In 2007, Methodist pastor Frank Schaefer made the decision to officiate his son’s gay marriage in Massachussets. It was one of the rare locations in the United States where gay marriage was legal at the time.
Schaefer thought of it as “an act of love”. A United Methodist jury felt differently. The pastor was shocked to learned that he would be defrocked for violating religious doctrine.
The matter began after one of the members of the congregation filed a complaint earlier this year. It resulted in a 30 suspension with Schaefer being asked to strongly consider whether or not he could uphold church doctrine.
Schaefer refused to apologize for his decision, saying that he could not uphold a doctrine he felt was biased towards gay individuals. Despite this, he was confident he would maintain his credentials. Though disappointed that things did not go as planned, Schaefer has vowed to appeal the decision.
“So many of them came to me and they shook my hand and some hugged me, and so many of them had tears in their eyes.”
He feels in his heart that the committee did not want to defrock him, but felt they had no choice due to the black and white manner in which church rules are written and upheld.
John Coleman, spokesman for the domination’s Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, says that the decision came about mainly because Schaefer refused to resign.
“When asked to surrender his credentials as required by the verdict, he refused to do so. Therefore, because of his decision, the board was compelled by the jury’s decision to deem his credentials surrendered.”
Schaefer tells a different story. According to him, he would not give up his credentials voluntarily as asked by the board president. “To which she said, ‘Well, we’re taking them.’ And that was the end of it.”
Regardless of whether or not Schaefer gets his credentials back, a shift is taking place in America that will leave him feeling vindicated. The majority of Americans, religious or not, support same-sex marriage. Over the past few years, state after state has moved to legalize gay unions.
Fewer young Americans have much interest in traditional Christian beliefs and are increasingly socialized to judge people according to their character; not their skin color and not their sexual orientation. Some churches may prefer to close their doors or dismiss ministers over the need to abandon discriminatory beliefs. However, those institutions that do survive may be the ones that take a page out of Schaefer’s book: Acting in love rather than by the rule book.
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