SPRING CITY, Pa. — A day after convicting one of their own of breaking church law, a jury of United Methodist clergy members returned Tuesday to determine the punishment for a minister who officiated at the same-sex wedding of his son.
A jury of his pastoral peers convicted the Rev. Frank Schaefer on Monday of breaking his vows by officiating at the 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts after a trial that has rekindled debate over the denomination’s policies on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
The jury reconvened Tuesday morning for the penalty phase, hearing testimony from former members of Schaefer’s congregation who said his conduct split the congregation.
Schaefer could face punishment ranging from a reprimand to a suspension to losing his minister’s credentials.
Schaefer’s superior, the Rev. James Todd, testified that Schaefer’s church, Zion United Methodist Church of Iona, had suffered a significant drop in attendance and giving in the months since the congregation learned that Schaefer had officiated his son’s wedding. But he said the reasons were many.
Some, he said, left because they were angered that Schaefer had broken his vows. Others left because they were upset over the way Schaefer had been treated. And still others left amid disputes over Schaefer’s ministry, his administrative skills and his falling-out with the longtime choir director — the mother of the man who eventually filed a complaint against Schaefer over his son’s wedding.
Under questioning from Schaefer’s counsel, Todd acknowledged that Schaefer had informed the church in writing in 2006 that he planned to officiate at his son’s wedding. But Todd said he never saw the form and would have objected had he known.
The Rev. Christopher Fisher, who is serving as the church’s prosecutor, urged the jury in his opening statement Tuesday to consider whether Schaefer will “repent of and renounce his disobedience to the (Methodist Book of) Discipline,” and promise to obey the denomination’s book of law and doctrine in the future.
Schaefer’s counsel, the Rev. Robert Coombe, asked the jury to show “love and grace” to Schaefer.
Article continues below“You can uphold the Discipline without being punitive and retributive,” he said.
Schaefer didn’t deny that he performed his son’s wedding, but said he did it out of love, not a desire to flout church teaching on homosexuality.
“I did not want to make this a protest about the doctrine of the church. I wasn’t trying to be an advocate,” Schaefer testified earlier at his trial, held at a Methodist retreat in southeastern Pennsylvania about 60 miles east of the church. “I just wanted this to be a beautiful family affair, and it was that.”
The nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination accepts gay and lesbian members, but it rejects the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching” and forbids pastors from marrying same-sex partners.
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