Karine Jean-Pierre
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Pro-Gay Methodist Minister's Reinstatement Upheld

Pro-Gay Methodist Minister's Reinstatement Upheld

Without changing its official stance against same-sex marriage, the United Methodist Church today affirmed the reinstatement of a minister who performed marriage rites for his gay son.

Rev. Frank Schaefer was defrocked late last year, after he was found guilty of violating church law by officiating his son’s wedding, and he refused to renounce his support for same-sex marriage. This summer, a church appeals committee restored Schaefer’s ministerial credentials, and today the church’s highest court, the Supreme Judicial Council, released a ruling upholding the appeals committee’s decision, reports the United Methodist News Service.

The church court that convicted Schaefer of disobeying denominational law by presiding over the wedding punished him with a 30-day suspension, but then his regional ministerial board took away his credentials when he would not surrender them voluntarily or pledge to never again perform a same-sex wedding. The board’s action improperly changed the penalty imposed by the trial court, the Supreme Judicial Council found.

The council formulated the ruling last week at its fall meeting after hearing oral arguments on the case. It acknowledged that “some within the church do not support this outcome today.”

Schaefer was previously the pastor of a Methodist church in Pennsylvania and is now assigned to a student ministry in Santa Barbara, Calif. He performed his son Tim’s same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2007, but the matter did not come to the attention of the church hierarchy until 2013, when a member of Schaefer’s Pennsylvania congregation complained shortly before the statute of limitations ran out.

Regarding today’s ruling, Schaefer posted the following statement on the website of the Reconciling Ministries Network, which advocates for LGBT equality within the Methodist denomination:

“Today, we are witnessing a small, but significant step toward taking another look at the exclusionary policies of The United Methodist Church. With its decision to validate my reinstatement, the Judicial Council has acted justly and wisely. Their decision signals hope to our LGBTQ community that has not always seen the rule of love and grace winning over the letter of the archaic law the church still subscribes to. Today’s decision also signals a willingness to continue dialogue and to seek solutions that will hopefully lead to a change in these archaic and harmful policies. The UM Church needs to find a way toward reconciliation, full inclusion of our LGBTQ community and an open altar for all God’s beloved children. I will continue the fight alongside thousands of others in the reconciling movement for full inclusion and an open altar for all. I know the day is coming when this dream will be reality and I don't think it is that far in the future.”

Same-sex marriage and homosexuality in general have been divisive issues for the UMC, with a group of Methodist ministers going so far as to call for the denomination to split over “the depth of our differences” concerning LGBT people and theological issues. Delegates to the church’s General Conference in 2012 voted to maintain the doctrine that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and the topic is likely to come up again at the next such conference, set for 2016.

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