Pennsylvania Pastor Defrocked for Performing Son’s Same-Sex Wedding December 20, 2013

Pennsylvania Pastor Defrocked for Performing Son’s Same-Sex Wedding

The United Methodist Church proved once and for all this week that its values are completely out of line when they defrocked a pastor for performing his son’s wedding years ago.

Rev. Frank Schaefer came under fire earlier this year for officiating his son’s Massachusetts wedding back in 2007 (when same-sex marriages were already legal there). A not-so-kindhearted church member filed a complaint with the church in Pennsylvania, and last month a church jury suspended him for 30 days. He was told to use the time to reflect on whether he could “uphold the church’s Book of Discipline,” which doesn’t condone homosexuality or same-sex marriage. If he wasn’t up to the task, he’d have to resign.

Rev. Frank Schaefer (right) with his son Tim

The choice was clear for Schaefer; he said his belief in equal rights did not justify his resignation from his position. In exchange, he’s been defrocked, depriving him of any ecclesiastical status within the church.

“I am actively committing to having those discriminatory laws changed and banished from our Book of Discipline,” Schaefer said. “That’s the only way I can reconcile being a United Methodist at this point.”

Schaefer gave his answer publicly Monday during a news conference at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, surrounded by dozens of sympathetic ministers and laity.

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

John Coleman, a spokesperson for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the denomination, said Schaefer left the church “no choice” but to revoke his credentials — because reconsidering its stance on homosexuality is clearly out of the question.

“When asked to surrender his credentials as required by the verdict, he refused to do so,” Coleman said. “Therefore, because of his decision, the board was compelled by the jury’s decision to deem his credentials surrendered.”

There are about 7,700,000 Methodists in the country, and at their last national meeting in 2012, the church reaffirmed its codified opposition to homosexuality and same-sex unions. But the Daily Beast’s Gene Robinson, an Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, noted that individual Methodist churches actually can be tolerant of and even embrace LGBT folks, and he’s confident that things are going to change:

It will not be long before the Methodist Church will become horrified at the actions taken against ministers such as Rev. Schaefer. A Methodist bishop has officiated at a same-sex marriage in Alabama. Recently, some 50 Methodist ministers together officiated at such a same-gender wedding. Pretty soon, the church will be knee-deep in ecclesiastical trials, forced by the rules to punish those who defy Methodist doctrine and discipline by solemnizing and blessing the unions of two people of the same gender. And in time, fair-minded and thoughtful Methodists will cry, “Enough!” And then they will change the rules.

He goes on to say what we’re all thinking: that the wrong people are being punished for the backwards ways of a church that can’t keep up with the times. And no part of it is fair.

Until then, fine clergy like Rev. Schaefer will pay a price. Some will even lose the credentials to exercise their ordained ministry. It will not be pretty. And it will make the church look really bad. Punishing Methodist clergy for being compassionate in the way that Christ was compassionate will eventually become embarrassing for the church. It will lose members who don’t want to be associated with a church that condemns their friends who are gay or lesbian and refuses to bless their relationships. And the evangelism so important to the Christian enterprise will be hindered. And then, the rules will be changed, along with the church’s theological thinking about homosexuality.

It’s comforting to hear these things from people within the church system, even if I’m having a hard time getting on board with his confident assertion that change is coming. Along the lines of his reasoning, churches everywhere should be changing their doctrines quickly, but unfortunately congregations like Schaefer’s don’t seem keen on reason.

Their loss.

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  • LesterBallard

    Why do people still have anything to do with these institutions?

  • “And the evangelism so important to the Christian enterprise will be hindered. And then, the rules will be changed, along with the church’s theological thinking about homosexuality.”

    That says it all, particularly that last sentence. It shows what a crock of shit theology is. Theology is supposed to be the study of the nature of God and God is supposed to be perfect and unchanging, yet theology changes all the time. The argument for this, of course, is that God doesn’t change but our understanding does.

    The reality, as this quote shows, is that society changes on its own and when the theology is so far behind society that it becomes harmful to the church, it changes to reflect society. Then they call it God.

  • SeekerLancer

    “It’s comforting to hear these things from people within the church system, even if I’m having a hard time getting on board with his confident assertion that change is coming.”

    And changing from the inside is the only way it will happen. I too don’t expect it to come fast, but you need to start somewhere.

  • Anna

    More Methodists behaving badly! I’m always surprised that people keep thinking this denomination is gay friendly. Yes, there are individual congregations fitting that description, but the official doctrine is opposed to homosexuality and same-sex unions, as well as unmarried sex between heterosexual couples. If this is “liberal” Christianity, color me unimpressed.

  • Brodestar

    Because it is very hard, almost impossible for some, to let go of the dogma they were endoctrinated with when they were young and innocent. The doctrine, in some cases, has no room for change and leaves people intolerant of the very change that is happening before their eyes.

