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Methodist pastor faces trial for son’s gay wedding

By Michael Rubinkam
Associated Press

The Rev. Frank Schaefer officiated his son’s same-sex marriage “because I love him so much and didn’t want to deny him that joy,” but his decision to flout Methodist law could cost him his pastor’s credentials in a debate roiling the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination.

Schaefer, 51, faces a church trial in southeastern Pennsylvania over charges that he broke his pastoral vows by performing the 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts. The United Methodist Church accepts gay and lesbian members but rejects homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and clergy who perform same-sex unions risk punishment ranging from a reprimand to suspension to defrocking.

The German-born pastor is unapologetic, saying he answered to a higher law — God’s command to love everyone.

“If I am charged to minister to all people, regardless of who they are and what they are, then it should be just so,” he said.

Hundreds of Methodist ministers have publicly rejected church doctrine on homosexuality, and some of them, like Schaefer, are facing discipline for presiding over same-sex weddings. Schaefer’s trial is set to begin Nov. 18 at a Methodist retreat in Spring City, Pa.

Critics say Schaefer and other clergy should not be permitted to flout Methodist teaching with impunity, contending they are sowing division within the church. The denomination’s top legislative body, the 1,000-member General Conference, reaffirmed the church’s 40-year-old policy on gays at their last worldwide meeting in 2012.

Rebellious clergy “have decided to take the law into their own hands, so to speak, and go ahead and violate the requirements of our [Book of] Discipline,” the denomination’s book of law and doctrine, said the Rev. Thomas A. Lambrecht, vice president and general manager of Good News, an evangelical Methodist group.

Today, some 50 clergy plan to show their support of Schaefer by presiding over a same-sex ceremony at a Methodist church in Philadelphia — a largely symbolic gesture since Pennsylvania doesn’t recognize gay marriage, but one that is still a risk for the preachers.

Schaefer hadn’t given homosexuality a lot of thought until his son Tim came out at age 17, telling his parents he had contemplated suicide because of his struggle with sexual identity.

To Schaefer, his son’s admission was proof that homosexuality is not a choice.

“If that’s the case, this is the way God made him,” Schaefer said. “This is the way he was created, as a homosexual.”

Schaefer said he informed his superiors in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference that he planned to officiate Tim Schaefer’s wedding, and again after the ceremony. He said he faced no discipline until April — about a month before the church’s six-year statute of limitations was set to expire — when a congregant complained.



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