The reverend compared Schaefer’s actions to someone exceeding the speed limit to get to a burning building.

“The [Methodist] Church is on fire, and we have to get to it quickly, so that it can move forward with the times.”

McIntire also urged Bishop Peggy A. Johnson of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church to be more supportive of Schaefer.

“She can be an instrument of change, with a prophetic voice,” he said.

An open letter to Johnson, signed by 44 Methodist clergy, was read at the press conference.

It urges Johnson to “refrain from bringing any clergy, bishops and lay members to a church trial [relating to LGBT issues] while this process of discernment, prayer and change is ongoing.”

The letter also states: “We appeal to your good graces in the name of Christ’s example and teaching of unconditional love extended to all people.”

Johnson wasn’t available for an interview.

But through a spokesperson, Johnson said the due-process rights of everyone involved in a church dispute must be respected.

“Individual bishops cannot change the Discipline,” Johnson said. “If Rev. Schaefer loses his credentials, this is not something that bishops are allowed by the Discipline to overturn.”

McIntire questioned why Johnson selected the Rev. Christopher Fisher to be Schaefer’s prosecutor, since he’s known to have strong conservative leanings.

But Johnson defended Fisher.

“Rev. Fisher is well-qualified to be the church counsel because he teaches polity at a local seminary and is well-versed in interpreting the Discipline,” she said.

Johnson also said she tried hard to avoid a trial for Schaefer.

“Mediation attempts and a just resolution were attempted but did not succeed. When that cannot be achieved, a complaint is turned over to the church counsel.”

She added: “The church is divided over this [LGBT] issue and many in the church continue to pray, study and respectfully dialogue in search of a solution.”

Schaefer is the father of three LGBT children. He said the support of his family has helped him get through the ordeal.

He lives in North Cornwall Township and for the past 11 years was pastor of Iona United Methodist Church in South Lebanon Township.

Schaefer’s two-day trial was held last month at the Innabah Camp and Retreat Center in Spring City, Chester County.

Schaefer said the trial can be traced to an altercation with Deborah Boger, a former senior choir director at his church.

Her son, Jon, filed a formal complaint against Schaefer for officiating at his son’s 2007 marriage, six years after the fact.

“That’s what this [complaint] is about,” Schaefer said after the news conference.

When contacted by PGN, Deborah Boger would only say: “Everybody should stay in prayer for each other.”

Jon Boger couldn’t be reached for comment.

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