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Trial of Pastor who Performs Same-Sex Marriages Dividing United Methodist Church

The trial and suspension of a United Methodist pastor for performing his son’s same-sex marriage has sent shockwaves through the mainline Protestant denomination and is threatening a schism within the denomination.

Last week, Frank Schaefer was put on trial by United Methodist leaders for his part in his son’s nuptials, which violate the denomination’s discipline on same-sex marriage.

“I just don’t want to be on record as one more United Methodist person, pastor, who is against gay people, because that’s what the discipline is saying,” Schaefer wrote in his letter to Bishop Mark Webb, admitting he had violated the churches codes, but stating he feels the laws are unjust.

He added that performing same-sex marriages offered means of acceptance and love to same-sex couples. “It’s an emotionally uplifting experience to be able to help these people,” Shaefer said. “These people who have been so neglected and hurt, hurt, hurt. It just fills me with bliss. It chokes me up at every wedding.”

When asked during the trial if he was willing to submit to the discipline by the prosecutor for the case, Rev.  Christopher Fisher, Schaefer used the opportunity express the need for a more inclusive church.

“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 responded. “I will minister to all people equally.”

In response, Fisher told the jury, “You have heard him. He is non-repentant, unapologetic and committed to disobeying the Book of Discipline. We should let him go and wish him well.”

The church-formed jury ultimately suspended Schaefer for 30 days to consider his actions and if he could continue to serve within the framework of the current discipline of the UMC and no longer perform same-sex marriages.

In the days following the trial, many within the United Methodist church expressed support for Schaefer as well as concern for the inner strife caused by the case.

“On the one hand, we guarantee the blessings of the church to all people, and on the other hand we say that there are some people who do not receive those blessings because of their sexual orientation,” said Rev. Leigh Dry, an active UMC pastor.  “I cannot express to you how sad this makes me — even embarrassed — about my denomination.”

Others said pastors like Schaefer, and others that support same-sex marriage, cause many to leave the pews and should not go unpunished. “It came to the point when we could no longer attend church there,” one of Schaefer’s former parishioners said during the trial.

“A house divided cannot stand,” John Lomperis, the United Methodist director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy stressed. “Currently within the United Methodist Church, we have people with fundamentally irreconcilable differences about not just issues of sexual morality, but basic core beliefs.”

Photo Credit: B. Tal via Creative Commons

About the author

Tamar is a New York based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in over 15 publications. You can catch her work regularly on Issue Hawk, Latest, Jspace, and MediaGlobal.