(RNS) A United Methodist jury Tuesday night gave a Pennsylvania pastor 30 days to agree not to break church law by presiding at future same-sex weddings or give up his clergy credentials.

United Methodist Rev. Frank Schaefer serves communion to his supporters at the end of his two-day church trial. Photo by Kathy L. Gilbert/United Methodist News Service

United Methodist Rev. Frank Schaefer serves communion to his supporters at the end of his two-day church trial. Photo by Kathy L. Gilbert/United Methodist News Service


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The penalty was announced just before 9 p.m., in Spring City, Pa., after an emotional two-day church trial. On Monday, the Rev. Frank Schaefer was found guilty of violating church law by officiating at his son’s 2007 wedding to another man.

The denomination’s Book of Discipline forbids the ordination of “avowed” homosexuals and bans clergy from officiating at same-sex marriages or holding such ceremonies in its churches. But a growing group of clergy and lay members oppose these rules and are ready to defy them. Schaefer is one of dozens, possibly hundreds, of clergy who have rebelled by performing gay weddings.

Tuesday’s penalty was sure to raise the specter of schism within the 7.5-million-member denomination, the nation’s second largest Protestant group.

The lines were drawn between Schaefer’s supporters, who fought for inclusion, and his opponents who fought for rules. Supporters said they felt called to focus on the church’s commitment to equality and justice for all. Opponents said pastors cannot choose which church laws to obey. The church requires pastors to hold one another accountable for their actions, they insisted.

Schaefer, pastor of Zion United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Pa., said during the trial that he would not repent and that his actions were guided by love, not rebellion against church law.

During testimony Tuesday, Schaefer put on a rainbow stole and said it was a sign of his support for gay rights.

“I cannot go back to being a silent supporter,” he said. He would not promise not to quit officiating at same-sex weddings.

The jury was made up of 13 United Methodist clergy and met at a denominational retreat center 45 minutes west of Philadelphia.

According to the terms they set, if at end of 30 days Schaefer can’t agree to uphold church law, he must surrender his credentials.

The penalty is effective immediately, although Schaefer or the church can appeal. Church rules stipulate that nine of the 13 jurors must agree to a penalty. The tally was not made public.

Tuesday’s late night penalty announcement followed Monday’s guilty verdict on two charges: officiating a gay wedding, and showing “disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church.”

Schaefer’s trial is the first since the United Methodist Church’s General Conference in 2012 upheld its 40-year-old rule that calls “homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching.”

The Schaefer case is among at least four open cases in which United Methodist clergy face disciplinary action for defying church law on gay marriage and homosexuality.

Twitter reactions to the penalty phase of the trial:

 

YS END GADOUA

 

24 Comments

  1. So they are telling him to obey church law ABOVE his conscience? Church law is dogma that has become an idol. All Methodists should stand with this man!!

    • If one’s own “conscience” is the ultimate moral authority, why should any person attend the Methodist Church (or any other church) at all? Why bother listening to any preacher, priest, or bishop?

      • One’s own conscience is ALWAYS the ultimate moral authority.

        Recognizing one’s inner humanity over arbitrary and capricious rules from on high in consideration of others.

        When one outsources moral thinking to others, it is not morality nor thinking. It is simply following along and acting in self-interest.

        “Why bother listening to any preacher, priest, or bishop?”

        Good question.

        Don’t have an answer to it other than it saves people the trouble of thinking for themselves. Maybe you have one. I don’t.

        • I presume you mean that a rightly formed conscience is alway the ultimate moral authority. Otherwise, people could claim a moral “right” to commit what universally are considered crimes.

          • I presume by your statement that you have no connection to humanity in general and can’t possibly empathize with someone who is harmed maliciously. That you have to be told by others why harming people maliciously is a bad thing. My suggestion is that you seek psychiatric help immediately. You are a psychopath.

            Plenty of people commit heinous malicious harmful acts and claim it is their moral right based on what they considered religious based moral codes of conduct. Obviously it puts to rest the notion that morality lies with religious sources.

            Morality is always personal in nature. It depends on the notion that we understand our humanity. That the person next to you is just like yourself. It is always about weighing decisions between one’s personal interests and how it affects others like ourselves. To assign such things to an outside authority is to never make moral decisions.

  2. E.J. Cartagena

    Am I the only one who finds it disturbing, or at least a bit peculiar, that the UMC constantly refers to instances like this as “violations of church law” “violations of church constitution” or “violations of church government”? What about SCRIPTURE?

  3. Webmaster, Please take note of the comment I posted 20 Nov. at 5:39 p.m. in response to Larry earlier in the day. Then note his reply on 22 November to my comment of 20 November. Something is amiss here regarding the nature of Larry’s response and the substance and tone of my earlier remark.

    Moments ago I clicked the “Report Abuse” button beneath Larry’s 20 November note, but I do not suggest that there is anything abusive in his remarks at that time. I only wanted to call your attention to the later remark, but there was no “Report Abuse” button beneath it to call your attention to it.

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