LINTHICUM, Md. — A United Methodist pastor on Friday asked a church appeals panel to overturn a decision to defrock him for refusing to promise to uphold the church’s law, which bans ministers from performing same-sex marriages.
Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, had his ministerial credentials stripped last year after a trial jury found that he was guilty of violating church rules when he officiated his son’s 2007 same-sex wedding in Massachusetts, where gay marriage had been legal for three years. The 52-year-old Schaefer was suspended for 30 days, but at the end of it, he was defrocked for refusing to pledge never to officiate at another gay marriage. It means Schaefer is no longer employed with the United Methodist Church.
On Friday, Schaefer’s attorney, Rev. Scott Campbell, told the nine-member appeals panel in Maryland that the pastor had served his sentence. He argued the decision to take the more drastic action was illegal because it was based on the assumption that the minister would break church rules in the future.
Article continues belowHowever, counsel for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, Rev. Dr. Christopher Fisher, said the ruling is valid because Schaefer disobeyed church law. He said the 30-day suspension was not a sentence but a delay after which the church would determine whether he could stay in the official ministry.
More than 50 Schaefer supporters wearing multi-colored stoles streamed into a conference room at the BWI Airport Marriott in Linthicum to watch the proceedings.
Campbell told the panel that Schaefer’s sentence was imposed for two violations: officiating a same-sex wedding and disobeying church law. But, he said, the defrocking resulted from “an entirely new allegation: the unwillingness to give the church assurance about the future.”
After his conviction in 2013, when Schaefer was asked if he would promise to obey the “Book of Discipline” in its entirety, which includes a ban on performing same-sex marriages, Schaefer refused.