United Methodists re­buke pas­tor for gay wed­ding role

Of­fi­ci­ated son’s cer­e­mony

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY MICHAEL RUBINKAM

SPRING CITY, PA. | A United Methodist min­is­ter was con­victed Mon­day in a Penn­syl­va­nia church trial of break­ing church law by of­fi­ci­at­ing at his son’s same-sex mar­riage, a case that rekin­dled de­bate over the pol­icy of the na­tion’s largest main­line Protes­tant de­nom­i­na­tion.

The Rev. Frank Schae­fer tes­ti­fied that he tried to fol­low God’s com­mand to min­is­ter to all, even if he dis­obeyed the Methodist Book of Dis­ci­pline.

Mr. Schae­fer, of Le­banon, Pa., said he could have avoided the trial by agree­ing to avoid any more same-sex cer­e­monies. But he de­clined, not­ing that three of his four chil­dren are gay.

The charges over the 2007 cer­e­mony in Mas­sachusetts came just a month shy of the church’s six-year statute of lim­i­ta­tions, af­ter a con­gre­gant com­plained.

Mr. Schae­fer could face pun­ish­ment rang­ing from a rep­ri­mand to los­ing his min­is­ter’s cre­den­tials af­ter the jury con­victed him of break­ing church law that bans clergy from per­form­ing same-sex wed­dings. The jury will re­con­vene Tues­day for the penalty phase.

The na­tion’s largest main­line Protes­tant de­nom­i­na­tion ac­cepts gay and les­bian mem­bers but re­jects the prac­tice of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity as “in­com­pat­i­ble with Chris­tian teach­ing.”

Tes­ti­fy­ing in his de­fense Mon­day, Mr. Schae­fer said he might have lost what he called his “rit­ual pu­rity” by dis­obey­ing the Methodist Book of Dis­ci­pline, but said he felt he was obey­ing God’s com­mand to min­is­ter to ev­ery­one.

“I love the United Methodist Church. I’ve been a min­is­ter for al­most 20 years and there are so many good things about the United Methodist Church ex­cept for that one rule,” he said.

Mr. Schae­fer pleaded not guilty at the be­gin­ning of the high­pro­file trial, which is rekin­dling de­bate over the de­nom­i­na­tion’s pol­icy on gay mar­riage.

A Methodist trial re­sem­bles a sec­u­lar trial in many ways, with coun­sel rep­re­sent­ing each side, a judge and jury, open­ing state­ments and clos­ing ar­gu­ments, and tes­ti­mony and ev­i­dence. Mr. Schae­fer can ap­peal the con­vic­tion.

The church’s lawyer, the Rev. Christo­pher Fisher, told the jury in his open­ing state­ment that Mr. Schae­fer clearly vi­o­lated the Book of Dis­ci­pline. He said the com­plainant, Jon Boger — a mem­ber of Mr. Schae­fer’s con­gre­ga­tion — was dis­mayed and shocked when he learned this year about the cer­e­mony.

Mr. Boger, the church’s sole wit­ness, tes­ti­fied he felt be­trayed when he found out that Mr. Schae­fer, who had bap­tized his chil­dren and buried his grand­par­ents, had presided over a gay wed­ding.

“When pas­tors take the law of the church in their own hand ... it un­der­mines their own cred­i­bil­ity as a leader and also un­der­mines the in­tegrity of the church as a whole,” Mr. Boger said. He said he un­der­stood Mr. Schafer’s mo­ti­va­tion. “It’s his son. He loves his son. In a way I felt bad for him,” Mr. Boger said. “But he’s also shown no re­morse or re­pen­tance, nor has he apol­o­gized to any­one.”

When Mr. Schae­fer chose to hide the mar­riage from the con­gre­ga­tion, Mr. Boger said, “It was a lie and a bro­ken covenant.”

But Mr. Schae­fer tes­ti­fied he had in­formed his church su­pe­ri­ors of his part in the mar­riage. He said he kept it from his con­ser­va­tive church’s mem­bers be­cause it would be di­vi­sive.

“I did not want to make this a protest about the doc­trine of the church. I wasn’t try­ing to be an ad­vo­cate,” Mr. Schae­fer said. “I just wanted this to be a beau­ti­ful fam­ily af­fair, and it was that.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Rev. Frank Schae­fer could face pun­ish­ment rang­ing from a rep­ri­mand to los­ing his min­is­ter’s cre­den­tials af­ter a jury con­victed him of break­ing church law against per­form­ing same-sex wed­dings.

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