Church officials put the German-born preacher on trial in southeastern Pennsylvania after one of his congregants in Lebanon filed a complaint against him, accusing him of ignoring his pastoral vows by presiding over his son’s ceremony in Massachusetts.
Schaefer could have avoided the trial — and, after his conviction, kept his ordination — by promising he wouldn’t perform another same-gender wedding. But he refused, declaring he would officiate more gay marriages if asked.
His stand galvanized gay rights activists within the church, and he’s become a fixture on the lecture circuit. In between appearances, Schaefer wrote a book, “Defrocked,” that will be released later this month by Chalice Press. A documentary film crew has been following him around and a Philadelphia theater company is developing a play about him.
But Schaefer still considers himself a country preacher, and he wants another congregation to call his own. He will argue before a nine-member Committee on Appeals on Friday that his defrocking was improper because it was based on the assumption that he would break church law in the future.
“His return from suspension cannot be conditioned on his good behavior,” said his clergy counsel, the Rev. Scott Campbell. “You cannot penalize people for what they might do. The penalty needs to be related to what he has done.”
Article continues belowA decision by the appeals panel is expected as early as Saturday. Campbell said it’s likely the losing side will appeal to the Judicial Counsel, the denomination’s highest court. At least three other Methodist pastors have been tried for performing same-sex marriages, but none of their cases made it to the high court.
Even if the Judicial Counsel weighs in, though, the Schaefer case is unlikely to have broader implications for a denomination so intractably divided, said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of a theologically conservative Methodist movement called Good News.
“We are in complete chaos right now, and having the Judicial Counsel rule appropriately will not change the chaos,” he said. “It’s not going to stop progressives from breaking the Book of Discipline, and it’s not going to lure traditionalists into any false sense that this is taken care of.”
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