Following a high-profile internal trial last month, the United Methodist Church announced today that they have defrocked the Rev. Frank Schaefer because the pastor refused to either voluntarily give up his credentials, or recant his support of same-sex marriage in defiance of church regulations. The Associated Press reported the decision on Thursday, citing a spokesperson for the United Methodist church. Schaefer is expected to address the decision later in the day at an afternoon press conference.
The United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline bans the ordination of LGBT individuals and bars clergy from participating in the officiation of same-sex weddings. Schaefer went against that latter provision several years ago when he agreed to perform the wedding of one of his sons. The ceremony went unchallenged by church officials and members of his own congregation until earlier this year, when the Church decided to hold a three-day trial to determine Schaefer's future. The pastor was placed on a 30-day suspension, during which he was supposed to determine whether he could agree to uphold the regulations in the Book of Discipline, including those discriminating against LGBT individuals. If not, the church wanted Schaefer to voluntarily resign. On Monday, Schaefer said he would do neither. Here's an excerpt from his statement:
My honest answer has to be: No, I cannot uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety. In fact, I don’t believe anybody can. It’s impossible to uphold the Discipline in its entirety because it is filled with competing and contradictory statements...Frankly, my conscience does not allow me to uphold the entire Discipline because it contains discriminatory provisions and language that is hurtful and harmful to our homosexual brothers and sisters. It denies them their full humanity.
The issue of LGBT acceptance in the Methodist church is a contentious one. The Discipline regulations remain on the books, but many, including Schaefer, would like to see them changed. Dozens of clergy members ended up writing a letter to Schaefer's Bishop, Peggy Johnson of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, in support of Schaefer as the end of his suspension approached. That letter prompted Johnson to admit that the church's policy contains " discriminatory " statements against LGBT individuals:
Several statements in our Book of Discipline are discriminatory (forbidding ordination of homosexual persons, forbidding the performing of same-gender marriages and considering the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching). There appears to be contradictions between the many affirming statements and these statements. This has led to confusion by many from outside of the church wondering how we can talk out of two sides of our mouth.
"Church trials around the chargeable offenses that relate to the LGBT community are not helpful," Johnson added, "They use time, resources and energy that could be better used for the ministry of the church."