A United Methodist Church jury Monday convicted Rev. Frank Schaefer of Pennsylvania of violating church law by officiating his son’s same-sex wedding.
“The 13-member jury convicted Schaefer on two charges: that he officiated a gay wedding, and that he showed ‘disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church,’” the Associated Press reports.
Schaefer performed the wedding for his son Tim in Massachusetts in 2007. A member of Frank Schaefer’s congregation, Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pa., filed a complaint with the minister’s superiors last April, less than a month before the statute of limitations would have expired under church law. That member, Jon Boger, said he learned about the wedding this year, and he felt betrayed.
“When pastors take the law of the church in their own hand ... it undermines their own credibility as a leader and also undermines the integrity of the church as a whole,” Boger said, according to the AP. He also said that Schaefer did not tell the congregation he had officiated the wedding, and that constituted “a lie and a broken covenant.”
Schaefer testified that he had informed his superiors about the wedding, but he did not inform his congregation because he felt it would be divisive. “I did not want to make this a protest about the doctrine of the church. I wasn’t trying to be an advocate,” he said. “I just wanted this to be a beautiful family affair, and it was that.” He knew he was breaking church law, he said, but he believed he was obeying a higher law, God’s command to love all people.
The minister “could have avoided the trial if he had agreed to never again perform a same-gender wedding, but he declined because three of his four children are gay,” AP notes. The United Methodist Church is deeply divided on whether to allow clergy to perform same-sex marriages, and the issue usually comes up at its General Conference, held every four years. At the 2012 conference, attendees reaffirmed the church policy against such unions.
The prosecutor in the trial, Rev. Christopher Fisher, strongly condemned homosexuality in his closing argument, and in urging the jury to convict, he said, “You’ll give an account for that at the last day, as we all will,” a remark that brought gasps from the audience, according to the AP.
Schaefer will be sentenced today; he could simply receive a reprimand or he could lose his ministerial credentials.