The United Methodist Church has reinstated a minister who was defrocked for performing his son’s same-sex wedding ceremony.
A church appeals committee, made up of clergy and laypeople, announced Tuesday that it was overturning the December decision to remove the Rev. Frank Schaefer from the ministry, The New York Times reports. “The panel deemed the defrocking to be an illegitimate effort to punish Mr. Schaefer for his refusal to promise not to preside at another same-sex wedding,” reports the Times.
A church court in November convicted Schaefer of violating Methodist law by officiating his son Tim’s marriage in Massachusetts in 2007, and his ministerial credentials were revoked the following month. The matter did not come to the church hierarchy’s attention until 2013, shortly before the statute of limitations on it ran out, when a member of Schaefer’s congregation complained. Schaefer was pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pa., until his defrocking.
Three of Schaefer’s four children are gay, and the minister has been outspoken in support of LGBT equality. During the proceedings against him, he said he would refuse to comply with the Methodist Book of Discipline’s prohibition on performing same-sex weddings.
He was “totally elated” by the appeals committee’s decision, which came after a hearing held last week in Baltimore, the Times reports. “Today there was a very clear and strong signal from the church, and that message is, ‘Change is on the way,’” he told the paper Tuesday. “One day we will celebrate the fact that we have moved beyond this horrible chapter in our church’s life.”
Schaefer said he and Tim would celebrate by attending a gay pride event at the White House Monday. Next month he will resume his ministry in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he has been offered a position working with college students. His story is also the subject of an upcoming documentary film, An Act of Love.
Meanwhile, his denomination remains divided over same-sex marriage and the ordination of noncelibate gay and lesbian clergy. Both are officially banned by the United Methodist Church, but several pastors have performed marriages for same-sex couples, and others have come out as gay. Opponents of the bans plan to push for their removal at the church’s next general conference, to be held in 2016.
Frank and Tim Schaefer appeared last night on MSNBC’s The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell. Watch the interview below.