Frank Schaefer speaks to media Friday, June 20, after a hearing before the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals. The hearing took place in Linthicum Heights, Md. At left is Dorothee Benz of Methodists in New Directions, an unofficial group in the New York Annual (regional) Conference. She is serving as a consultant for Schaefer. Photo by Melissa Lauber, Baltimore-Washington Conference, for UMNS.

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.

4 COMMENTS

  1. What a great day for those who are praying for an inclusive church in this particular area of interest. It makes sense not to punish a person for what they might do. Those involved in removing Frank’s credentials were punitive

    As early as 1986 or so, a member of my congregation asked me (in a public setting) if I would officiate at a ceremony for two persons of the same sex. I took a deep breath and said: “(if they were part of my congregation) Yes, I would. But thank God no one has asked me.” Many years later my lay leader had a civil ceremony with her partner and she said to me: “We are going elsewhere. I do not wish to put your ministry in jeopardy.” I thanked her. But I was very close to anger that I could not share in such a ceremony without facing loss of my credentials.

    And the beat goes on.

  2. Though this was clearly the right thing to do, it comes off as another facade the church puts on instead if actually tackling the difficult issue and making lasting change. We are open and loving enough to recognize the wrong in his punishment but not quite open and loving enough to change church law. If the church is going to write poor theology into its doctrine under the guise of following God, the least it can do is follow it’s own rules or recognize a need to change.

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