Update: The United Methodists’ Board of Ordained Ministry announced Thursday morning that it has decided to officially defrock Rev. Schaefer, removing him from his church and ministry.
A pastor who defied his church and performed a marriage ceremony for his son to his same sex partner has refused to step down from his post, despite the demands of his denomination’s leaders. Rev. Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist pastor, has stated that he will not give up his ministry in Pennsylvania, even as he continues to serve a 30 day suspension for the wedding he performed back in 2007.
“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 in a press conference, according to ABC News.
Rev. Schaefer was suspended after a trial at the hands of fellow United Methodist pastors in mid-November. During the trial, Rev. Schaefer testified while wearing a rainbow colored stole to reaffirm his commitment to equal rights for the LGBT community, and sympathizers “began overturning chairs in the courtroom — symbolizing the biblical story of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers” after he was found guilty.
Despite the publicity surrounding the trial, Rev. Schaefer said that originally, his intention wasn’t to make a statement about equal rights despite a person’s sexual orientation, but simply to be able to perform the ceremony for his son. However, now that the issue has turned into one of equal rights for all couples, either gay or straight, he feels that it has become a matter of principle to refuse the church’s commands. “I have to minister to those who hurt and that’s what I’m doing,” Rev. Schaefer said during his trial testimony. Once told he must “repent” and pledge “never again to perform a homosexual union,” the pastor simply replied, “I cannot.”
During his trial, however, opponents made it clear that they felt that Rev. Schaefer had to be punished regardless of the reason he initially officiated the ceremony, out of fear that condoning the act would embolden other pastors to also act in defiance of church doctrine. “He should be openly rebuked in a manner that would deter other clergy from doing what he did,” testified Rev. Paul Stallsworth, who believed that “the punishment should be determined for the good of all, including not just Schaefer, but for the instructional good of other clergy, the order of the church and the sustenance of all the members of the church.”
Support for Rev. Schaefer has gone far beyond just the United Methodist ministries. A “Stand with Frank“ Facebook page has garnered over 16,000 likes. It frequently posts news of other churches calling out for the clergy to stop its persecution of Rev. Schaefer and of other ministers who are officiating weddings for gay couples legally getting married.
Now, with Rev. Schaefer openly defying the edict to condemn the marriage he performed, or to vow not to perform another, as well as his announcement that he will not voluntarily leave the church, the United Methodist leaders are left with no choice but to decide whether or not they will defrock him. Rev. Schaefer will learn this Thursday whether or not he can continue with his current church in Pennsylvania. Otherwise, he said he will consider starting over with a different denomination.
If that happens and he is forced to go to a new faith, expect the United Methodists to have accomplished exactly what they hoped to do by putting him on trial in the first place: make other pastors too afraid to perform same sex unions out of fear of losing their own appointments. In exchange, however, they will be sacrificing the one thing that every church needs to truly care for their flocks: compassion.
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