A United Methodist minister has been suspended from his position for presiding over a same-sex marriage back in 2007 — his son’s.
Rev. Frank Schaefer, the pastor at the Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Pennsylvania, officiated his son Tim Schaefer‘s wedding to another man in Massachusetts in 2007. Marriage equality had already been legalized in the state, but Methodist doctrine does not permit same-sex marriage (though it does allow LGBT people to worship in churches — gee, thanks).
Jon Boger, a naval officer who grew up in Schaefer’s church, heard about Schaefer’s actions earlier this year and filed a complaint with Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Bishop Peggy Johnson on April 2. According to the Lebanon Daily News:
Boger was born and raised in Lebanon and is a member of Zion United Methodist of Iona, where his parents were married. His mother, Deb, was the church’s choir director for more than 40 years before she and Schaefer had a dispute.
“It’s really irrelevant,” Boger said of his mother’s issues with Schaefer, which Boger said had led Schaefer “to request my mom’s termination.”
Hmm. Sounds to me like it might be relevant. But anyway.
Although he has been away from Lebanon County since joining the military after high school, Boger said, he has continued to attend worship services at Zion about once a year and for “life events,” like marriages and funerals.
Because of Schaefer’s decision to officiate at his son’s homosexual marriage ceremony and keep that event outside his congregation’s knowledge, “the past six years have been a lie, a broken covenant,” Boger said.
In spite of Boger’s accusation, Schaefer stood his ground.
Rather than beg for mercy Tuesday in the trial that has rekindled debate within the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination over church policies on homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the pastor upped the stakes, telling jurors that he has been called by God to be an advocate for the rights of LGBT people.
The church “needs to stop judging people based on their sexual orientation,” he said. “We have to stop the hate speech. We have to stop treating them as second-class Christians.”
Schaefer went to trial before a jury of 13 United Methodist Church ministers. This week he was charged with “conducting a ceremony that celebrates homosexual unions; and disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church,” and was suspended for 30 days. He will lose his credentials if he violates any church laws in that time.
Schaefer had previously testified that he performed his son’s 2007 wedding in Massachusetts out of love, not a desire to flout church teaching on homosexuality.
But Tuesday’s testimony made clear he has had a change of heart.
“I have to minister to those who hurt and that’s what I’m doing,” said Schaefer.
According to NBC, members of Schaefer’s church have since left because they were disappointed that he had contradicted greater Methodist teachings. Some, like Boger, are advocating that he never work as a minister again. Rev. Paul Stallworth, the leader of a Methodist task force on sexuality and abortion, says he hopes the church will “openly rebuke” Schaefer to warn other pastors who are considering treating same-sex couples as, you know, equals.
But Schaefer wouldn’t budge, and when told that he had to pledge never to perform a same-sex marriage again, he refused.
Schaefer donned a rainbow-colored stole on the witness stand and told jurors it symbolized his commitment to the cause.
“I will never be silent again,” he said, as some of his supporters wept in the gallery. “This is what I have to do.”
If all Christians were like this, I would be a little more on board with Christianity as a force for good. There’s something seriously wrong when a religious group has to put on a big show about punishing one of their officials for treating people decently.