30 pastors plan to perform same-sex union

The Rev. Frank Schaefer faces a church trial on Nov. 18 for officiating at the 2007 same-sex wedding of his son. He is pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pa. Photo courtesy of Frank Schaefer.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer faces a church trial on Nov. 18 for officiating at the 2007 same-sex wedding of his son. He is pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pa. Photo courtesy of Frank Schaefer.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

The Rev. Frank Schaefer will go before a church trial on Nov. 18 for performing the same-sex wedding of his son, but he is going with the support of more than 30 of his fellow United Methodist pastors who also plan to violate the same church law.

The pastors say they will participate in the wedding of a same-sex couple some time before the start of Schaefer’s trial. The gender, identity and date of the ceremony is not being disclosed to protect the privacy of the couple.

Since 1972, The United Methodist Church has said, “Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Only General Conference can determine the denomination’s position. The 2012 United Methodist General Conference retained that language and rejected a resolution that stated the church disagrees on sexuality. The next General Conference, which meets every four years and sets the laws for the denomination, will be in 2016.

The denomination’s Book of Discipline also forbids United Methodist clergy from performing same-sex unions, and it bars the performance of such unions in United Methodist church sanctuaries.

Schaefer learned of the pastors’ plan at a meeting Oct. 17 at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. Arch Street is a Reconciling Congregation, and member of Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial caucus that advocates for the denomination’s greater inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

“I addressed them and thanked them for standing up for me and the LBGTQ community,” Schaefer said. “We sang hymns, we prayed … it was very touching. I was so moved that men and women, young and old, retired and active clergy were all willing to put their careers, their orders of ordination on the line.”

The Rev. David Brown, a deacon on staff at Arch Street, said the pastors who will officiate at the wedding hope to “continue to move the denomination’s affirmation of these members (LBGTQ) of our faith community.”

Brown said it is difficult to know what The United Methodist Church’s reaction will be to the action.

“Our actions to support him are more powerful than any words we can offer. We hope our support provides a powerful illustration of how we affirm what Rev. Schaefer did as a father and pastor of a congregation that should welcome all.”

Planning a defense

Schaefer officiated at his son’s wedding in 2007. A member of his congregation at Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pa., filed a complaint against him one month before the statute of limitations ran out.

His son had confided to his father and mother that he had contemplated suicide because he thought the messages he got from the church and culture made him feel something was wrong with him.

Schaefer said other paragraphs of the denomination’s law book speak of the sacred worth of all people and speak of teens who are struggling with their sexual identity as needing special care.

“That is the story of my son,” he said. “We are hoping we can make an argument that I may have violated some paragraphs but what about other paragraphs?

“We have a number of expert witnesses lined up, and hopefully they (will) be allowed to testify that there are some times in ministry when a pastor has to obey one part of the Discipline at the expense of another.”

The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht is the vice president and general manager of Good News, an unofficial evangelical United Methodist caucus, and has been following the case.

“Sadly, our church is once again being led down the path of a costly and divisive trial by a pastor who chose to disregard the prayerful and consistent teaching of our church that Christian marriage is the holy union of one man and one woman,” he said. “As a father, I share Rev. Schaefer’s desire to affirm his son, but there are ways of doing so that do not require a pastor to break the Discipline and the covenant that all United Methodist pastors agree to uphold.

“The plan for a joint same-sex union service represents an escalation in the move to disregard our United Methodist Discipline, portraying a church that is hopelessly divided. Those who could not convince the church of the rightness of their cause are now attempting to impose their will through disobedience and pressure tactics. This approach is a slap in the face to all who uphold 2,000 years of Christian moral teaching. Such tactics call into question whether The United Methodist Church can remain together.”

The trial will take place at Camp Innabah, Pa. Retired Bishop Alfred Gwinn will preside over the case. Bishop Peggy Johnson is episcopal leader for the Eastern Pennsylvania area. The prosecutor will be Christopher Fisher, a pastor in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference and director of United Methodist Studies at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, Pa.

“The complaint is confidential under our church process, and I am not at liberty to provide any comment,” Johnson said. “I am in prayer for all involved in this process, and I urge everyone to join me in lifting up in prayer each of the persons involved.”

