In another closely watched development in our denomination’s increasingly deep theological divide, United Methodist pastor Frank Schaefer of Eastern Pennsylvania was charged for performing a same-sex union for his own gay son.
The trial by his clergy peers has now concluded. On Monday, he was found guilty of the two counts of (1) conducting a ceremony which celebrated a homosexual union, and (2) disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church, which very explicitly, repeatedly forbids such behavior on the part of our clergy.
It seemed a bit odd how Rev. Schaefer insisted on tying up so much of the church’s time and resources to get these folk to determine that he did indeed do what he very openly acknowledged he had done.
This evening, the jury determined the penalty for Mr. Schaefer: For both counts, he is to be suspended for 30 days. If at the end of this period, he still refuses to abide by the UMC’s disciplinary covenant, he is to permanently surrender his credentials as a United Methodist minister.
In response to a request from the trial’s presiding bishop, Al Gwinn, for information about how this will be implemented, the jury reported back that this process will be supervised by the District Superintendent “of record” and will include Schaefer testifying about his decision-making to the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Board of Ordained Ministry.
Given the pridefully defiant note Schaefer decided to take – so that he was described by the Rev. Chris Fisher, counsel for the church, as being very explicitly “unapologetic and committed to disobeying the Book of Discipline” again in the future – this penalty amounts to a permanent defrocking of Schaefer, unless he has a sudden, dramatic change of heart. But the penalty is also structured to make it clear that if he is permanently defrocked, it is his own choice.
This penalty sets an important precedent for other pending church trials in the UMC.
United Methodists wishing to express their support for biblical teaching and Christian marriage may do so by signing IRD/UMAction‘s petition: www.methodistsaffirmingmarriage.com