United Methodist Church's Highest Court Upholds 'Refrocking' of Pastor Who Officiated Son's Gay Wedding

Frank Schaefer
Frank Schaefer, United Methodist Church pastor defrocked for officiating his son's same-sex wedding, at Foundry UMC in Washington, DC on Sunday, December 22, 2013. |

The United Methodist Church's highest court has decided to overturn the defrocking of a Pennsylvania pastor who officiated his son's same-sex wedding.

The United Methodist Judicial Council has ruled that Frank Schaefer, formerly pastor at Zion United Methodist Church of Iona, Lebanon, could have his clergy credentials reinstated.

A UMC spokesperson provided The Christian Post with a copy of the decision Monday morning, wherein the judicial council upheld the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals' decision overturning the defrocking of Schaefer.

"The judicial council … finds there are no errors in the application of the church law and judicial decisions. The penalty as modified by the committee on appeals stands," read the decision. "The committee on appeals is fully authorized by the discipline to amend or modify the penalty of the trial court as long as the penalty is 'not higher than that affixed at the hearing or trial.' The Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals modified penalty does not violate the discipline."

In April 2007, Schaefer officiated the same-sex wedding of his eldest son, even though the UMC Book of Discipline forbids clergy from overseeing gay weddings.

Last year, a member of Zion UMC filed a complaint against Schaefer, charging him with violating the Book of Discipline.

Schaefer was found guilty in a church trial and suspended for 30 days, with the additional obligation that he must stop blessing gay unions or surrender his clergy credentials.

After refusing to agree to not perform any more gay marriages in the future, UMC officials defrocked Schaefer.

In March, the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals agreed to hear Schaefer's case. In June, the panel ruled in favor of Schaefer, restoring his clergy credentials.

In its decision shared with CP on Monday, the judicial council wrote that "it recognizes that some within the church do not support this outcome today."

"Some may have wished the trial court's penalty had been differently constructed so as to meet the requirements of the discipline and impose a harsher penalty. Others support the decision."

The decision continued, "We are mindful of the divisions within the church. Our task is review the process and decisions of the trial court and the appellate process in order to determine if any parts of the discipline were violated or were interpreted in error."

The judicial council's decision, however, did not overturn the original 30-day suspension given to Schaefer nor did it strike down a portion of the United Methodist Book of Discipline.

Schaefer's trial has garnered national attention, with many viewing it as a microcosm for the internal debate in the UMC over the Mainline Protestant denomination's position on homosexuality.

Schaefer also found himself the focus of a documentary titled "An Act of Love," which will be produced by Kate Logan and directed by Scott Sheppard and is slated for release next year.

"I saw my own father go through struggles at our churches when he stood up for what he believed was right, even if it wasn't popular with the congregation," said Sheppard in an interview with The Huffington Post in February. "I reached out to him about making a documentary and he agreed that it was a good idea, because we don't want the importance of his story to fade away with the upcoming news cycle."

A native of Germany, Schaefer was ordained a deacon in 1996 and then as an elder in 1998. He was assigned as the pastor at Zion UMC in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

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