A Pennsylvania pastor charged under United Methodist law with officiating at his son’s same-sex marriage is scheduled to go on trial Monday.
The Rev. Frank Schaefer, 51, could be defrocked if a jury comprised of fellow Methodist clergy convicts him of breaking his pastoral vows by officiating the 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts. Schaefer’s supporters argue that church teaching on homosexuality is outmoded.
“Public opinion has changed very rapidly,” said the pastor’s son, Tim Schaefer, 29. “I hope this leads to a renewed conversation to revisit these policies to see if they are a little archaic.”
The nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination accepts gay and lesbian members, but rejects the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Clergy who perform same-sex unions risk punishment ranging from a reprimand to suspension to losing their minister’s credentials.
The issue has split the church. Hundreds of Methodist ministers have publicly rejected church doctrine on homosexuality, and some of them face discipline for presiding over same-gender unions.
Critics say those pastors are sowing division within the church and ignoring the church’s democratic decision-making process. Indeed, the denomination’s top legislative body, the 1,000-member General Conference, reaffirmed the church’s 40-year-old policy on gays at its last worldwide meeting in 2012.
The Methodists have set aside three days for Schaefer’s trial, to be held at a church retreat in Spring City, Pa.
Tim Schaefer, of Hull, Mass., will testify on his father’s behalf.
“(The defense wants) to highlight how hurtful the policy of the church is toward the LGBT community,” he said.
Tim Schaefer struggled as a teenager, aware of Methodist doctrine on homosexuality. He said he prayed every night that “God would make me normal, take this away from me.” He contemplated suicide but knew it would devastate his family. Schaefer finally told his parents at age 17, and he said they accepted him completely.