Weddings, charges

Retired United Methodist Bishop Melvin G. Talbert will officiate at the same-sex wedding of Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince in Birmingham on Oct. 26.

“When our 2012 General Conference failed to do the right thing by removing such derogatory and hurtful language from our Book of Discipline, I was moved by the Spirit to speak a word of hope to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers at every level of the life of our church and society,” Talbert said in a statement about why he is officiating at the wedding.

Their plans prompted the episcopal leader of the area, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, to issue a statement asking Talbert not to come to Alabama to disobey church law. She said she fears the distraction of the wedding will take focus away from the ministries going on in North Alabama United Methodist churches, such as feeding the hungry, serving in ministry with the poor and welcoming all people to worship together.

“As a bishop of The United Methodist Church, I took a vow to abide by and uphold the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church,” she said. “I am also committed to continuing to focus those I lead on our mission, which is broader than any one issue. The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Three other United Methodist elders are facing complaints — all in the state of New York.

A complaint was filed against the Rev. Stephen Heiss, pastor of Tabernacle United Methodist Church, Binghamton, N.Y., for officiating at his daughter’s same-sex union.

In a letter to Bishop Mark J. Webb, episcopal leader of the Upper New York Conference, Heiss said he has officiated at several other same-sex unions and plans to officiate at a future wedding for two women.

A statement was issued from the episcopal office in July, and Heiss and Webb met to discuss the issue in August. A second meeting took place Sept. 20, and Webb extended the process for another 30 days.

In October 2012, the Rev. Thomas Ogletree, a retired seminary dean and elder, officiated at the same-sex wedding of his son. Some clergy in the New York Annual Conference filed a complaint against Ogletree after his son’s wedding announcement appeared in The New York Times.

The Rev. Sara Thompson Tweedy is also facing a formal complaint in the New York Conference that she is a “self-avowed practicing” lesbian.

A place at the table

Schaefer said he was struck by a prayer from a gay person at the Arch Street church meeting who said, ‘Lord, I am tired of fighting for a place in the pew, for a place at your table.’

“I wondered why do they even still try? But they want to be in the church, they want to be at the Lord’s table, they want to be included.”

* Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.



Skip to comment form

  1. GregP

    I am a proud member of the UMC in the Philippines for over 50 years now. God bless the Philippines and the UMC as whole for not compromsing God’s design for MAN & WOMAN ONLY to get married as mandated by His Word and not by human laws of the so called democratic countries or modern societies driven by lustful desires and the deceit of the heart.

    Never in the history of the early patriarchs, the prophets, the disciples of Jesus Christ and the early Church as written in Genesis to Revelations that same sex marriage was ever allowed.

    Thank God that even in the Muslim countries and other known religions like Buddhism and Hinduism that SAME SEX MARRIAGE IS FORBIDDEN.

    Thanks be to God that He allows the economies of countries that allowed same sex marriage to suffer as they put their laws above God’s law that covern marriage.

    As stated in Deut. Chapter 28. Blessings for Obedience and Curses for Disobedience.
    Trully God is faithful to His Word.

    But the promise remains in II Chronicles 5:17 “If my people who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray. Seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then, I will forgive their sins and heal their lands”.

    Thank God for the Men & Women who follow the Word and live by its standard. For the clergy and his bishop and the laity who stand up against same sex marriage. Your legacy will always be remembered and your good deeds and examples shine like the stars at night.

  2. John

    RevJR: You are absolutely correct. As John said, we are not to add to or take away from God’s Word!

  3. John H. Emerson

    In my humble judgment, Scriptural holiness supersedes ecclesiastical rules and regulations when the latter appear to contradict the mind of Christ and the spirit of God’s grace. St. Paul wrote about grace freeing us from the law. As a retired UMC pastor, I have joined a growing number of colleagues currently numbering close to a hundred in our Annual Conference committed to preside at same-sex weddings or holy unions on behalf of our clergy colleagues serving as pastors under appointment. I salute Bishop Mel Talbert, under whom I was privileged to serve, for his courageous, loving stand. I am reminded of a certain Martin Luther, who stood against ecclesiastical rules; and our own John Wesley, who also disobeyed rules of the Anglican Church of his era. I also think of one of my heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr., who stated: “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is loving correcting everything that stands against love.” Sadly, the United Methodist body politic and much of episcopal leadership – the structure of power in our denomination – have lost sight of and commitment to King’s insight.
    John Herbert Emerson

    1. Barbara Schlobohm


    2. Jay

      God bless you, John H. Emerson.

