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A Pennyslvania United Methodist clergyman who officiated his son's same-sex wedding has been suspended for 30 days by a church jury on two guilty counts.
The Rev. Frank Schaefer was sentenced Tuesday evening to the suspension after a 13-member jury ruled the day before that he had broken his pastoral vows. The two counts were officiating a ceremony for a homosexual union and being in violation of the rules of the United Methodist Church.
In addition to the suspension, Schaefer must agree to cease officiating same-sex marriages or else be compelled to lose his clergy credentials with the United Methodist Church.
A native of Germany, Schaefer was ordained a deacon in 1996 and as an elder in 1998. Prior to the suspension, he served as pastor at Zion United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Pa. In 2006, Schaefer's eldest son, who came out to his parents while a teenager, became engaged to a man and asked his father to perform the ceremony.
The UMC Book of Discipline forbids clergy from overseeing same-sex wedding ceremonies even in places where gay marriage is legal. Although the ceremony was performed in April 2007, it was not until about six years later that a member of Zion UMC filed a complaint against Schaefer earlier this year.
"True love draws boundaries. Scripture says that true love does not rejoice in evil," said the Rev. Dr. Christopher Fisher in his closing argument as counsel for the church. "Cheap grace does not lead to being conformed to the image and likeness of Christ. We ought not turn the grace of God into immorality. Is it true to tell young people that their identity can be determined by something like our sexuality?"
The case, which put into focus the debate over the UMC's position on LGBT issues, was followed by many groups within and outside the mainline Protestant denomination. Chett Pritchett, executive director of the pro-gay Methodist Federation for Social Action, said in a statement that the punishment issued by the jury inflicted "spiritual carnage."
"Once again The United Methodist Church has inflicted spiritual carnage on LGBTQ persons, their families, and those who are in ministry with them," said Pritchett. "Through a method that seeks to do harm at every point in the process, the UMC has chosen retribution instead of the biblical concepts of transformation, wholeness, and shalom."
John Lomperis, director of the United Methodist Program with the Institute on Religion & Democracy, wrote in a blog entry that the case should help set an important precedent for future trials.
"Given the pridefully defiant note Schaefer decided to take…this penalty amounts to a permanent defrocking of Schaefer, unless he has a sudden, dramatic change of heart," said Lomperis. "But the penalty is also structured to make it clear that if he is permanently defrocked, it is his own choice. This penalty sets an important precedent for other pending church trials in the UMC."