By Kathy L. Gilbert | June 24, 2014 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
The Rev. Frank Schaefer had his ministerial credentials reinstated by a United Methodist regional appeals committee June 23, three days after a hearing held near Baltimore.
By an 8 to 1 majority, the denomination’s Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals restored his credentials and ordered the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference to compensate Schaefer for all lost salary and benefits dating from Dec. 19, 2013.
The former pastor of Iona (Penn.) United Methodist Church, Schaefer was defrocked after a November 2013 church trial found him guilty of violating The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, by conducting a same-sex marriage ceremony for his son. He also was found guilty of violating the church’s order and discipline.
In the penalty stage of the trial, the court suspended Schaefer from his ministerial duties for 30 days and declared that if he could not “uphold the Discipline in its entirety” at the end of the suspension, he would surrender his credentials. He refused to do that and, on Dec. 19, the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Board of Ordained Ministry asked him to give up his credentials.
In a statement immediately after the decision was released, Schaefer expressed happiness over his “refrocking” by the committee.
“I never did understand the severity of my punishment for an act of love for my son Tim,” Schaefer said. “The committee of appeals understood that my defrocking sought to penalize me not for what I did but for what I might do in the future.”
The committee’s ruling said “errors of church law vitiate the penalty imposed by the Trial Court,” including “the mixing and matching of penalties that are designed to be distinct” and predicating the imposition of a penalty on “a future possibility, which may or may not occur, rather than a past or present act.”
Schaefer called the decision “a hopeful sign for our LGBTQ community” because the committee “recognized that I was wrongfully punished for standing with those who are discriminated against.” LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning individuals.
Many in the church already have been “moving toward love over legalism,” he pointed out.
“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. Their movement of love embraced me and together we are moving forward to bring about that day when our denomination no longer excludes any of God’s beloved children. And I will continue to work toward that goal.”
Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.