A United Methodist minister who was suspended for officiating at his son’s same-sex marriage said Monday he would not voluntarily surrender his religious credentials even though he could not uphold his church’s doctrines on issues relating to gay marriage.
The Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, Pa., was convicted by a church jury of violating doctrine by performing a same-sex marriage when he officiated at his son’s nuptials in Massachusetts in 2007. On Nov. 19, he was suspended for 30 days and asked to agree to abide by church doctrine, as outlined in the United Methodist Book of Discipline, or 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 [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] 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 was planning to meet 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.”
In a statement released after the news conference, Bishop Peggy A. Johnson, the leader of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, said she would wait until after Thursday’s meeting to respond.
“Until then, I cannot anticipate, prejudge or comment on what may or may not happen once Rev. Schaefer officially reports his decision,” she said.
Schaefer did not discuss what he would do if the church refused to change. But he said he felt called to be a minister and left the door open to possibly joining some other Protestant denomination.
The United Methodist Church accepts gay and lesbian members but rejects homosexuality, arguing it is incompatible with Christian teaching. It also opposes same-sex marriage.
At the news conference, Schaefer was joined by a group of Methodist ministers who are petitioning Bishop Johnson to stop holding trials for pastors who perform same-sex marriages.
The Methodists’ same-sex policy, reaffirmed by the church’s General Conference in 2012, has divided the denomination. 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.
Schaefer has told reporters that he could have avoided a trial if he had agreed to never again perform a same-sex wedding, but he declined because three of his four children are gay.