A sign symbolizes same-sex marriage.
Hide Caption

Pennsylvania pastor facing church trial over gay marriage

a a a a
Share this story

A United Methodist pastor who could be defrocked for officiating at his son's same-sex wedding faces a church trial in southeastern Pennsylvania.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer, 51, could face punishment ranging from a reprimand to suspension to losing his minister's credentials if a jury comprised of fellow Methodist clergy convicts him of breaking his pastoral vows by presiding over the 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts. Schaefer's supporters argue that church teaching on homosexuality is outmoded.

"Public opinion has changed very rapidly," said the pastor's son, Tim Schaefer, 29. "I hope this leads to a renewed conversation to revisit these policies to see if they are a little archaic."

The nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination accepts gay and lesbian members, but it rejects the practice of homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian teaching."

The issue has split the church. Hundreds of Methodist ministers have publicly rejected church doctrine on homosexuality, and some of them face discipline for presiding over same-sex unions.

Critics say those pastors are sowing division within the church and ignoring the church's democratic decision-making process. Indeed, the denomination's top legislative body, the 1,000-member General Conference, reaffirmed the church's 40-year-old policy on gays at its last worldwide meeting in 2012.

The Methodists have set aside three days for Schaefer's trial, to be held at a church retreat in Spring City, Pa., beginning on Monday.

Tim Schaefer, of Hull, Mass., will testify on his father's behalf.

"(The defense wants) to highlight how hurtful the policy of the church is toward the LGBT community," he said.

Tim Schaefer struggled as a teenager, aware of Methodist doctrine on homosexuality. He said he prayed every night that "God would make me normal, take this away from me." He contemplated suicide but knew it would devastate his family. Schaefer finally told his parents at age 17, and he said they accepted him completely.

Years later, Schaefer knew he wanted his dad to perform his wedding ceremony.

"I remember thinking I have two choices: I can ask my dad and know I am putting him in a position ... where he would risk his career, or I could not ask my dad and really risk hurting his feelings. I think he would have been devastated if I hadn't asked him," he said.

Frank Schaefer has said he informed his superiors in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference that he planned to officiate his son's wedding, and again after the ceremony, which took place at a restaurant near Boston. He said he faced no discipline until April — about a month before the church's six-year statute of limitations was set to expire — when one of his congregants filed a complaint.

Schaefer could have avoided a trial if he had agreed to never again perform a same-gender wedding, but he declined because three of his four children are gay.

A Methodist trial resembles a secular trial in many ways, with counsel representing each side, a judge and jury, opening statements and closing arguments, and testimony and evidence.

The 13-member jury, called a "trial court," will be selected from a pool of 35. It takes at least nine votes to convict. If Schaefer is convicted, the trial moves to a penalty phase, with the same jury settling on a punishment. At least seven members of the jury must agree on the penalty.

Schaefer can appeal a conviction, but neither the church nor the person who brought the charge may appeal an acquittal.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Print this article

Comments

Hmm... It looks like you’re not a WCPO Insider. or Subscribe now to contribute!

More National News
GM faces another safety investigation
GM faces another safety investigation

General Motors is dealing with another government safety investigation. This time the car targeted is the 2014 Impala.

Internet TV case: Justices skeptical, concerned
Internet TV case: Justices skeptical, concerned

Grappling with fast-changing technology, Supreme Court justices debated Tuesday whether they can protect the copyrights of TV broadcasters to…

Airport security vulnerabilities not uncommon
Airport security vulnerabilities not uncommon

For all the tens of billions of dollars that the nation has spent on screening passengers and their bags, few airports made a comparable…

Supreme Court upholds ban on affirmative action
Supreme Court upholds ban on affirmative action

The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Michigan's ban on using race as a factor in college admissions.

Infant found in Detroit home with dead mother
Infant found in Detroit home with dead mother

An infant is fighting for her life after she was left alone with her mother’s dead body for several days.

Netflix poised to raise prices after strong 1Q
Netflix poised to raise prices after strong 1Q

Netflix is preparing a sequel unlikely to be a hit with its subscribers. The Internet video service is about to raise its prices for the…

Grieving borrowers told to repay student loan
Grieving borrowers told to repay student loan

Some student loan borrowers who had a parent or grandparent co-sign the note are finding that they must immediately pay the loan in full if…

Earth Day: 6 ways to be greener right now
Earth Day: 6 ways to be greener right now

In honor of Earth Day, the Environmental Protection Agency has compiled a list of ways to start saving energy not just on April 22, but every day.

American wins Boston Marathon
American wins Boston Marathon

Meb Keflezighi wore the names of the four victims who died in 2013 on his running bib as he became the first American winner since 1985.

US marshal shoots defendant in federal court
US marshal shoots defendant in federal court

A U.S. marshal shot and critically wounded a defendant on Monday in a federal courthouse after the man rushed the witness stand with a pen at…