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The Rev. Frank Schaefer, a Methodist pastor near Philadelphia who was recently suspended for officiating his gay son's wedding in 2007, said at a press conference Monday that he will not voluntarily turn over his religious credentials, challenging the church to either defrock him or let him remain a reverend and voice for the LGBT community.
"I cannot voluntarily surrender my credentials because I am a force now for many, for tens of thousands of LGBT members in our church," Schaefer said at a news conference Monday in Philadelphia. Schaefer was supposed to either surrender his credentials by Thursday or vow to never perform a same-sex marriage again.
Schaefer went on to say that he cannot uphold the United Methodist Church's teaching regarding homosexuality because he finds it discriminatory. The church's Book of Discipline states that it accepts gays and lesbians but does not condone homosexual practices, saying they are "incompatible with Christian teaching."
"In particular," he said, "I cannot uphold those discrimantory laws [...] that are hurtful and harmful to our homomsexual brothers and sisters in the church." Schaefer added that he doesn't think anyone can uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety.
"[The church has] the power to either defrock me," he said, "Or keep my credentials in place, thus affirming me as a LGBT voice in the church."
"I am actively committing to having those discriminatory laws changed and banished from our Book of Discipline," Schaefer said. "That's the only way I can reconcile being a United Methodist at this point."
Schaefer was put on a 30-day suspension after he officiated his son's wedding to his same-sex partner back in 2007 at a ceremony in Massachusetts. The suspension was given to Schaefer following a church trial and was meant to serve as time for the reverend to decide whether he wants to follow church doctrine or not.
The pastor has previously argued that he officiated his son's wedding in spite of the church's view on same-sex marriage "because I love him so much and didn't want to deny him that joy." He added that as a pastor he is "charged to minister to all people, regardless of who they are and what they are, then it should be just so."
Schaefer is scheduled to meet with church authorities on Thursday, and he said the ideal outcome of this upcoming meeting would be for the leaders to allow him to continue leading his congregation in Lebanon, located 70 miles outside of Philadelphia. The pastor added he has been contacted by other denominations, mainly Episcopal and United Church of Christ, offering him a pastor position if he is removed from the Methodist Church.
Those who support the Methodist church's current teaching on homosexuality argue that Schaefer and others supporting same-sex marriage are a poor representation of the denomination. The Rev. Thomas A. Lambrecht, vice president and general manager of Good News, an evangelical Methodist group, previously said that those ministers who violate the church's law "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."
"They have in a sense renounced the process that we use to determine what the church believes about things. I don't think that is the appropriate way to handle disagreement," Lambrecht added.