Methodist pastor found guilty in church trial over gay son's marriage

A United Methodist minister was convicted Monday in Pennsylvania of breaking church laws for conducting a same-sex marriage ceremony for his son  -- an action the pastor said he would do again because he believes he is called to extend God's love to all. 

The jury will reconvene Tuesday morning to decide the penalty for the Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, Pa., the Associated Press reported. Schaefer faces punishment ranging from a reprimand to losing his ministerial credentials.

His church trial included a judge, a 13-member jury, a de facto prosecutor and a defense attorney and was conducted much like a civil legal proceeding. 

Schaefer, of Lebanon, Pa., had entered a plea of not guilty to breaking church law barring same-sex marriages. In his defense, he said he was extending God's love to his son when he officiated at the 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts.

Earlier Monday, a crowd of observers lined up outside a United Methodist retreat center to show support. The trial was being held at Camp Innabah in Spring City, Pa. Schaefer had told supporters, who held vigils and demonstration on his behalf, that he was encouraged by their actions but doubted that he would be acquitted.

The United Methodist church, the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination, rejects homosexuality as contrary to Christian teaching and bars its clergy from performing same-sex marriages. However, gays and lesbians are allowed to be full members of the church.

That 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.

Tim Schaefer, 29, his son, said earlier that he hoped the trial would lead to a new conversation on revisiting church policy. 


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