(Photo: Reuters screen grab)
A United Methodist Church pastor defrocked for officiating his son's same-sex marriage had his clergy credentials reinstated by a church court on appeal.
Frank Schaefer, a Pennsylvania pastor defrocked last December, was reinstated Tuesday courtesy a decision from the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals.
In a statement following the decision, Schaefer called the appeals committee's decision "a hopeful sign for our LGBTQ community."
"They recognized that I was wrongfully punished for standing with those who are discriminated against," said Schaefer immediately following the decision.
"Today's decision shows that the church is moving toward love over legalism. It is the path that so many in the church have been modeling already. Indeed, people throughout the United Methodist Church, who invited me into their pulpits, sat with me at their dinner tables and supported my family with their donations, have refrocked me already."
A native of Germany, Schaefer was ordained a deacon in 1996 and then an elder in 1998. Before his defrocking, he served as the pastor at Zion United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
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. Schaefer did so and an announcement was published in a newspaper.
The UMC Book of Discipline forbids its clergy from overseeing same-sex weddings even in places where gay marriage is legally recognized. While 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.
For performing the gay wedding, Schaefer was found guilty by a church trial and suspended for 30 days, with the added obligation that he either refrain from blessing gay unions or turn in his clergy credentials. After refusing to agree to never perform a gay marriage again, UMC officials defrocked Schaefer.
In March, an appeals panel agreed to hear Schaefer's case with Jen Ihlo, president of the UMC Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals, saying that Schaefer would be judged in accordance with the Book of Discipline.
Regarding the news of Schaefer's reinstatement, John Lomperis of the Institute on Religion and Democracy denounced the decision as "disappointing and entirely unsurprising."
"Committee members had agreed to the job of simply upholding our biblical standards, but instead abused their position to illegitimately impose their personal agendas on the church," said Lomperis in a statement."It is beyond hypocritical for Mr. Schaefer and his supporters to profess concern with upholding our denomination's standards as part of their integrity-lacking campaign to undermine our standards."
With Schaefer's credentials restored, Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño of the Los Angeles Area has announced her assigning of Schaefer to a student ministry in Santa Barbara, California.
"Rev. Schaefer will be responsible for leading the administrative work of this congregation and reaching out to the large college community that lives, studies, and works at the doorsteps of this church," stated Carcaño. "Rev. Schaefer has much to teach us about what it means to love the children God gives us who happen to be gay. I pray that we will make space for him and his family in our lives and in our hearts as he comes to labor among us."