When United Methodist Church Reverend Frank Scaheffer's son, Tim, came to him at the age of 17 and revealed that he was gay, the pastor and his wife had to make a decision. Tim told them that he had considered suicide because he could not reconcile the fact that he was gay with the church's stance against homosexuality. The parents were united in their message to their son.
"He had heard messages that were hateful from the church, from the culture around him, that told him you're not normal, you're not valid, you're a freak," Schaeffer said. They told him he was "a beloved child of God."
Six years later, the pastor's son came to his father again. This time he asked the Reverend to marry him and his partner, a ceremony that the United Methodist Church forbids.
"To say no to his request would have negated all the affirmations I gave him over the years," Schaeffer said. He officiated the ceremony in 2007.
Nearly six years passed. Schaeffer says he told church authorities that he had conducted the ceremony, but did not reveal it to others in the church for fear of causing a disturbance.
"I did not want to make this a protest about the doctrine of the church. I wasn't trying to be an advocate," Schaefer said. "I just wanted this to be a beautiful family affair, and it was that."
But some people did find out. Jon Boger -- a member of Schaeffer's congregation -- filed an official complaint. The church has a judicial process for such complaints. There are lawyers, trials, and verdicts involved. And now, according to the L.A. Times, Rev. Schaeffer stands accused and could be defrocked for his actions in violation of church doctrine.
The prohibition against gay marriage is a staunch one, especially in the Pennsylvania communities where the whole drama played out. These rules are outlines in The Book of Discipline, which governs such behavior, even though the UMC uses the phrase "Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors." in their website materials.
"I love the United Methodist Church. I've been a minister for almost 20 years and there are so many good things about the United Methodist Church except for that one rule," said Schaefer.
An especially interesting point to the story is that Schaeffer could have avoided a trial altogether if he had simply promised to never perform another same-sex union ceremony again. He refused because, as he explained, 3 of his 4 children are gay.
The trial was Monday, and Scaheaffer now awaits the jury's decision. In closing arguments, the attorney for the prosecution told the jury that they had no choice but to find the pastor guilty. "You'll give an account for that at the last day, as we all will," he told the jury.
image via: umc.org