  • A3Kr0n

    I thought Methodists were gay friendly up until a couple years ago, and I’m a confirmed MethodistAtheist. Everyone I know who are Methodists seem OK with it. I’m sure this isn’t over.

  • cskins

    This is a man showing support for his family. Something christians are always saying is core to their belief. He did not lobby to have the wedding in his own church. He was quietly expressing his free speech and love of his son.
    Unfortunately, he is not a millionaire, or on a reality show, nor did he do an interview with GQ. Worst of all, he disagreed with the church instead of a broadcasting station.

    So he gets zero support in the media. Not one meme with his picture. No facebook groups to plead with people to boycott christianity until he is rehired.

    I was told today by a christian, that he condoned a sin and it was justified. I responded with “Not loving and supporting his son would have been a bigger sin”.
    This man represents Jesus so much better than all those that have condemned him.
    The Duck Dynasty guy was an adulterer, and a drunkard before he became a born again bigot. This man devoted his career and life to his religion and gets the boot.

    Nothing left but the face palm…. shame on you christians.

  • WillBell

    The Methodist Church in America might be, but in Canada at least we’ve got the United Church (basically Methodist, but they changed their name after merging with some smaller groups) which is 100% gay-friendly and probably represents liberal Christianity better. I’m an atheist but there are liberal christians. Just not as many as we’d like.

  • Erp

    There are about 7,700,000 Methodists in the country, and at their last national meeting in 2012, the church reaffirmed its codified opposition to homosexuality and same-sex unions.

    The UMC is not just the 7.7 million Methodists in the US but also 4.4 million elsewhere (Africa and the Pacific islands for most of those). The 2012 meeting was of the entire church not just the US portions. So many and perhaps most US Methodist churches are quite liberal on LGBT issues (one near to me flies a rainbow banner) but the vast majority outside the US are still quite conservative.

  • Anna

    The General Conference can’t possibly be dominated by anti-gay people in the developing world, can it? I’d have to assume that the majority are from the United States, and that those in the majority are simply not on board with LGBT equality.

    If they were truly progressive, the majority of the leadership wouldn’t be anti-gay at all, and they’d tell those homophobic churches to get over it. Tell them that the church is LGBT-affirming and that if they want to be part of the denomination, they have to get with the program.

    Not even the UCC (which is possibly the most liberal denomination in the U.S.) has managed to rid their denomination of homophobia. They let their individual congregations “decide” whether or not to affirm same-sex marriages. Again, not at all impressive.

  • Anna

    More regressive nonsense from the United Methodist Church:

    Does The United Methodist Church believe that premarital sex is OK? The official statement on Human Sexuality states: “Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.”

    The United Methodist Church teaches that pornography is “about violence, degradation, exploitation, and coercion” and “deplore[s] all forms of commercialization, abuse, and exploitation of sex.” The Sexual Ethics Task Force of The United Methodist Church states that “Research shows it [pornography] is not an ‘innocent activity.’ It is harmful and is generally addictive. Persons who are addicted to pornography are physiologically altered, as is their perspective, relationships with parishioners and family, and their perceptions of girls and women.”

    The United Methodist Church opposes gambling, believing that it is a sin which feeds on human greed and which invites people to place their trust in possessions, rather than in God, whom Christians should “love … with all your heart.” …The United Methodist Church therefore holds that: Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, and destructive of good government. As an act of faith and concern, Christians should abstain from gambling and should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice. … The Church should promote standards and personal lifestyles that would make unnecessary and undesirable the resort to commercial gambling—including public lotteries—as a recreation, as an escape, or as a means of producing public revenue or funds for support of charities or government.

    How on earth does a denomination with these views get a liberal reputation? Liberal compared to what? It seems like the official doctrine is far to the right of mainstream society.

  • Anna

    There are some, but even those that are tagged as “liberal” seem more like moderates to me.

    According to Wikipedia, the United Church in Canada seems far more liberal than almost all denominations in the United States, but there is still this:

    Believing that marriage is a celebration of God’s love, the church recognizes and celebrates all legal marriages, including same-sex couples, previously divorced people, and couples of different religions. The actual policy of whom to marry is left up to the church council of each pastoral charge. For instance, one congregation might not allow same-sex marriages to be performed in their building, while another allows all marriages regardless of sexual orientation.

    Inclusive, but not uniformly so. It sounds like a same-sex couple might be turned away at certain churches, and that would be okay with the leadership.

  • mkbell

    It’s time for a UCC church to call him.

  • Rwlawoffice

    So a man does something that goes against the beliefs of his employer and he is let go and you are upset about it. Phil Roberston will be happy you are on his side…. Oh wait. Nevermind

  • This was posted over at The Blaze.

