Today, a nine-person United Methodist Church appeals committee reversed a decision to defrock Pastor Frank Schaefer for presiding over his son’s same-sex wedding and vowing to perform other gay marriages if asked. Schaefer had been the pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pa., but last year, six years after officiating at the same-sex wedding of his son, an all-clergy church court found him guilty of disobeying the denomination’s order and discipline. Today, the appeals panel ordered the church to restore Schaefer’s pastoral credentials and said the jury that convicted him of breaking church law erred when deciding his punishment.
Even though the appeals panel concluded that the original punishment was wrong under church law, they did not question Mr. Schaefer’s guilt. Today’s 11-page ruling stated that, "revoking his credentials cannot be squared with the well-established principle that our clergy can only be punished for what they have been convicted of doing in the past, not for what they may or may not do in the future." Schaefer’s punishment was altered to a 30-day suspension, which the appeals panel deemed to have already taken place.
The church’s Book of Discipline forbids clergy from performing same-sex weddings and defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The Book of Discipline also declares homosexual practice “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Schaefer, who has three gay children of his own, become an unexpected champion to religious members of the LGBT community when his case became a test of the denomination’s willingness to enforce its own rules. After he had been defrocked, Schaefer became a speaker, activist, and author.
The religious world in general is deeply divided over whether same-sex relationships should be recognized; however religious doctrines toward LGBT rights are rapidly changing. Earlier this month, the Presbyterian Church voted to allow gay and lesbian weddings within the church, making it among the largest Christian denominations to take an embracing step toward same-sex marriage. Also, last Sunday, in a historic first, the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., welcomed an openly transgender priest, Reverend Dr. Cameron Partridge, to deliver its guest sermon.
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