United Methodist Pastor Who Officiated Gay Wedding Found Guilty in Church Trial; Pro-LGBT Leader Says UMC Suffers Homophobia

A United Methodist clergyman in Pennsylvania who officiated his son's same-sex wedding has been found guilty of violating the denomination's law that bans its reverends from performing such ceremonies.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer was found guilty by a 13-member jury of breaking his pastoral vows when he presided over a gay wedding ceremony in 2007.

"True love draws boundaries. Scripture says that true love does not rejoice in evil," said the Rev. Dr. Christopher Fisher, counsel for the church, in his closing argument. "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?"

Schaefer serves as pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pa. A native of Germany, he was ordained as a deacon in 1996 and an elder in 1998.

In 2006, Schaefer's eldest son, who had come out to his parents about being gay while a teenager, became engaged to a man and asked his father to perform the ceremony.

The United Methodist Church forbids clergy from overseeing same-sex wedding ceremonies, and its Book of Discipline classifies homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian teaching." UMC clergy found guilty for violating the rules of the church regarding same-sex unions can lose their credentials as a cleric or other lesser punishments.

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 over the ceremony.

The trial was set for November 18-19, with the jury finding Schaefer guilty Monday evening. With the decision, the jury will next determine the punishment in the "penalty phase" of the trial.

Many pro-LGBT Methodist groups came to Schaefer's support and denounced the church jury's guilty verdict as unjust.

Chett Pritchett, executive director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, wrote in a blog entry Tuesday that the decision was an indicator as to how "sick" the denomination was in its policy regarding homosexuality.

"The body is sick, friends. Sick and tired. For over 40 years, our beloved United Methodist Church has suffered with an illness called bigotry and homophobia," wrote Pritchett.

"Good physicians know the first rule of medicine is always this: Do No Harm. Today's events have proven this: the body is sick, friends. Only Christ's healing can bring the comfort we truly need."

Schaefer is one of several cases in the United States of Methodist clergy opting to perform same-sex weddings in open defiance of their denomination's rules.

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