Lebanon Pastor to Decide His Own Fate

Has 30 Days to Decide

By Frank Pizzoli

“Outing” – it’s not just for gay people anymore.

That’s the term that Rev. Frank Schaefer uses to describe what has happened to him.

Nov. 18 a jury of 13 United Methodist pastors determined that he had violated church law when he performed a marriage ceremony for his eldest son, Tim, and his male partner in 2007.

The jury ordered Rev. Frank Schaefer suspended from his ministerial duties for 30 days.

“At the end of the 30 days I must respond in writing about whether or not I can adhere to church laws regarding same-sex marriage,” Schaefer told Central Voice. He will also be interviewed by the churches Board of Ordained Ministries.

“I think the church was very smart in how they made their decision. They treated me like I was an honest man but basically deferred judgment to me. I will decide if I can abide by the rules. They also know the eyes of the world are upon them,” Schaefer said.

By being an honest man, Schaefer is referring to how he originally handled marrying his son Tim and his partner.

“In the fall of 2006 I put in writing to the Bishop and the church that I would be performing the marriage of my son to his partner,” Schaefer explained.

“I received no response from church leadership.” The wedding actually took place in 2007. But the formal complaint to the church hierarchy from then-fellow parishioner and now former church member Jon Boger did not come until late in 2013.

Boger testified at Schaefer’s hearing, a procedure that in many ways mimics a formal court proceeding but is, in fact, a church proceeding that has no standing in the church-and-state separated legal system rooted in the nation’s history.

Boger, according to media reports, broke down on the witness stand when questioned by church counsel, describing Schafer’s marrying his son and those who support his action as taking “the law into their own hands” and undermining the church’s credibility and integrity. Although Boger meant church law, it is not possible for same-sex couples to marry in Pennsylvania, a law that is currently being challenged from a multitude of legal directions. In that regard both church and state law mimic each other.

In an interesting backstory Boger testified during church trial that six weeks before filing his complaint that his mother, who was employed as the church’s choir director, felt as if she were forced to submit her resignation to the church. “He said the two events were unrelated,” Schaefer said.

Regardless of the sequence of the events, Schaefer sounds like a man undaunted in his resolve to do what he thinks is right.

“What propels me to be a public, outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ community is that I was asked to answer for my actions. I see it as ‘outing,'” he explains. Schaefer had long been a silent supporter of gay civil rights but, as he explained, “I did not want to divide my church.” As he said during the proceeding, “I cannot go back to being a silent supporter. I must continue to be in ministry with all people and speak for LGBTQ people.”

If he decides to leave his church, he does not lose his Princeton Seminary degree. His upset church can only set rules for ministers ordained into their ranks, not all ministers.

“Should I decide to seek membership in the United Church of Christ, or as Central Voice has asked about, the Metropolitan Community Church of the Spirit, like any other candidate I would have to complete their ordination requirements,” Schaefer explains.

Reflecting upon what has been a draining experience for him, Schaefer says, “I remain inspired by so many people. The outpouring of support, handwritten notes, social network communications, there are so many people out there who understand what is happening.”

The day following the church jury’s decision to suspend Schaefer, a group called Faithful America were planning to deliver more than 19,000 petition signatures to United Methodist Bishop Peggy Johnson.

The petition reads: “Bishop Peggy Johnson, please join with the growing number of United Methodists who are obeying Jesus’ command to love our neighbors and disregarding the church’s immoral anti-gay rules. Don’t allow any more trials for pastors who officiate at gay weddings.”

There was a time when women were not ordained yet alone promoted to positions of authority in her church.

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