LGBT-affirming Methodist ministers under fire

Thirty-six Methodist ministers who presided over a Center City same-sex wedding last year are the targets of an internal church complaint.

About 50 Methodists in the area, many of them clergy, recently filed the complaint. Their names haven’t been released.

On its website, the conservative group United Methodist Action praised the complainants.

“The denominational-accountability process will be slow,” the organization stated. “But at least it is now moving along, as faithful United Methodists in Eastern Pennsylvania are standing together to defend biblical faithfulness and compassionate Christian ministry for all people. They will not be intimidated by or roll over for the destructive, covenant-breaking, any-means-necessary tactics of the Philadelphia 36. And neither will we.”

The pastors who blessed the union of Rick Taylor and Bill Gatewood in November were demonstrating their support for the Rev. Frank Schaefer.

At the time, Schaefer was poised to stand trial after officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding.

Schaefer was defrocked the following month because he declined to promise to never officiate at another same-gender wedding.

But in June, an appeals panel reinstated Schaefer, stating it was unjust to defrock him for something he might do in the future.

Last week, Schaefer expressed support for his embattled colleagues.

“When the 36 minister colleagues performed the Arch Street wedding in solidarity with me, I felt like I was no longer alone,” he told PGN. “I attended the wedding and was moved to tears as Rick and Bill were blessed by them. It was an act of love for the couple, for me and for our LGBTQ community. I am deeply grateful to the Philly 36 and will be in support of them as they are now under complaint and possibly headed for a trial themselves.”

Schaefer went on to say he admired the coalition’s “courage to stand up for what is just and right. They have said all along, if one of us faces a complaint, we will all stand together. They stand together against the United Methodist Church’s continued discrimination against our LGBTQ church community in this new civil-rights movement. Thank God for ministers like them who are willing to risk their careers in our struggle for equality and human rights. I wish more of our church’s bishop’s would show the same kind of courage and leadership.”

Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church was in Africa and unavailable to be interviewed. But she said in a statement she’s “prayerful a just resolution can be achieved. As United Methodists, we are committed to seeking peace and reconciliation as a model for society.”

Church authorities have 90 days to reach a “just resolution” of the complaint. If that’s not possible, a decision will be made whether the complaint is serious enough to warrant a church trial.

According to Methodist rules, “church trials are a measure of last resort. This option is available only after all other attempts at resolution have failed.”

In an email, William E. Ewing, an attorney for Schaefer, expressed hope that the complaint won’t result in a church trial.

“This complaint tends to bring about the schism that certain factions seem to want,” Ewing said. “It is calculated to drive out those who follow the loving example of Christ rather than slavishly obey selected favored rules in the Book of Discipline.

“This complaint rejects Christ’s freedom and seeks to reimpose ‘the curse of the law.’ A church that follows Jesus Christ and John Wesley will find a better way than another trial.”

Schaefer recently started a new position, ministering to the university community in Santa Barbara, Calif.

At presstime, church authorities hadn’t announced whether they’ll appeal Schaefer’s reinstatement to a higher judicial body within the church.

His son, Tim, intends to start taking theology classes, with the goal of becoming an ordained Protestant minister.

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