“Making a statement in response to a question is in no way saying, ‘I will not uphold the Book of Discipline,’” Campbell said. “The trial court erred egregiously, and sought to penalize Mr. Schaefer not for what he’s done, but for what he might do in the future.”
But Fisher argued that Schaefer’s 30-day suspension “was a period of grace for Rev. Schaefer to discern his motivations.”
He told the panel that Schaefer’s initial explanation was that he officiated the wedding out of love for his son, but after conviction said he’d discovered a new calling to advocate for the LGBT church community.
“Motivation was an important question for the trial court,” Fisher said.
Fisher went on to argue that Schaefer response to the church’s question was “an outright rejection of the Discipline.” Fisher also asked the panel to dismiss the appeal, arguing that because Schaefer did not surrender his credentials voluntarily after refusing to make the promise, as predicated in the jury’s order, he had again broken church rules.
“This is no minor thing,” Fisher said. “Schaefer stated he won’t abide by the Discipline, and demonstrated it by his unwillingness to obey the trial court.”
The topic of gay marriage is contentious in the Methodist Church. Recently, hundreds of ministers have spoken out against the church’s doctrine on homosexuality, which allows for gay members but bars them from becoming clergy, and forbids ministers from performing same-sex marriages.
Schaefer was charged after a member of his congregation complained to the church about his officiating his son’s wedding.
Prior to the hearing, Schaefer on Friday said he is cautiously optimistic, and vowed to appeal to the church’s high court if the decision is upheld.
“I think there will be a victory at the end of the day,” Schaefer said, adding that the LGBT movement is “unstoppable.”
“Things will change,” Schaefer said, “I’m certain of that.”
The appeals panel has 20 days to issue a written opinion.
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