Schaefer suspended 30 days for performing same-sex wedding

The Rev. Frank Schaefer (left) and his son Tim stand together during the Nov. 18 church trial.  A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer (left) and his son Tim stand together during the Nov. 18 church trial. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

SPRING CITY, Penn. (UMNS) — The Rev. Frank Schaefer has been given a 30-day suspension by the jury in his church trial and told that if he can’t uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety he must surrender his credentials.

Schaefer was found guilty 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 acknowledged having performed the same-sex wedding of his son, Tim, in 2007.

The 30 day-suspension will cover both convictions, the jury said in a decision announced about 9 p.m. Eastern Time. Schaefer also is to be monitored by his district superintendent in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference and must meet with the conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry during the suspension period.

The Rev. Amy DeLong of the Wisconsin Conference was found guilty in 2011 of having officiated at a  same-sex union and given a 20-day suspension, as well as assignments her jury felt were needed to restore the “covenant” relationship.

The jury of ordained ministers in the Schaefer trial heard a full day of penalty phase testimony Nov. 19, with Schaefer himself saying, “I cannot go back to being silent. I am now an advocate for LGBT people in the world and in the church.”

Schaefer’s words also echoed in closing arguments. He had earlier acknowledged performing the same-sex wedding of his son, Tim, and refused to promise not to perform a same-sex wedding again.

The Rev. Christopher Fisher, counsel for the church, told the jury, “You have heard him, he is non-repentive, unapologetic and committed to disobeying the Book of Discipline.”

The Rev. Robert Coombe, the opposing counsel, asked the jury, “Who was hurt by Rev. Schaefer performing his son’s wedding?”

Coombe added, “You have an opportunity… It is in your hands. I hope your hands are connected to your hearts.”

Fisher, in response to Coombe, told the jury, “We should let him (Schaefer) go, wish him well and free him from our church.”

Church witnesses

Penalty phase witnesses included members of Zion Iona United Methodist Church, where Schaefer has been on staff for 11 years. (He’s currently on leave.)

William Bailey, a longtime church leader, said his relationship with Schaefer began well but soured when he learned the pastor had performed a same-sex wedding.

“It came to the point when we could no longer attend church there,” Bailey said. He added that membership and giving have declined at Zion Iona.

On cross-examination, Bailey acknowledged the church had problems beyond some members objecting to Schaefer’s role in the same-sex wedding. He said conflict around worship style arose between Schaefer and the church music director, Deb Boger. Jon Boger, her son, filed the complaint against Schaefer.

Christian Watson, another church member and director of Christian education, said when she needed pastoral care during the illness and death of her mother, Schaefer told her he could not offer the help she needed.

She also said she had conversations with Schaefer in which he told her he did not think the United Methodist Book of Discipline had to be followed.

Two other church members, John Schlegel and Drew Gingrich, offered a different perspective, saying they want Rev. Schaefer to come back as soon as possible.

“We have church on Sunday, I want him to return immediately,” Schlegel said.

Gingrich, 21, said he was “born and raised at Zion Iona.” He said Schaefer shows the “unconditional love of Christ. He welcomes everyone. I would be ecstatic for him to come back. He is a friend, mentor and my hero.”

The Rev. James Todd, district superintendent of Schaefer’s appointment, described the congregation at Zion Iona as a “complex scenario.”

When the word first got out about the wedding, Todd said he called a meeting where there was a lot of support for the pastor. Then, during the summer, listening sessions in smaller groups found some participants were supportive and some not.

Schaefer wrote a note in his clergy profile in 2006 stating he had three gay children and planned to preside over the wedding of his gay son. At the time, Todd explained, there were two forms he was to review—a clergy interview form and a clergy profile. Todd acknowledged he did not read Schaefer’s profile.

Expert witnesses

The Rev. Tom Frank, a Wake Forest University professor and author of a book considered a standard text on United Methodist polity, said the Book of Discipline contains a lot of statements that do not correspond with each other.

“Pastoral judgment is the critical element,” he said. “I view the Book of Discipline as a pastor’s book. The Discipline guides our lives but any form of covenant requires pastors to use it for pastoral judgment.”

The Rev. Paul Stallsworth, pastor of Whiteville (N.C.) United Methodist Church took a moment of personal privilege before he testified about the Articles of Religion.

