A United Methodist pastor from Pennsylvania who presided over his son’s marriage to another man was stripped of his authority for thirty days this week and informed he will also be permanently stripped of his authority if he goes against any of the church’s laws during his suspension.
The same group of religious leaders that sentenced him on Monday of not abiding by the church’s rules also told him he must give up his authority if he can’t change his new affinity to the homosexual community to align with the rules from the church.
Frank Schaefer, who was proven guilty for doing the ceremony at his child’s marriage in Massachusetts, said to the jury early this week that he won’t take back his statements and couldn’t promise he would refrain from performing gay wedding ceremonies. He’s prepared to lose his authority after the suspension.
Instead of asking for forgiveness, the religious leader continued on.
The religious community “needs to stop judging people based on their sexual orientation,” he said to the court. “We have to stop the hate speech. We have to stop treating them as second-class Christians.”
After the jury announced its decision, the pastor’s followers began flipping over seats in the courthouse — in an attempt to depict the story of Jesus turning over the tables of the cash exchangers in the Bible — and had an unplanned religious service.
His trial restarted discussion in the countries biggest mainstream Protestant section over religious rules on gays and gay marriage. The section allows gay and lesbian people, but it doesn’t allow the act of being gay as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
The religious leader wore a rainbow cloth when he was on the witness stand and said to the court that it was a symbol of his continued support to gays.
“I will never be silent again,” he announced, when some of his people cried in the courtroom. “This is what I have to do.”
One fellow, who initially reported the issue, was angered. The lifelong military man was raised in the Methodist church that Schaefer was in charge of.
“Frank Schaefer sat here and openly rebuked the United Methodist Church, its policies, standards and doctrines,” he announced when he was on the witness stand. “He should no longer be in service as a minister of the United Methodist Church, not at Iona, not anywhere else.”
In the first part of the week, the church’s lawyer questioned past members of the church who said his actions separated the church members, and experts who said the sentence should be seen as a preventative measure to other similar thinking church members.
One member remarked their family departed from his church because they didn’t want to be “subjected to the preaching and teaching.”
“To me, it wasn’t a good Christian example for ministers to say it’s OK to break the rules of your church,” they remarked.
The reverend, who is a leader in a United Methodist group on sexuality and abortion, said that religious rules make it so that court members have to “openly deny” him so that other members will reconsider before going against it.
Schaefer said he did the marriage ceremony from his heart, not a yearning to go against church rules on being gay.
However Tuesday’s court showed that he has changed his decision.
“I have to minister to those who hurt and that’s what I’m doing,” he said.