An appeals group in the Northeast Region of the United Methodist Church (UMC) reinstated Rev. Frank Schaefer on June 24, 2014. Schaefer had been removed from the UMC clergy after presiding over his son’s same-gender marriage. The appeals group is made up of lay members and clergy in the UMC.
The UMC is one of the major Christian religious organizations in the US, with about seven million members, and an additional four million members outside the US. The issue of same-gender marriages has been a major point of contention among conservative and liberal members of the congregation.
Schaefer was a minister of a church near Lancaster, PA when he performed the marriage ceremony for his son and his son’s male partner. When Schaefer refused to commit to not performing any more same-gender marriage ceremonies, he was removed from the roles of the clergy and suffered a loss of 30 days of pay.
Following the announcement of the reinstatement on June 24, 2014, a Bishop in the UMC in Santa Barbara, CA has offered Schaefer a position as a clerical counselor to students. This is not a position directly in a UMC church.
The complete ruling by the UMC appellate group determined that Schaefer is now reinstated, and that The Book of Disciple of the UMC prohibits punishment of a member of the clergy for actions he may take in the future. Schaefer forfeited pay from Nov. 20, 2013 to Dec. 19, 2013, with pay reinstated after Dec. 20, 2013.
The official position of the UMC regarding same-gender marriages is unequivocally against same-gender marriages, with marriage being defined as the union of one man and one woman. This is also the definition of marriage that applies in Ohio after a constitutional referendum was passed in 2004 as Issue I. Efforts to overturn this amendment are now being organized in Ohio.
Spiritualist churches are among churches that perform commitment ceremonies, but these are not legally recognized in Ohio at this time. There are current court cases being held in District Federal Court in Cincinnati to force recognition of same-gender marriages performed in one of the 19 states and the District of Columbia that have legal same-gender marriages to be recognized in Ohio. Parental rights are also under review for application in Ohio for same-gender marriages legally performed in other states.
UMC clergy are prohibited from performing same-gender marriages, and openly homosexual clergy are subject to removal from the official roles of the UMC. Thousands of UMC clergy have publicly announced that they are ready to perform same-gender marriages. There are sub-groups in the UMC that are threatening to leave the UMC if the church continues to liberalize its actions on same-gender marriages.
The son, Tim Schaefer, attends a UMC church in Massachusetts with his married partner. This church in Hull, MA welcomes gays and lesbians in the congregation. While many other denominations have welcomed homosexuals into their congregations, fundamentalist churches still consider homosexuality a mortal sin that will damn practitioners to Hell. Spiritualist churches generally accept people without regard to race, sexual preference or other stated religious affiliations.
Performing same-gender marriages by UNC clergy remains a chargeable offense according to the Book of Discipline. Ministers will remain subject to discipline, with possible defrocking in some cases. The decision of the appellate group may be appealed to the Judicial Council, which presides over all regional groups.
The next general meeting of the UMC is in 2016, with an expectation of a continued debate over performance of same-gender marriages and ordination of homosexual clergy. The trend in most religious denominations is to accept same-gender marriages, with more resistance against homosexual clergy than homosexual members at large.
The United Methodist News released the details of the appeal decisions regarding Frank Schaefer’s reinstatement on June 14, 2014. The article was written by Kathy L. Gilbert and Heather Hahn. The digest of the decision presents the logic of how the appellate group came to their conclusions.
This decision has not settled the overall issue of how same-gender marriages and homosexual clergy will be treated in the future by the United Methodists. Spiritualist churches that follow the Declaration of Principles of the national spiritualist organization do not find the principles to exclude anyone based upon sexual orientation. All are welcome.