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Penalty phase begins in Pennsylvania clergy trial

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The Rev. Frank Schaefer greets supporters after receiving a guilty verdict Nov. 18. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

UPDATE (Tuesday, Nov. 19)

By Kathy L. Gilbert

SPRING CITY, Pa. (UMNS) — “I cannot go back to being silent. I am now an advocate for LGBT people in the world and in the church,” said the Rev. Frank Schaefer Nov. 19, during the penalty phase of his trial. Schaefer was found guilty by a jury of ordained United Methodists Nov. 18 of violating the church’s law against pastors performing same-sex unions and of disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church. He was asked by the church’s counsel, Rev. Christopher Fisher, if he was willing to repent of violating church law and he replied without hesitation, “I cannot.” When asked if he could promise to never officiate at a same-sex wedding again, he said, “I cannot.” Schaefer performed the same sex wedding of his oldest son Tim in 2007. The son also testified, recalling the struggle he faced with his sexuality as a young teen, including negative messages he heard attending a United Methodist annual conference. “I remember crying and praying every night God take this away from me,” Tim Schaefer said. “I don’t want to go to hell and I don’t want to be a bad person.” He didn’t want to bring shame on his family so he didn’t talk to them. A friend’s mother called his parents to tell them their son was in deep pain and considering suicide. “There was a lot of crying and hugging and my parents held me and told me they loved and supported me.” Today Tim Schaefer is married and living outside of Boston attending a United Methodist church where he said and his partner are loved and accepted. Asking his father to perform his marriage was “the most difficult decision of my life,” he said. But he knew his father would be hurt if he didn’t ask but he also knew his father was putting his job in jeopardy.

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A tearful Judi Grimes prays in support of Rev. Frank Schaefer during a vigil held Monday, Nov. 18, at Edgehill United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn. A UMNS photo by Kathleen S. Barry.

The second day of testimony began with Fisher  telling jurors they would hear from witnesses including members of Schaefer’s church and the district superintendent in charge of Schafer’s church. Both counsels plan to present witnesses who will also will give expert thoughts on what kind of penalty he should face. Bishop Alfred Gwinn, presiding officer, said jurors will have to decide what happens after Schaefer’s guilty verdict. The penalty can range from termination of his conference membership and revoking his ordination credentials to suspension for a period of time. Both Schaefer and Jon Boger, the church member who brought charges against him, were sometimes emotional as they testified Nov. 18. Bishop Peggy Johnson, episcopal leader of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference started the trial by saying she was praying for God’s grace. “There is pain all around, there is no wonderful solution that will make everyone happy.” The jury returned the guilty verdict at 7:10 p.m. on the opening day of the trial. UPDATE (5:10 p.m. ET)

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

SPRING CITY, Pa. (UMNS)—A jury of ordained United Methodist clergy has found the Rev. Frank Schaefer guilty on both counts of violating his vows as an ordained United Methodist elder not to perform same-sex marriages and disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church. Schaefer, a pastor in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference officiated at the same-sex wedding of his son five years ago. A complaint was filed one month before the statute of limitations ran out, and word of the trial became public Sept. 20. Schaefer, pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pa., said he “followed his heart” when his son, Tim, asked him to officiate at his wedding. Schafer pleaded not guilty to the two charges against him. The jury will reconvene at 9 a.m. ET Tuesday, Nov. 19 for the penalty phase of the trial.

By Kathy L. Gilbert and Kelly Martini*

What does the church say

The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, since 1972 has proclaimed the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The book prohibits United Methodist churches from hosting and clergy from performing “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.” The 2012 General Conference, when it met April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Fla., rejected efforts to change that language, including a proposal to say the church was in disagreement about homosexuality. General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly, will next convene in 2016. Officiating at same-sex unions is a chargeable offense under the Book of Discipline. Clergy convicted in a church court can face a loss of clergy credentials or lesser penalties. However, church law does not censure those who disagree with church teaching on this matter — only those who actually take actions that violate church law. The Book of Discipline also states that marriage is between a man and a woman.

SPRING CITY, Pa. (UMNS)— The trial of the Rev. Frank Schaefer is under way after four potential jurors were eliminated during jury selection Nov. 18. Thirteen jurors and two alternates have been seated. Schaefer, a pastor in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference officiated at the same-sex wedding of his son five years ago. A complaint was filed one month before the statute of limitations ran out, and word of the trial became public Sept. 20. Schaefer, pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pa., said he “followed his heart” when his son, Tim, asked him to officiate at his wedding in 2007. Jurors were asked if they could be open to the facts they would hear in court and whether they had read or heard reports in the news media. This led to the elimination of two of the four potential jurors because they said they felt they had made up their minds on whether church law has been broken. Retired Bishop Alfred Gwinn Jr., who is presiding, reminded the gathering that this court represented a “Christian community coming together to resolve an issue.” He said serious issues had to be resolved in “fair and impartial” ways to ensure “integrity of process.” Witnesses would not take oaths because they are “called to a standard higher than the oath,” Gwinn said of the church hearing. Gwinn asked each of the first 23 potential jurors whether they had any “bias, prejudice or opinions” about the involved parties that would prevent them from fairly trying the case. He then asked the same question about their understanding of the United Methodist Book of Discipline. The bishop when dismissing  jurors inquired about involvement in the same-sex marriage of two men at Arch Street United Methodist on Nov. 9. He stipulated the privacy of their identity would be respected but two of the potential jurors were dismissed. After the jurors were seated, Gwinn explained to them that both sides of the trials had agreed to two facts. First, Schaefer had performed a same-sex ceremony that involved his son and partner in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on April 28, 2007.  Second, Schaefer signed a certificate of marriage that stated he “solemnized the marriage” and that he was ordained United Methodist clergy of The United Methodist Church.

