An appeals committee Tuesday reinstated a United Methodist pastor who had been defrocked for officiating his gay son’s wedding.
The Rev. Frank Schaefer, 52, is once again a clergy member in the church, a resolution he said was important for his work as an LGBTQ advocate.
“It means so much for me to be a reverend again,” said the former pastor at Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. “I have vowed never to be silent again. Now I’m speaking with a different voice, a voice of leadership within the church, which is really great.”
The ruling overturns a previous decision made in November by a jury comprised of clergy members from the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church.
In its written decision, the Committee on Appeals for the Northeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church explained that Mr. Schaefer’s punishment was unlawful because it could not “be squared with the well-established principle that our clergy can only be punished for what they have been convicted of doing in the past, not for what they may or may not do in the future.”
Mr. Schaefer officiated his son’s 2007 wedding, a small affair held at a restaurant and not in a Methodist church, a fact considered in the appeal committee’s decision.
“There is nothing in the trial record indicating that Rev. Schaefer had ever participated in any other same-sex marriages or ceremonies celebrating same-sex unions,” the committee said. “There is no record that, during the six years that elapsed between Tim Schaefer’s wedding and the filing of the complaint that initiated this proceeding, Rev. Schaefer publicized or broadcast the fact that he had conducted a same-sex marriage, or otherwise conducted himself in such a way as to reflect or promote contempt or disrespect for the Discipline or for any particular provisions of the Discipline.”
According to the church’s Book of Doctrine and Rules, homosexual acts are “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
In a statement from Bishop Peggy A. Johnson, episcopal leader of the Philadelphia Area of the United Methodist Church, which includes the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, she asked for continued prayers for Mr. Schaefer and his family, as well as the church, “as we struggle gracefully to find common ground.”
“I pray confidently that our church may emerge stronger, more hopeful and more faithful to both its biblical grounding and its prophetic calling,” she said.
In April, the church announced its approval of insurance benefits to some employees in same-sex marriages.