“Let’s be candid,” he said. “What we are trying to do is not enjoyable. We cannot approach this penalty phase with a victor’s glee. Ours is an unfortunate task.”

He went on to say the Book of Discipline was based on the word of God. He said a pastor who violated the rules should be “openly rebuked that other pastors may fear to do the same … The penalty should be determined for the good of all.”

Personal testimony

The two people central to the trial, Schaefer and his son, Tim, both took the stand to talk about their lives and love for each other.

Tim Schaefer, who grew up as a “PK,” said he was always interested in law and in the church. He recalled attending at age 12 or 13 one of the church’s annual conferences.

At that point, he said, he was struggling with his sexuality and at the gathering heard such negative messages about homosexuality that he considered suicide.

“I remember crying and praying every night ‘God take this away from me. I don’t want to go to Hell, and I don’t want to be a bad person,’” Tim Schaefer said.

He said 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 gay, 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,” Tim Schaefer said.

Today he is married and living outside of Boston attending a United Methodist church where he said he and his partner are loved and accepted.

Asking his father to perform his marriage was “the most difficult decision of my life,” Tim Schaefer said. He knew his father would be hurt if he didn’t ask him but also know his father would putting his job in jeopardy by performing the service, he said.

Frank Schaefer testified that what he has gone through of late has changed him into a full-fledged gay rights advocate.

“I will minister to all people equally,” he said. “We as a church need to stop judging people, stop treating people as second-class Christians and that is going to be my message.”

Schaefer said someone had given him a rainbow stole, and he asked Gwinn’s permission to wear it. Gwinn said he had ruled rainbow stoles were allowed in the courtroom.

Schaefer also addressed from the stand Watson’s testimony that he didn’t offer her pastoral care.

“Sometimes I have to refer people to trained counselors,” he said.

* 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.



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  1. C.A.

    I was raised in the United Methodist Church. I was taught that God is a beacon of love for all mankind and that it is a love everlasting, unwavering, and true. This decision does NOT reflect that teaching, nor does it reflect my beliefs. If God is love, if God created all of mankind in His image and loves us all deeply, who is the UMC to decide that some forms of love are less than and undeserving of recognition? I am sad to say that I can no longer align myself with the UMC. If I negate the love I see between people who happen to be same-gendered, then I am negating God’s love for all and I won’t do that. Get out of people’s bedrooms and look to their hearts. For only there will you find God and Jesus.

    1. WAD

      Wesley taught that this is God’s prevenient Grace, He’s always reaching out, inviting a response. Now, does that mean that He accepts us in any state or condition and expects nothing in return? Hardly. He sent Jesus Christ to rescue us from our condition, from our sin. But, He gave us free will. Therefore, it is up to us if we want to accept His Grace. In order to accept His free gift of Grace, we have to confess our sins, repent of our sins, accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, turn from our previous orientation, and walk with Jesus in a new life. That is the true love of God, a love so large that he sent His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to die on the cross to pay the price for our sins once and for all. I believe that is what the Methodist church teaches in its theology and doctrine.

  2. Sam Rawlings

    Do you remember the Civil Rights days? I’m a 75-year-old life-long Methodist. In the ’60 and ’70 we fought for Equality and Freedom for African Americans, and we learned to celebrate Differences.

    In the song, “Jesus Was a Capricorn” Kris Kristofferson wrote:
    “‘Cos everybody’s got to have somebody to look down on.
    Who they can feel better than at anytime they please.
    Someone doin’ somethin’ dirty, decent folks can frown on.
    If you can’t find nobody else, then help yourself to me.
    Help yourself, brother. Help yourself, Reverend.”

    Bobby Dylon wrote:
    “The line it is drawn The curse it is cast
    The slow one now Will later be fast
    As the present now Will later be past
    The order is Rapidly fadin’
    And the first one now Will later be last
    For the times they are a-changin’.”

    Is there truth in these words? Do these words maybe sound a little Biblical? Are these words somewhat timeless? Are these words applicable to the current Methodist Church ‘battle that’s rapidly ragin’?

    While we work on it, Methodists are like others: we discriminate, we judge, we cling to the past, and apparently we even have trials of pastors who violate the Methodist Book of Discipline by marrying gays. (Isn’t that a sacrament?)