Schaefer declared “not guilty” to both of the charges he faces, which fall under the 2004 Book of Discipline. He is accused of violating these two parts of Paragraph 2702.1: (b) practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings,15 including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies;** (d) disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church.

Counsel for the church, The Rev. Christopher Fisher, told jurors in his opening that the trial was meant to address whether Schaefer had violated church policy as stated in The United Methodist Book of Discipline. Fisher said the trial arose out of a complaint filed by Jon Boger, a life-long member of Zion United Methodist Church in Iona, Pa., and a parishioner in Schaefer’s church. Fisher told the jury that Boger “was dismayed to learn that his pastor may have done something to violate the discipline.” Boger filed with Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference 26 days before the statute of limitations expired and he is a potential witness in the trial. Counsel for Schaefer, the Rev. Robert G. Coombe, defended Schaefer, calling him a trained and well-practiced clergy person who had carried out his ministry with compassion and grace. “Frank’s crime is that he prayed God’s blessing upon the love and commitment of two people,” he said. It was not anyone, but his son, Coombe said. “He preaches God’s love for everyone, then he had to extend that love to his own son. “Frank does not deny that he performed the ceremony,” said Coombe. “He did this wedding as an act of love” detailing that the ceremony was private, 300 miles away in a commonwealth where same-sex unions were legal. Schaeffer had informed his superiors, but not his congregation.

* 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. Martini is a freelance writer based in Glen Mills, Pa.

 

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  1. Judy Ehernberger

    I have been a Methodist for 63 years and I have changed.
    Why can’t the church? Let’s pratice love.

  2. jenny

    I was raised a methodist and have been a member for 40 years. This is too much. When the Catholic church appears to have more respect for others who come to the church with an open heart and love, it makes me sick.

  3. S

    For all of you “Christians” who don’t believe that the Bible is God’s authoritative word and are content in trying to discredit it and make God into your own image.

    “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
    For it is written,
    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
    Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:18-20, ESV)

    The wisdom of God is much greater than yours. You can be wise in your own eyes, and incredibly foolish in God’s eyes.

    “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will NOT inherit the kingdom of God? DO NOT BE DECEIVED: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV)

    FOR THOSE THAT ARE TEACHING THAT HOMOSEXUALITY IS NOT A SIN, ACCORDING TO THIS VERSE (AND OTHERS) THE STAKES ARE VERY HIGH FOR YOU IF YOU ARE WRONG AND EVEN MORE SO FOR THOSE WHO ARE HOMOSEXUALS THAT YOU ARE ENDORSING OF THEIR SIN, INSTEAD OF CALLING THEM TO REPENTANCE. If you are wrong, you are advocating for sin and you are barring others from entering the kingdom. Just consider that. What if your wrong? Do you really want to get to heaven, face God and have him say to you, “Why did you not believe my word? Don’t you know that those who live in unrepentant sexual immorality won’t inherit the kingdom of God? I tried to make it it clear to you? Why did you slander all your faithful brothers and sisters in the Lord who tried to tell you so?”

    My encouragement to you is to be very careful and make sure you REALLY know what God says on this issue and not just what you want to believe. Go study those verses and set aside your bias. Look at the greek and hebrew terms they were originally written in. Are they just talking about abusive homosexual relationships or pedophilia, or are they speaking of all homosexual behavior. And don’t just read the commentators that you agree with and support your own view. You need to really wrestle with this because you can’t afford to get this wrong. Luke at what Jesus spoke of in reference to marriage, appealing to genesis as the standard of following God’s will.

    I used to believe it was not a sin. Then I was challenged to go look at the verses in depth and read commentaries and I came back persuaded that I was wrong. I have friends who are gay. Family members that are gay. My uncle died from HIV contracted from living a promiscuous homosexual lifestyle. I’m sure many of you do. You can’t afford to be wrong.

    Furthermore, there are many people who are sharing their testimonies of God saving them out of their sin of homosexuality. Go on youtube and search for them. If this is just something that people are born with and can not change, then these people are all despicable liars. But many of them candidly share of how they lived and engaged as homosexuals for 20+ years before God saved and redeemed them out of it. What say you?

    Stop making the misnomer of you can’t be loving and yet call homosexuality a sin. Stop making a mockery of God. The “Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds does not mean be open to every single idea out there. We are called to be faithful to God’s Word as our founder John Wesley was. Show people all the grace and love of Jesus Christ, call them to repentance of sin, and to die to themselves, pick up the cross, and follow Jesus. This is the call! This is your call too.

    1. Charles Spickard

      S, It is indeed refreshing to read a comment like this. It reenforces my faith in my church and my fellow Christians who do not want to rewrite the Bible to suit their lusts and desires.

  4. S

    Here is a great article written by a former man who was a homosexual:

    http://www.firststone.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=342&Itemid=266

    1. Charles Spickard

      Well here is someone who has a good grip on understanding and is not blinded by Satan. That is an excellent article.

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