Pastor defrocked for officiating son's gay marriage begins appeal

United Methodist Church in turmoil over gay marriage debate.

Published 19 June 2014  |  
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Frank Schaefer

An appeal hearing will begin Friday in the case of a United Methodist Church minister who was defrocked after officiating his son's wedding.

Former Pennsylvania pastor Frank Schaefer was suspended, then subsequently removed of his ministerial credentials after it was discovered in 2013 that he had performed the ceremony in Massachusetts in 2007. He was fired in December by a church jury after he stated that he could no longer uphold the Book of Discipline and refused to resign.

Schaefer said that immediately after the decision, he knew he would appeal.

"We felt very strongly that the penalty—my defrocking—was really not in line with the church's law," he told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.

"What they based the defrocking on was a promise to not perform another gay marriage. You can't punish someone based on something they haven't done yet. You can't defrock on a promise."

Committee on Appeals for the Northeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church will hear Schaefer's case in Baltimore, Maryland. A decision could be received as early as Saturday.

Since his termination, Schaefer has toured the country speaking out against the church's policies against gay marriage and gay clergy, and wrote a book, "Defrocked," about his ordeal. A documentary film and a play about Schaefer's case are also in the works.

The former Zion United Methodist Church of Iona pastor said it was important to him to share his story.

"I was silent for too long," he told the Times. "I will not refuse ministry to anybody based on their sexual orientation. We have to stop harming beloved children of God."

The perceived holiness or unholiness of same-sex marriage has been a cause of a near schism in the United Methodist Church.

Last month, over 80 Methodist clergy—representing all five jurisdictions and more than 30 Annual Conferences—released a statement saying that the church is in the midst of major crises, and proposing that the denomination be split into Traditional and Progressive sects.

"It is time to recognize that traditionalists and progressives are pursuing divergent paths as we try to follow Christ and be faithful to what we understand to be the Gospel," they wrote.

Two weeks ago, several hundred Methodist pastors signed a petition asking the United Methodist Church not to split over the issue.

"There have always been people who have been fringe groups, you have people who are pro-gay and anti-gay," Pastor Fred Ball of First United Methodist Church in Titusville told Florida Today last week.

"I don't see room for [division]. We are pro-people. We've been loving the community where they are for 100 years."

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