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Methodist minister won't surrender credentials in gay-marriage dispute

Religion and BeliefMethodistChristianityFamilyMarriageSocial IssuesSame-Sex Marriage

A United Methodist minister who was suspended for officiating at his son’s gay marriage said on Monday he will not voluntarily surrender his religious credentials even though he cannot uphold his church’s doctrines on issues relating to same-sex marriage.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, Pa., was convicted of violating church doctrine by performing a same-sex marriage when he officiated at his son’s nuptials in 2007 in Massachusetts. On Nov. 19, he was suspended for 30 days and asked to agree to abide by church doctrine, as outlined in the Methodist Book of Discipline, or to surrender his ministerial credentials.

“My honest answer is: No, I cannot uphold the United Methodist Book of Discipline,” Schaefer told a televised news conference in Philadelphia. “In fact, I don’t believe anybody can. It’s impossible to uphold the Discipline in its entirety because it is filled with competing and contradictory statements. It reflects the diversity of convictions we hold as United Methodists ... In particular, the Discipline contains discriminatory laws and language that is hurtful and harmful to our LGBT brothers and sisters. That language denies them their full humanity.”

Schaefer went on to say he would not surrender his credentials.

“I also cannot in good conscience surrender my credentials voluntarily as I feel called to represent, minister to, and advocate for tens of thousands of LGBT members and their families within the United Methodist Church,” he said.

Schaefer said he is planning to meet on Thursday with the church’s Board of Ordained Ministry.

 “This body could decide to leave my credentials in place and affirm me as a voice for the LGBT community—a decision which would demonstrate a willingness to engage in a new dialogue and discernment process and a path toward healing. Or the Board could decide to defrock me,” he said.

“Basically, the ball is back in the Methodists’ court,” he said.

 He did not discuss what he would do if the church refused to change. But he said he feels called to be a minister and left the door open to possibly joining some other Protestant denomination.

The Methodist church accepts gay and lesbian members, but rejects homosexuality, arguing it is incompatible with Christian teaching. It also opposes gay marriage.

At the news conference Schaefer was joined by a group of Methodist ministers who are petitioning church officials to stop holding trials for pastors who perform same-sex marriages.

Same-sex marriage has politically and socially divided the nation, though it has grown increasingly more accepted. In a July 2013 Gallup poll, 52% of Americans said they would vote for a law legalizing gay marriage, and 42% said they would not. As recently as 1996, polls showed that 68% said they did not believe same-sex marriages should be valid, while 27% said they approved.

The Methodists' same-sex policy, reaffirmed by the 1,000-member General Conference in 2012, has divided the church. Hundreds of Methodist ministers have publicly rejected church doctrine on homosexuality, and some face discipline for presiding over same-sex unions. Schaefer, pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, is the first Methodist minister to face this type of trial in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Schaefer has told reporters that he could have avoided a trial if he had agreed to never again perform a same-gender wedding, but he declined because three of his four children are gay.

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