- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2014

A Methodist judicial council on Monday upheld the decision in the case of a pastor who was defrocked for officiating his gay son’s wedding but later reinstated, closing a 10-month dispute that highlighted the internal struggle of the church to balance doctrine and shifting social attitudes.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer, 52, former pastor at Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, called the council’s decision to uphold his appeal a “small but significant step” toward equality for all within the United Methodist Church, and reinvigorated his own fight for gay rights.

“It feels so good to have the final word,’ Mr. Schaefer said. “Nothing is hanging over my head. It also feels great for what it means to the [gay-lesbian-transgender] community within the church. They have been watching this decision. This signals that there is room for them in the church.”

In its decision, the United Methodist Judicial Council stated that it found no errors with the ruling by the church’s Committee on Appeals for the Northeastern Jurisdiction, but acknowledged “that some within the Church do not support this outcome today.”

“Some may see a flagrant disregard for parts of the Discipline as reflected in the Decision of the Committee on Appeals. Some may have wished the trial court’s penalty had been differently constructed so as to meet the requirements of the Discipline and impose a harsher penalty,” the council stated. “Others support the decision. We are mindful of the divisions within the Church. Our task is review the process and decisions of the trial court and the appellate process in order to determine if any parts of the Discipline were violated or were interpreted in error.”

During the church’s 2012 general conference, which is held once every four years, delegates voted to uphold the church’s “Book of Doctrine and Rules” teaching that homosexual acts are “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Mr. Schaefer officiated his son’s wedding in 2007, but was defrocked last winter. He initially was suspended for 30 days, during which he was given time to decide if he would pledge to uphold the church’s teachings on homosexuality, which he did not.

He filed an appeal, which was upheld in June. He now works within the church’s California-Pacific Conference at University Church Isla Vista Student Ministry in Santa Barbara, California.

Mr. Schaefer said he plans to continue his work as a pastor, but is also looking ahead to the 2016 general conference.

“This is only one little step. Hopefully, there’s many more to come to change this harmful policy,” he said.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson, episcopal leader of the Philadelphia Area of the United Methodist Church, which includes the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, acknowledged in a written reaction to the judicial council’s ruling that “this has been a painful season” for both her and the conference.

“This difficult journey continues, as our dialogues will continue,” Bishop Johnson said. “But my ardent hope and belief is that they will lead us eventually toward revelatory wisdom, perhaps even compromise, and toward becoming a stronger, more loving, more united and cooperative people of faith serving Christ and witnessing to God’s grace and glory in all that we do.”

About six months ago, the church announced its approval of insurance benefits to some employees in same-sex marriages.

In June, a complaint was filed against 36 pastors who officiated a same-sex wedding in Philadelphia. The complaint was settled out of court, with a promise of future discussions between both sides.

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