The United Methodist Church’s highest judicial body this week upheld the reinstatement of the Rev. Frank Schaefer.
Schaefer was stripped of his credentials last year after being found guilty of violating church rules by officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding in 2007.
But the jury conditioned Schaefer’s defrocking on whether he would promise to not officiate at another same-sex wedding. When Schaefer refused to make such a promise, he was defrocked.
In June, a regional appeals committee reinstated Schaefer, on the basis that the discipline unfairly punished him for future conduct.
On Oct. 27, after a hearing in Memphis, the church’ s Judicial Council announced that it upheld Schaefer’s reinstatement.
Schaefer also will be compensated for all lost wages and benefits dating from Dec. 19, 2013.
This week’s decision ends Schaefer’s case. But the debate continues about whether the church should countenance same-sex marriages.
Schaefer issued a statement expressing gratitude to the Judicial Council.
“With its decision to validate my reinstatement, the Judicial Council has acted justly and wisely. Their decision signals hope to our LGBTQ community that has not always seen the rule of love and grace winning over the letter of the archaic law the church still subscribes to,” he said. “Today’s decision also signals a willingness to continue dialogue and to seek solutions that will hopefully lead to a change in these archaic and harmful policies. The UM Church needs to find a way toward reconciliation, full inclusion of our LGBTQ community and an open altar for all God’s beloved children.
“I will continue the fight alongside thousands of others in the reconciling movement for full inclusion and an open altar for all. I know the day is coming when this dream will be reality and I don’t think it is that far in the future.”
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson of the church’s Eastern Pennsylvania Conference has been criticized for pursuing Schaefer’s defrocking.
But her statement in reaction to the Judicial Council’s decision struck a conciliatory tone.
“This difficult journey continues, as our dialogues will continue. But my ardent hope and belief is that they will lead us eventually toward revelatory wisdom, perhaps even compromise, and toward becoming a stronger, more loving, more united and cooperative people of faith serving Christ and witnessing to God’s grace and glory in all that we do,” Johnson said. “And as for all the people who witness our words and actions as we walk this journey together, my hope and belief are that they shall know us by our love.”
Prior to his defrocking, Schaefer was assigned to the Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pa.
Schaefer said his ordeal could be traced to an altercation with Deborah Boger, a former senior choir director at the church.
Her son, Jon, filed a complaint against Schaefer for officiating at his son Tim’s 2007 marriage, six years after the fact.
This week, when asked her reaction to the Judicial Council’s decision, Deborah Boger replied: “No comment.”
Schaefer currently ministers to a university community in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Tim Schaefer issued this statement about the Judicial Council’s decision:
“This trial process has been a long and painful road for my family. It was only with the encouragement of thousands of supporters, both within and outside of the United Methodist Church, that we were able to stay strong over the past 18 months,” he said. “Unfortunately, arguments by the [prosecution] at last week’s Judicial Council hearing highlighted the blatant animosity that many hold towards the LGBTQ community. When it was clear that the law was on my father’s side, the [prosecution] attempted to discredit those involved in the judicial process by resorting to accusations of bias and misconduct. I believe this behavior to be in conflict with the Bible and the teachings of Jesus. I pray that our conservative brothers and sisters in the Church can learn to show love and compassion towards those of us in the LGBTQ community.”