An appeals panel of the United Methodist Church has reinstated a pastor who was defrocked late last year for officiating his gay son’s marriage and saying he would do the same for other same-sex couples.
In a Tuesday opinion, the nine-person panel overturned a lower church court’s decision to defrock Frank Schaefer, of Lebanon, Penn., and restore his pastoral credentials in the church.
“I can’t even begin to describe how meaningful this ‘refrocking’ is to me,” Schaefer said in a statement. “I never did understand the severity of my punishment for an act of love for my son Tim. The committee of appeals understood that my defrocking sought to penalize me not for what I did but for what I might do in the future.”
Schaefer was initially suspended on Nov. 18, 2013 for 30 days for officiating his son’s 2007 marriage to another man and in December was defrocked for saying he would also marry other same-sex couples if asked.
The appeals panel upheld the 30-day suspension and ordered the church to compensate Schaefer for all lost salary and benefits dating from the end of the suspension, or Dec. 19, 2013.
A message was left with Schaefer seeking additional comment.
Philadelphia Episcopal Area Bishop Peggy A. Johnson, bishop of the Eastern Pennsylvania and Peninsula-Delaware conferences, issued a statement in response to the appeals panel decision:
“I was informed today by Jen Ihlo, President of the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals, that the Rev. Frank Schaefer, who appealed the withdrawal of his credentials as an ordained minister in The United Methodist Church, has won his appeal, and thus, should have his credentials restored to him by the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. I intend to abide by the committee’s decision and return him to active service as an ordained clergy member of this conference presently.
This has been a challenging judicial process, and I express my heartfelt appreciation for the diligent efforts made to ensure due process and uphold our United Methodist Discipline with respect, understanding and compassion for all involved. I also ask for continuing, supportive prayers for Mr. Schaefer, his family, and the members and churches of our conference and our denomination, as we struggle gracefully to find common ground.
I pray confidently that our church may emerge stronger, more hopeful and more faithful to both its biblical grounding and its prophetic calling, as it continues to make disciples of Jesus Christ and equip them for God’s transforming work in the world.”
Johnson also noted there’s been no decision made on whether the Tuesday ruling will be appealed.