By Brittany Tressler
A quiet Methodist retreat in Spring City became the center of the same-sex marriage debate this week, as a pastor was tried and convicted by a church jury of his peers for officiating his son’s same-sex marriage six years ago.
Frank Schaefer, pastor at Zion Methodist Church in Iona, Pa. who officiated his son’s same-sex wedding in 2007 in Massachusetts, has been suspended 30 days, during which he must decide if he can uphold all aspects of Methodist teachings, including the belief that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” If not, he will have to surrender his credentials.
While responses to the verdict varied widely, Schaefer seemed relieved.
"I'm obviously relieved to receive a lighter penalty than defrocking,” Schaefer said via email after the punishment was announced Tuesday. “I gave the jury every excuse to take my credentials when I was honest with them and said that I must continue to serve all people—no exceptions.”
On Monday, Schaefer testified that he tried to follow God’s command to minister to everyone, even if it disobeyed the teachings of the church.
Schaefer could have avoided trial by agreeing not to officiate any more same-sex marriages. He refused, as three of his four children are gay.
“It's a matter of conscience,” Schaefer said. “I simply cannot discriminate against God's beloved children.”
Jon Boger, a member of Schaefer's congregation, was the complainant and the church’s only witness, stating that it “undermines the integrity of the church as a whole,” according to the Huffington Post.
Many members of the church expressed support for Schaefer; some were in Spring City for the trial.
“Thank you, Frank and Bridgette, for being a shining example of love,” said a member of the Stand with Pastor Frank Facebook group. “Please know that there are thousands who stand beside you.” Schaefer said the church trial court's decision is a positive one, and “provides a path towards healing.”
“Today, grace and love won over a controversial church law,” Schaefer said. “The jury went with the defense’s plea for a lesser penalty, a decision which acknowledges the diversity of opinions within the united Methodist church.”
Despite Schaeffer's conviction, at least one Methodist pastor committed to LGBT rights stands undeterred.
“I am still not afraid to do same-sex weddings,” said Reverend Vicki Flippin, of Church of the Village in New York City, on Twitter. “God’s judgement is more important to me than a jury’s.”