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.”
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