Marriage On Trial In The United Methodist Church

In Eastern Pennsylvania, Rev. Frank Schaefer was convicted Monday in a trial of The United Methodist Church (UMC) for officiating the wedding of his son, Tim, to his same-sex partner in 2007. 

Rev. Schaefer was found guilty on two counts: for officiating a same-sex wedding and "disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church."

Rev. Schaefer's son Tim expressed disappointment last night following the verdict: "What we're hoping for is a light sentence." 

Tim will serve today as a witness in his father's sentencing trial. Rev. Schaefer could face penalties ranging from time off to a loss of his ordination status in the United Methodist Church.

When asked about officiating his son's wedding, Rev. Schaefer cited the example of Jesus:

"When Tim asked me to do his wedding, I could not pass along the other side of the road like the Levite or Priest. Maybe I compromised my ritual purity, but I felt Jesus was calling me to act in love. Jesus would have done it."

Supporters gathered outside the trial, singing hymns and holding signs to express support. One poster echoed Rev. Schaefer's defense, proclaiming: "Law or love? Jesus chose love."

UPDATE: Rev. Schaefer defrocked by the United Methodist Church

The United Methodist Church is the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States. 

The United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline currently bans same-sex marriages and non-celibate gay clergy. In addition, a 1972 motion declares that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching." 

Changes to the Book of Discipline are considered every four years by delegates from around the world at the denomination's General Conference. In 2012, proposed changes to these rules were voted down by the gathered delegates. 

Despite significant disagreement within the denomination, the delegates also voted against proposals to "agree to disagree" on homosexuality. 

In response, retired United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert called his colleagues in 2012 to perform same-sex marriages in acts of "biblical obedience." 

Reconciling Ministries Network, which works for full inclusion in The United Methodist Church, describes Bishop Talbert's stance: 

Talbert adheres to Biblical Obedience, a belief based on scripture and the fullness of UMC law which calls on clergy to offer all ministries to all people, and to act as if the immoral, unjust, discriminatory laws that forbid clergy from officiating same-sex marriage do not exist. It is about respecting LGBT persons in their full personhood—offering them all of the rights, responsibilities, sacraments, and ministries of the church. The UMC also calls on bishops to be present in the lives of the community to offer a prophetic witness.

In October 2013, Bishop Talbert modeled biblical obedience by officiating the wedding of UMC members Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw in Birmingham, Alabama.

Last week, the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church issued a statement of response, which asks Bishop Talbert's colleagues to file complaints against him for performing a same-sex wedding and "undermining the ministry of a colleague." 

Bishop Talbert and Rev. Schaefer are just two leaders risking their ordination to include LGBT people in the ministry of The United Methodist Church. 

On November 9, more than thirty United Methodist clergy officiated the wedding of Rich Taylor and Bill Gatewood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to stand in solidarity with Rev. Schaefer. 

In addition, Mary Ann (Kaiser) Barclay, who is pursuing ministry in The United Methodist Church, is awaiting a decision on her ordination status after she married Annanda Barclay earlier this year. The two met in seminary and celebrated their marriage at Reconciling Ministries Network's biannual gathering in September 2013.

Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey, who co-officiated Barclay's wedding, felt led by the Holy Spirit to participate in the ceremony. In a blog recently posted by Reconciling Ministries Network, she calls justice an "divine attribute of God" and cites on the United Methodist principle of "sacred worth," which affirms that all people are "individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God." 

As Rev. Schaefer awaits his sentence, many United Methodists continue to hope for changes in the denomination's stance on LGBT inclusion.

In May 2016, 850 delegates from around the world will gather in Portland, Oregon, where delegates will again be challenged to revise the Book of Discipline to include LGBT persons fully in the life and ministry of The United Methodist Church.

Supporters gather outside Rev. Schaefer's trial, via Reconciling Ministries Network

Comments (5)

I am a member of Somerset United Methodist Church. The time to "Walk the Walk" Is NOW!!! God is LOVE. We are Commanded to LOVE, NOT Judge and exclude our Brothers and Sisters for Who God Made.. God does not make Mistakes. The Judgement is on our Lord and His Creation. These rules are also punishing & discriminating against the Children of these LGBT Brothers & Sisters. These families Exist It is time to start being the Christians we profess to be . " Open Minds, Open Hearts and Open Doors" I am praying for EQUALITY NOW!!!

Why do you stay? If your church's rules go against your own conscience and reason, then why stick by it? There are other denominations that are openly accepting of same-sex couples, why not try one of them?

Meeting in Portland in 2016? That should be interesting! This town (and most, if not all) of the Methodist churches in this area are as pro-gay as you can get. The congregation at my church sings "Happy Anniversary" to my same-sex partner and me every year.

Glad to see broad reporting of the controversy here. My UMC includes all persons in all aspects of church life except for ordained ministry. I think it will come, but to get the worldwide delegation to agree to change The Discipline will take time. Clergy in the USA have my support to perform gay marriages--even though my state has not ok'd them. The Discipline is man made.

In your blog post, you state:

"Bishop Melvin Talbert called his colleagues in 2012 to perform same-sex marriages in acts of 'biblical disobedience.'"

but that's not correct. Bishop Talbert, the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC, and the RMN are all calling for "Biblical obedience" (the WJUMC chose "Gospel Obedience"), not "disobedience." The only people referring to it as "disobedience" are the leaders and minions of the IRD. Please correct this error, which I'm guessing was inadvertent.

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