John M. Becker

Methodist Church Overturns Defrocking of Frank Schaefer

Filed By John M. Becker | June 24, 2014 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Frank Schaefer, gay marriage, marriage equality, Methodists, same-sex marriage, United Methodist Church

frank-schaefer-closing-statement-methodist.jpgRemember Rev. Frank Schaefer, the Methodist pastor who was defrocked by the United Methodist Church in December for the "offense" of officiating at the 2007 wedding of his gay son (and refusing to promise he wouldn't perform more same-sex weddings)?

Well, it turns out he'll be able to return to the pulpit after all: today a nine-member appeals panel overturned the verdict, saying that the jury that meted out Rev. Schaefer's punishment back in December acted in error. He will be reinstated with back pay.

The Associated Press reports:

The church suspended Schaefer, of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, last year for officiating his son's 2007 wedding. It then defrocked him because he wouldn't promise never to preside over another gay ceremony.

Schaefer appealed, arguing the decision was wrong because it was based on an assumption he would break church law in the future.

The appeals panel, which met in Linthicum, Maryland, last week to hear the case, upheld a 30-day suspension that Schaefer has already served and said he should get back pay dating to when the suspension ended in December.

The jury's punishment was illegal under church law, the appeals panel concluded, writing in its decision that "revoking his credentials cannot be squared with the well-established principle that our clergy can only be punished for what they have been convicted of doing in the past, not for what they may or may not do in the future."

Rev. Schaefer reportedly plans to hold a press conference this afternoon discussing today's decision. If the church wishes, it can appeal the verdict to the judicial council, United Methodism's highest court.

Marriage equality is a divisive issue within the United Methodist Church. After an extremely contentious debate at its last General Conference in 2012, delegates voted to preserve anti-gay passages in their Book of Discipline that call LGBT orientations/identities "incompatible with Christian teaching" and exclusively approves opposite-sex marriages.

The vote pitted supporters of LGBT inclusion against delegates from sexually conservative countries, including African nations. (One African delegate conflated homosexuality and bestiality and denied that God creates any gay or lesbian people.)

The United Methodist Church is expected to revisit the issue at its next General Conference in 2016.


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