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Defrocked Methodist pastor who officiated gay son’s wedding appeals punishment

Wednesday, June 18, 2014
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In this June 14, 2014 photo, Frank Schaefer, speaks to parishioners after receiving an Open Door Award for his public advocacy during a ceremony marking 10 years of legal gay marriage in Massachusetts, at Old South Church, in Boston on June 14, 2014.Josh Reynolds, AP

In this June 14, 2014 photo, Frank Schaefer, speaks to parishioners after receiving an Open Door Award for his public advocacy during a ceremony marking 10 years of legal gay marriage in Massachusetts, at Old South Church, in Boston on June 14, 2014.

Frank Schaefer lost his job but not his voice.

Defrocked by the United Methodist Church six months ago for officiating his son’s same-sex wedding, Schaefer has gained a following among reformers who want the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination to loosen its policies on homosexuality.

He’s told his story dozens of times to largely sympathetic audiences around the country: How his son came out to him as a teenager who had contemplated suicide. How he hid the 2007 wedding from his conservative Pennsylvania congregation, fearing it would sow division. How he finally decided — in the midst of his high-profile church trial last fall — to become an outspoken advocate for gay rights at a time when his denomination is bitterly divided over the issue.

After his trial and conviction, “I thought I had lost everything,” recalled Schaefer, 52. “There was a moment of pain and depression and the next thing I knew, I was catapulted . I have more opportunities now than I ever did.”

Except the right to call himself a Methodist minister.

“I would like to get my credentials back,” said Schaefer, who will appear before a church panel in Baltimore this week to argue that his punishment was illegal under church law. “I’m hoping for a ‘re-frocking.’”

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In little more than six months, Schaefer has become a public face of the movement to change church policy on homosexuals. The Methodist church accepts gay and lesbian members but rejects sex outside of heterosexual marriage as “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Openly gay people may not serve as clergy, and ministers are forbidden from performing same-sex marriages.

The issue has roiled the Methodist church for more than 40 years, but the conflict between theological conservatives and liberals has intensified recently. Hundreds of Methodist ministers have publicly rejected church doctrine on homosexuality, while traditionalists say they have no right to break church law just because they disagree with it. Some conservative pastors are calling for a breakup of the denomination, which has 12 million members worldwide, saying the split over gay marriage is irreconcilable.

“The church is a little shell-shocked right now,” Schaefer said.

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