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Methodist pastor who performed gay son's wedding to appeal defrocking

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Methodist minister will appeal his defrocking for presiding over son's same-sex marriage

Frank Schaefer this week will be appealing the outcome of last year's trial that stripped him of his lifelong vocation as minister of the United Methodist Church.

The former minister of Lebanon, Pa., was suspended on Nov. 18 for 30 days by a jury of pastors for officiating at the same-sex marriage of his son in Massachusetts. A month later, he was defrocked -- or stripped of his religious credentials -- after refusing to promise to never perform another same-sex marriage.

He immediately said he would challenge the defrocking. Arguments will be heard Friday in Baltimore by the Committee on Appeals for the Northeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, with a decision expected as early as Saturday.

“We felt very strongly that the penalty -- my defrocking -- was really not in line with the church’s law,” Schaefer told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. “What they based the defrocking on was a promise to not perform another gay marriage. You can't punish someone based on something they haven’t done yet. You can't defrock on a promise.”

Schaefer said he continues to devote himself to the Methodist church and would like to continue his life as a minister.

“I devoted my life to this church and I see great potential in this church, except the strong language against homosexuality,” he said. “This is a great church. And I have vowed, even when I was defrocked, that I would fight from within the church.”

He said he hopes that if the decision is in his favor, it will symbolize a greater change in the church. He said the proof of how harmful this outlook on homosexuality is lies in his son, who told Schaefer he considered suicide before coming out to his parents when he was 17 because of the conflict he felt between his religious beliefs and his sexual orientation.

“I was silent for too long,” Schaefer said. “I will not refuse ministry to anybody based on their sexual orientation. We have to stop harming beloved children of God.”

In the six months since his trial and defrocking, Schaefer has become a symbol in the movement to change the United Methodist Church’s policy on homosexuality. He has spoken at more than 50 events, churches and colleges and received several awards, including recognition from the Massachusetts governor and the Pennsylvania Education Assn.

He also wrote a book, “Defrocked,” that will be released this month by Chalice Press. A documentary film, “An Act of Love,” is being made about him -- the crew has been following him around, he said -- and a Philadelphia theater company is working on a play that will reenact his trial.

Roughly 5% of U.S. adults are members of the Methodist Church, making it the largest Protestant denomination, according to the Pew Religion and Public Life Project. The church accepts gay and lesbian members but rejects same-sex marriage and does not allow openly gay clergy and ministers, citing homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching,” according to the United Methodist Church’s official website.

As for his pending appeal and its decision, Schaefer described himself as feeling “cautiously optimistic” that he will be reinstated.

"We will call it a re-frocking," he joked.

He said his optimism stems from several other instances since his trial where clergy and ministers across the country have had charges dropped for issues relating to the church's homosexuality policy.

In March, the trial of the Rev. Thomas Ogletree, a retired dean of the Yale Divinity School, was dropped. Ogletree had presided over his son’s same-sex marriage in New York City in 2012.

In May, complaints against New York Rev. Sara Tweedy, who faced trial for being married to another woman, were also dropped.

Follow @msrikris for the latest national news.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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