    What does the Discipline say about homosexuality? 

    “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching (type differentiation, mine). We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us.  We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”

    Why does the third sentence seem so out of place and inconsistent–maybe even incompatible?–with the rest of the paragraph? Maybe that’s because it is inconsistent and incompatible with the rest of the paragraph. And it is incompatible with Christian teachings and values (as represented in the rest of the paragraph), and with Methodist teachings and values (“Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds”). Christian and Methodist teachings and values should be consist and compatible with their source. What is that source? That source is Jesus Christ. All one needs to do is consult the document we have that presents the essences of Jesus, the Bible, specifically the New Testament. Then ask that simple question, “What would Jesus do?” I know, some say that question is outdated, corny, juvenile, simplistic. But simple statements and simple questions often lead to simple truth. Does any Christian honestly doubt where Jesus stands on this issue? 

    Some have said, it’s in the Discipline and therefore punishment must come to violators, that is, in this case, to pastors who marry gays. These individuals take a legalistic position and remain fixed in their interpretation and judgment, as if no alterations are possible and that The Discipline is meant to exist literally for all times. But consider what has happened to the most legalistically challenged and tested document of our country and perhaps the world, the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution has 27 amendments. And it is not inconsequential that these changes attest to this Country’s historical and social progress. The content of the 13th (abolishing slavery), 15th (establishing voter rights for all), and the 19th (granting women’s suffrage) are quite relevant to the current Methodist battle. Is not change to the Discipline also possible and necessary?

    Isn’t it time to get our faith and Christian values compatible with Jesus’ teachings and examples, and, love our neighbors as ourselves?
    Isn’t it time to amend the content of the Methodist Book of Discipline to achieve internal consistency and compatibility with Christian values? 
    Isn’t it time for the Methodist Church to act like “all individuals are of sacred worth, created in the image of God”?
    And finally, given our Christain beliefs, how can the sacraments be withheld discriminately? Isn’t it time for the Pastors of the Methodist Church to be allowed “to be in ministry for and with all persons”?

  3. Rev. Eric Sizemore

    May the spirit of Bill Hinson return! Time for a split lest we become the Untied
    Methodist Church!

    1. HDB

      Take you Eric you are right on the nails head. Who will be our new leader as Bill was.

  4. Andrew Rodriguez

    I can’t decide whether Frank Schaefer is opposed to democracy or only to religious freedom. The majority of members of the UMC believe that homosexual acts are incompatible with Christian teaching. This position has been upheld at every General Conference.That is what we AS A CHURCH believe. If Mr. Schaefer believes differently, he is free to join a church which does share his beliefs. But to proclaim from a UMC pulpit a position contrary to our beliefs is a direct attack on our right to freedom of religion. The UMC’s position on homosexuality is open to debate. Our right to proclaim our beliefs within our own churches should not be.

  5. John DeFelice

    Back in the 1850’s, the majority of Methodists believed that slavery was compatible with Christian teaching. That was what we AS A CHURCH believed. Some times our church fully deserves a “directly attack.” Because we sin against God’s love. And we just did. God forgive us. We’ve ;learned nothing. For the record, the Discipline so frequently cited also says that we maintain a strong defense of the concept of the separation of church and state. Are we going to put pastors on trial (and there are more than a few) who publically say the opposite? Or do we just persecute those who have compassion for gay Christians?

  6. penndrake

    So, the Reverend fired Mr. Boger’s mother. Mr. Boger then seeks revenge by complaining of a marriage ceremony performed years earlier the Reverend. And then the church endorses the vengeful act by demanding that the Reverend choose between his job and his child. Got it.
    Nice church you got here.

  7. Dwight

    Well we might as well through the Discipline in the fire. This disciplinary guideline will now be broken over and over for the little hand slap given here.
    How can I instruct the church I serve there are discipline guide lines we must follow. Forget that!!
    I grew up in thee um Church and I continue to hang my head at some of the things happening in the present day. God help us all!
    He failed to purposely to keep his vow to the church.. He needs to be dismissed with no benefits.As UM Ministers we take a vow before our conference to uphold the discipline.
    Forget that!!!!

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