SPRING CITY, Pa. (TheBlaze/AP) — A United Methodist minister convicted under church law of performing his son’s same-sex wedding ceremony could learn his fate today.
While it’s possible the Rev. Frank Schaefer will be defrocked, the pastor could also face a range of lesser punishments in a case that has reignited the gay marriage and homosexuality debate within the denomination.
A jury of his pastoral peers convicted Schaefer on Monday of breaking his vows by officiating at the 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts. The Daily Mail reported that there were two charges at play: actually officiating the wedding and showing “disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church.”
The jury reconvenes Tuesday morning for the penalty phase, at which both sides will present witnesses.
“Obviously I’m very saddened. What we’re hoping for tomorrow is a light sentence,” Schaefer’s son, Tim Schaefer, 29, whose wedding led to the charges, said after the verdict Monday night.
Frank Schaefer didn’t deny that he performed his son’s wedding, but said he did it out of love, not a desire to flout church teaching on homosexuality.
“I did not want to make this a protest about the doctrine of the church. I wasn’t trying to be an advocate,” Schaefer testified at his trial, held at a Methodist retreat in southeastern Pennsylvania. “I just wanted this to be a beautiful family affair, and it was that.”
But the Rev. Christopher Fisher, who acted as the church’s prosecutor, told jurors that Schaefer’s disobedience couldn’t go unpunished.
“Ministers are not free to reinterpret (their) vows according to personal preference,” said Fisher, whose closing argument condemning homosexuality prompted Schaefer’s supporters to stand in silent protest in the gymnasium that served as a temporary courtroom.
“As a father, I understand the desire to show love and support to my children,” Fisher said. “It’s not always true we can do for our children everything they want us to do. True love draws boundaries.”
The nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination accepts gay and lesbian members, but it rejects the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching” and forbids pastors from marrying same-sex partners.
Testifying in his defense Monday, Schaefer said he might have lost what he called his “ritual purity” by disobeying the Methodist Book of Discipline, but he said he felt he was obeying God’s command to minister to everyone.
The denomination’s website explains that marriage should be restricted to one man and one woman.
“We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We believe that God’s blessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union,” it reads. “We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
The church’s sole witness was Jon Boger, a member of Schaefer’s congregation in Lebanon, who filed a complaint against the pastor less than a month before the six-year statute of limitations was set to expire.
He said he felt betrayed when he learned earlier this year that Schaefer, who had baptized his children and buried his grandparents, had presided over a gay wedding.
“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.
Schaefer’s trial could have been avoided, The Daily Mail reported, if he agreed not to perform any more gay weddings, however he declined to do so as three of his four kids are reportedly gay.
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