United Methodist Church's Highest Court May Reaffirm Defrocking of Pastor Who Officiated Gay Marriage

Frank Schaefer
Frank Schaefer |

United Methodism's highest church court may reaffirm the defrocking of a pastor who officiated his gay son's same-sex wedding come October.

The United Methodist Judicial Council will hear an appeal for a church trial case in which Frank Schaefer had his clergy credentials returned after being defrocked for violating church law on gay marriage.

The Judicial Council will hold the oral hearing on the Schaefer appeal on Wednesday, October 22, which is the first day of their three-day session.

John Lomperis, director of the United Methodist program at The Institute on Religion and Democracy, told The Christian Post that he was hopeful the Judicial Council will reaffirm the defrocking.

"I certainly hope that the Judicial Council will overturn the appeals committee and reinstate the trial court's original verdict of defrocking Mr. Schaefer," said Lomperis. "If they are willing to look at all the relevant facts of the church law they are charged with upholding, they should see through the specious, grasping-at-straws arguments that refrocking him somehow upholds our biblical church law."

Lomperis of IRD also told CP that he commends the counsel for the church, Rev. Dr. Chris Fisher, "for his commitment to upholding the integrity and faithfulness of our denominational connection." Fisher served as counsel for the church and filed the appeal with the Judicial Council earlier this year.

"Through this all, he has consistently acted with great integrity while treating even his opponents with respect," Lomperis said of Fisher.

Schaefer was ordained a deacon in 1996 and later an elder in 1998. He served as the pastor at Zion United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

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

Nearly six years passed since the gay wedding before a member of Zion UMC filed a formal complaint against Schaefer regarding his violation of the Book of Discipline.

A church trial was held and Schaefer was found guilty. He was suspended for 30 days, with the additional obligation that he must stop blessing gay unions.

After refusing to agree that he would not perform any gay marriages in the future, Church officials defrocked Schaefer.

In March, an appeals panel heard Schaefer's case and in June ruled in his favor, restoring his clergy credentials and effectively "refrocking" the former Zion UMC leader.

In July, Fisher appealed the panel's decision to the Judicial Council, with the highest court in United Methodism agreeing to hear the case. The Schaefer case will not be the only item on the Judicial Council's docket to deal with homosexuality and the denomination's official rules, noted Linda Bloom of United Methodist News Service.

"Also on the October docket are reviews of decisions of law from bishops on annual conference resolutions related to sexuality," reported Bloom.

These include resolutions done at the annual conference level that supported changing the Book of Discipline's stance against gay marriage.

Bishops from the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, Detroit Annual Conference, New England Annual Conference, and the Northern Illinois Annual Conference have argued that these various resolutions were "aspirational" rather than intended to officially undermine the Discipline.

The United Methodist Judicial Council will meet at the Marriott Courtyard Downtown in Memphis, Tennessee on October 22-25.

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