Written by Brittany Tressler.
After his conviction at a Spring City church trial for officiating the marriage of his gay son six years ago, United Methodist Minister Frank Schaefer announced Monday that he could not uphold the United Methodist Book of Discipline in its entirety, and that he and nearly 50 Methodist clergy from Eastern Pa. want to help change the “discriminatory language and provisions” in the doctrine against homosexuals.
The decision comes near the end of a 30-day suspension handed down by the church, during which Schaefer was to decide if he could uphold all aspects of the Book of Discipline, including that same-sex marriage is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Schaefer was reported to the body by a member of his church.
“My honest answer is no, I cannot uphold the United Methodist Book of Discipline in its entirety,” said Schaefer at a press conference at the Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. “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.”
According to Schaefer, he would like to serve as an advocate for the lesbian, bi-sexual, gay and transgender (LBGT) communities, but advocating for the community and working to change the “hurtful and harmful” language and provisions of the Book of Discipline.
Schaefer added that he would not voluntarily surrender his credentials, as demanded by the jury if he is unable to uphold all aspects of Methodist doctrine.
“I cannot in good conscience surrender my credentials voluntarily as I feel called to represent, minister to, and advocate for tens of thousands of LGBT members and their families within the United Methodist Church,” Schaefer said, adding that he was “called by God first.”
With this announcement, Schaeffer is sending the issue "back into the court" of the church. He will meet with The Board of Ordained Ministry in a closed meeting on Thursday.
“This body could decide to leave my credentials in place and affirm me as a voice for the LGBT community – a decision which would demonstrate a willingness to engage in a new dialogue and discernment process and a path toward healing,” Schaefer said. “Or the Board could decide to defrock me.”
If Schaefer loses his job, he said that denominations such as the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church have reached out to him about changing his religious affiliation, but his preference is to remain with the Methodist Church so that he can “dismantle the discrimination.”
Schaefer was surrounded by support at the press conference, including nearly 50 members of the Reconciling United Methodists of Eastern Pa., who will present a letter to Methodist Bishop Peggy Johnson, asking her to call an end of all discrimination in the UMC.
“We need you to boldly lead us as our bishop in our advocacy of all LGBT members in the church,” states the letter, signed by 44 clergy members and ready by Pastor Herb Snyder. “We find ourselves in a time of turmoil over differences in opinion and theology with regard to human sexuality.”