    He can go join a gay church. Become a Gay pastor in a Gay church. He obviously does not agree with the teachings of the Methodist denomination and should therefore find one that does fit his beliefs rather than trying to use his position to force his beliefs on others.

    I wonder where I’ve heard that last line before.

  • cskins

    When he goes against a hateful belief by an organization that is based on love, then yes. I am glad you are on the pastors side. Please provide a link to your supportive Facebook page so I can join it.

  • WillBell

    Theoretically the could, just like theoretically the Queen of England has the right to stop laws from being passed in the UK and all of its dominions, in practice that doesn’t really happen. At least in my experience.

  • Spuddie

    Are you saying the Methodists are a commercial entity guided by profits and finance?

    That would really make explicit the whole Church = glory of Mammon sort of thing obvious.

    So the atheists were right!

  • Spuddie

    Inertia, culture, not causing a ruckus at holiday dinners, not being personally affected by such nonsense, indifference, not making Gradma upset….

  • this is that rare moment when i agree with you, RWL. sorry, i have no pity for either of them. Phil opened his trap and said some stupid shit and got suspended (not fired, yet, you should note). this guy works for a religious organization with clearly defined anti-gay views. and they fired him. i suppose it’s a “brave and principled” stance in the minds of liberal xtians. just like phil is that way in the minds of people who conflate the Constitution with a contract with a TV network.

    just like i can’t understand how parents would let their children come within 100m of any catholic priest, i can’t understand why liberal christians choose to remain part of gay-hating sex-negative churches. it’s just not a defensible position in either case.

  • Sandrilene

    Methodism has been against gambling since it began. It’s generally been known as the anti-gambling anti-alcohol denomination.
    These days people are a bit more relaxed and many Methodists will drink but there’s no alcohol allowed on church premises.

  • Sandrilene

    I do know a gay Methodist minister. So there’s a great deal of variety within Methodism. It’s possible that the American Methodists are less open.

  • Fred Bailey

    Some Christians are shameless.

  • Fred Bailey

    Robertson will be brought back, the ratings will be higher than ever, and everyone will make more money. This whole thing about Robertson is fake. And if a pastor loses his berth, why should an atheist feel bad about it?

  • Erp

    I suspect there are a few things in play. (1) the vast majority of the Methodists in the developing world are conservative on the issue; (2) the US Methodists are split though not in the same proportion in each Annual Conference; (3) representatives to the general conference will tend to be older and more conservative than the average Methodist. The conservatives in 1 outnumber the liberals in 2 even though the liberals in 2 outnumber the conservatives in 2.

    The General Conference determines the official rules (the Book of Discipline) but apparently the individual Annual Conferences (headed by a bishop, though a Methodist bishop does not have the power of a Catholic bishop) have a fair bit of leeway on enforcement. So for instance Schaefer is in one, Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, where the conservatives apparently have enough power to force a trial and convict him. The California Pacific Conference noting this has offered him a job (though given the Book of Discipline can’t reinstate his status as minister). There have also been a fair number of ministers who have now deliberately broken the rule on performing marriages between people of the same sex or have written that they would; my guess is they are trying to overwhelm the system. has some info on the confusing signals. The next General Conference is likely to be divisive.

    Oh what tangled webs we weave when trying to make sense of religion.

  • mdoc

    I feel bad because he was trying to be a good person. Accepting his son and his son’s partner. I do not believe that Christianity is going to disappear anytime soon. If the religion is going to be around certainly it is a good thing to have ministers who are decent human beings.

  • mdoc

    Because their friends and family are there and they believe in God.

  • Fred Bailey

    The Methodists clearly do not wish to have pastors of that sort. They are the ones who define what a Methodist is. Christianity is not going to disappear any time soon; there are tens of thousands of flavors of the faith. If this fellow wants to make a living on alms, all he has to do is switch to a non-Methodist denomination where they value being a good person, and pursue his ignominious trade there. This martyrdom, being defrocked (or whatever they call it for Methodists) for blatant decency, should be a big help landing a new position of the same kind in a liberal church someplace. His situation is not dire. This entire incident occurs at a historical juncture when acceptance of queer folk is on the rise, and quite sharply. He will be fine.

  • Fred Bailey

    They will not drink…in front of other Methodists.

  • Fred Bailey

    I am on his side, to the extent that he did the right thing. But he’s a damn priest. A beggar who lives on alms, one who promotes harmful delusions for the purpose of increasing his prosperity. My support for him is very limited.

  • Spuddie

    As I said, inertia and culture.

  • The Starship Maxima

    I wouldn’t shed too many tears for Mr. Schaeffer. There are plenty of progressive Churches he can join where they agree with his views.

  • Fred Bailey

    Just a quick return visit to point out that Robertson came back and everyone’s making more money. The entire incident was fake.

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