  4. Rev. Don Meadows

    Were we to spend as much energy and time seeking the lost, striving to free souls from the clutches of the devil and leading converts to full and real discipleships as we do debating the gay issue, the United Methodist Church would see it declining membership and attendances growing. God, help the UMC.

    1. Barbara Schlobohm


  5. Rev. David Harstin

    One thing this story and others like it illustrate is the need for clergy to truly retire when they retire. That is, all clergy members should return to the ministry of the laity once their time of pastoral service ends. The concept of life-time ordination is purely of human in origin. As a full-time local pastor, I have no voice in the future of the institution that I serve apparently with more faithfulness than many ordained clergy. That is, I have committed to respect and serve the church in obedience to the governing policies set forth by the General Conference that are annotated in the Book of Discipline. There is really only one decision that needs to be made in regards to pastors who exercise such disobedience to church policy: All clergy (Local Pastors, Deacons, Elders and Bishops) who refuse to abide by the Book of Discipline should lose their credentials and be banned from conducting worship and ceremonies in UMC churches. As a disenfranchised clergy member, (i.e. a full-time Local Pastor), I would lose my license for far less controversial violations of the Discipline. The UMC’s failure to enforce the policies of the BOD on elders and bishops (active or retired) is hypocritical, because it means that Local Pastors are held to a higher standard than are the ordained.

  6. Aliceinwonder

    Privatize marriage. Let’s please stop so much attention to sexual anything and everything. Can we please go back to doing God’s work and turn away from Satan’s attention to sex? No pastor in his right mind would sign a gov’t license certificate anyway. http://www.dailypaul.com/158562/five-reasons-why-christians-should-not-obtain-a-state-marriage-license

  7. Ronald L Gordon Sr

    This has been one of the most talked about problems in our world today. If everyone would really study the Scriptures and what Jesus really said, they would know that same sex marriage is wrong and against God'[s Law. Didn’t God tell us that it was wrong, didn’t He also tells us to be “of the world, but not in the world.” To me a layman that means that I am to follow God’s Law and to teach it to my family and others. It is wrong and the BOD was right to hold their ground. I believe that all the pastors that are planing to do this same sex marriages should be relieved of their positions and then brought up in front of the churches as it says in the Bible. Praise My Lord and Saviour, My Father.

  8. Dan Gangler

    The bishop and 30 pastors who plan to break the covenant also will break a sacred covenant with all other United Methodist ordained Elders. This isn’t justigce; it’s anarchy and rude.

  9. Lisa

    I am not concerned with the United Methodist Church nor the Book of Discipline. I am concerned with what God has to say. You intelligent men and women know how to read and know how to understand the scriptures. The fact is, Jesus told the woman at the well to go and sin no more. He forgave her sins and loved her unconditionally but he did not tell her to remain the same. An encounter with God will change you, it will change your desires, it will change your mindset. Left to our own will and our own desires would we not all do things against God’s moaral standard? I know I would. I cannot act on every desire or thought and even the thought is considered sin to God. I am not standing in judgement but there has to be a moral standard. God has given us that standard. Who are we to try to change that standard?

  10. Tracy Merrick

    May I suggest an alternative to this on-going “discussion”?

    Instead of adding additional comments, what if all of of us paused. And, instead of writing another entry, took that time to pray for our church, the Council of Bishops, the individuals who have been injured or felt injured by the events of the last few days, and for God’s wisdom regarding how to proceed?

    Our church and many within it are really hurting right now! It seems to me that, in these days, we really need the Holy Spirit to work within the UMC in ways that are immeasurably greater than we can think or imagine!

    Please don’t pray for judgement. Please pray for God to work in God’s way with our church!

    Will you join me in praying for our church in this way? I believe a huge wave of such prayers will make a difference!


Comments have been disabled.