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Updated: Lebanon pastor convicted under church law

Written by The Associated Press | Nov 18, 2013 2:15 PM
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This post has been updated.

(Spring City) -- Jurors have reconvened to decide whether a United Methodist minister from Lebanon should be defrocked after being convicted under church law of performing his son's same-sex wedding. 

The panel convicted the Rev. Frank Schaefer of breaking his vows by officiating at the 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts. The verdict Monday night followed a trial that has rekindled debate over the denomination's policies on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Both sides will present witnesses during today's sentencing phase. Schaefer could face punishment ranging from a reprimand to a suspension to losing his minister's credentials.

Schaefer didn't deny that he married his son, but said he did it out of love, not a desire to flout church teaching on homosexuality.

 This post was updated on 11/19.

(Spring City) -- A United Methodist minister from Lebanon convicted under church law of performing his son's same-sex wedding ceremony could soon learn if he'll be defrocked.

A jury of his pastoral peers convicted the Reverend Frank Schaefer of breaking his vows by officiating the 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts. The verdict came Monday night after a trial that has rekindled debate over the denomination's policies on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

The jury reconvenes today for the penalty phase, at which both sides will present witnesses. Schaefer could face punishment ranging from a reprimand to a suspension to losing his minister's credentials.

Schaefer didn't deny that he married his son, but said he did it out of love, not a desire to flout church teaching on homosexuality.

This story was updated at 4 AM on 11/19.

(Spring City) -- A midstate United Methodist pastor accused of officiating his son's same-sex wedding says he decided to break church rules out of love for his son. 

The Methodist church has put the Reverend Frank Schaefer on trial in Chester County, accusing him of breaking his pastoral vows by presiding over the 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts. 

Testifying in his defense Monday, Schaefer says he might have lost what he called his ``ritual purity'' by disobeying the Methodist Book of Discipline. But he says he felt he was obeying God's command to minister to everyone.  

Jon Boger, a church member who filed the complaint against Schaefer, testified he felt betrayed when he found out the pastor had presided over a gay wedding. 

Schaefer could be defrocked if he's convicted by a jury of Methodist clergy.  

This story was updated at 3:44 p.m. on 11/18/13

(Spring City) --  A midstate United Methodist minister who officiated at his son's same-sex wedding pleaded not guilty today to charges that he broke his pastoral vows.

The Reverend Frank Schaefer of Lebanon entered his plea at the beginning of a high-profile church trial in southeastern Pennsylvania that is rekindling debate over the denomination's policy on gay marriage.  

Schaefer could face punishment ranging from a reprimand to losing his minister's credentials if a jury composed of fellow Methodist clergy convicts him of breaking church law that bans clergy from performing same-sex weddings.  

The church's attorney, the Reverend Christopher Fisher, told the 13-member jury in his opening statement Schaefer clearly violated the Methodist Book of Discipline by presiding over the 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts. He said the complainant -- a member of Schaefer's congregation -- was dismayed and shocked when he learned of the ceremony earlier this year. 

Schaefer blessed a union that has been ``declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teaching,'' said Fisher, echoing the language of the Methodists' book of law and doctrine.  His attorney, the Reverend Robert Coombe, told the jury that Schaefer had simply extended God's love to his son. 

``It's important to him to practice in his family what he preached to his congregation,'' Coombe said. ``He did this wedding as an act of love and not as an act of rebellion.''  

Dozens of Schaefer's supporters held signs and sang hymns outside the trial, which is being held at a Methodist retreat about 60 miles east of his church, wearing rainbow stoles, holding signs and singing hymns.  

``I'm in support of the church becoming a new church that welcomes everyone,'' said Bunnie Bryant, 64, of West Chester, who was holding a sign that said: ``Law or love? Jesus chose love.'' She continued, ``I question the church's law trumping a father's love.''  

But a pastor who's also attending the trial said that it isn't about gay rights, but rather about Schaefer's breaking of church law and his pastoral vows.  

The Reverend Judy Kehler-Shirey, a retired Methodist minister who has attended Schaefer's church, said she personally disagrees with the church's policy on gay marriage but would not officiate at a same-sex wedding.  

``I have a vow that is connected to all the other United Methodist pastors internationally. We have a covenant to follow the Discipline whether we agree with it or not,'' she said. ``That has to take priority.'' 

The nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination accepts gay and lesbian members, but it rejects the practice of homosexuality as ``incompatible with Christian teaching.''  
 Schaefer has said he informed his superiors in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference that he planned to officiate his son's wedding, and again after the ceremony, which took place at a restaurant near Boston.  

He faced no discipline until April -- less than a month before the church's six-year statute of limitations was set to expire  -- when one of his congregants filed a complaint. 

Schaefer could have avoided a trial if he had agreed to never again perform a same-gender wedding, but he declined because three of his four children are gay.  

A Methodist trial resembles a secular trial in many ways, with counsel representing each side, a judge and jury, opening statements and closing arguments, and testimony and evidence. Schaefer can appeal a conviction, but neither the church nor the person who brought the charge may appeal an acquittal.

 

This story was update at 1:17 p.m. 11/18/13

 

(Spring City) -- A United Methodist minister from Lebanon who officiated at his son's same-sex wedding has pleaded not guilty to charges that he broke his pastoral vows.

The Reverend Frank Schaefer entered his plea this morning at the beginning of a church trial in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Schaefer could face punishment ranging from a reprimand to suspension to losing his minister's credentials if a jury composed of fellow Methodist clergy convicts him of breaking church law that bans clergy from performing same-sex weddings.

The church's attorney, the Reverend Christopher Fisher, told the 13-member jury in his opening statement that Schaefer clearly violated the Methodist Book of Discipline by presiding over the 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts.

Schaefer's attorney, the Reverend Robert Coombe, told the jury that Schaefer simply extended God's love to his son.

Supporters were seen holding signs and singing hymns ahead of the church trial in southeastern Pennsylvania. They argue that church teaching on homosexuality is outmoded.

But a pastor who's also attending the trial says Schaefer's trial isn't about gay rights, but about his breaking of church law.

This story was updated at 12:30 p.m. 11/18/13

 

(Silver Spring) -- Supporters are holding signs and singing hymns ahead of the church trial in southeastern Pennsylvania for a Lebanon County United Methodist pastor who could be defrocked for officiating at his son's same-sex wedding.  

The Reverend Frank Schaefer of Lebanon could face punishment ranging from a reprimand to suspension to losing his minister's credentials if a jury composed of fellow Methodist clergy convicts him of breaking his pastoral vows by presiding over the 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts.  

Jury selection begins this morning at a Methodist retreat in Spring City.

Schaefer's supporters have gathered outside the building where the trial will take place. They argue that church teaching on homosexuality is outmoded.  

But a pastor who's also attending the trial says Schaefer's trial isn't about gay rights, but about his breaking of church law.

 

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Comments: 1

  • George Kafantaris img 2013-11-19 03:58

    "You'll give an account for that at the last day," Christopher Fisher told the jury in urging them to convict a good and loving pastor.
    Well, Christopher, "you'll give an account for that at the last day," as well.
    So much for the United Methodist Church claiming to be progrssive. It's as anachronistic as ever. And now everyone knows it.

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