Methodist minister goes on church trial for performing son’s marriage

Timothy Kincaid

November 18th, 2013

One of the more contentious battleground over religious acceptance of same-sex marriage is within the United Methodist Church.

Unlike many other denominations, the UMC is not an American denomination; rather it is a global church with about a third of it’s membership outside the US. Ever four years, a convention of representatives meets to set it’s doctrines and policies and the issue of gay Methodists, pastors, and marriage are regularly debated. And while many Methodists are fiercely supportive of our rights, both civil and religious, the delegates from Africa and Asia uniformly oppose any movement towards acceptance.

In 2012, with 39% of delegates from outside the US, the church again confirmed the position that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and during scheduled ‘holy conversations’ on the subject, a number of participants felt that they were bullied and derided by those who oppose inclusion.

After the convention, the many within the church in the US began a stage of discontent. Several regional conferences express dissatisfaction with the decision, and in Washington and Minnesota they encouraged voters to support marriage equality on the ballot.

Many others, supported by retired Bishop Melvin Talbert, are rebelling against the rules. In Pennsylvania, over 30 UMC ministers pledged to defy the Methodist Book of Discipline and to jointly officiate at a same-sex wedding. They are making the stand in support of a fellow Pennsylvania minister, Frank Schaefer, who went on trial today.

Six years ago Schaefer’s son Tim asked him to officiate at his wedding. Schaefer agreed and for six years no one complained. Then a few weeks before the statute of limitations ran, a congregant who was “dismayed and shocked” to learn about the event pressed charges. (yahoo)

A United Methodist minister who officiated at his son’s same-sex wedding pleaded not guilty Monday to charges that he broke his pastoral vows.

The Rev. 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 contends that the Methodist Book of Discipline also directs pastors to address the needs of their flock, including gay members and that this was an act of love, not of rebellion.

This trial is being closely watched both within and without the church, including by several other ministers who are also up for trial.

Depending on the outcome of this trial – and others – the United Methodist Church could be in for some tumultuous years. The church is growing rapidly in Africa and the Philippines while it is decreasing in the United States. While support is growing locally, the delegation is increasingly from parts of the world where gays are treated with open contempt, allowing the anti-gay minority in the US to punish those who stand up for justice and mercy.


November 18th, 2013

Church trials…it’s like the middle ages

Other corporations probably wish that they could prosecute their employees themselves.

enough already

November 18th, 2013

Time to split. The Methodist Church made a big mistake joining up with the conservative haters a few decades ago. Time to split up into those who define their love of their god through hatred of gays and those who practice true love.

Mark F.

November 18th, 2013

@Steve He could avoid this trial by quitting the church. If he loses, he can still quit the church, join another church or form a new church. It’s not like they can throw him in jail or something.

Timothy Kincaid

November 18th, 2013

I should have mentioned that he could have avoided the trial if he just promised to not do it again. But he has two other gay children and is not willing to make that promise.


November 18th, 2013

Steve, corporations can and do engage in internal discipline of employees for violating clearly stated corporate policy, and can do so without involving civil court procedures of any kind.

Mr. Schaefer knew when he presided at the wedding that he was testing internal church rules. The worst thing that can happen is that he will have his ministerial ordination revoked. He will not be put to death by burning at the stake. It is not “like the middle ages.” None of this trial is happening in a civil court of law.

He is a minister in the UMC, he knowingly challenged an internal rule of the church, and it is within a church’s purview to determine the qualifications of its own clergy.


November 18th, 2013

I think the United Methodist Church needs this “trial”, as there is a genuine division within the church over its position on homosexuality. The governance structure, as Mr. Kincaid described so accurately, makes it almost impossible to have even a conversation about the issue.

One interesting aspect to me: it involves questions about the relationship of a pastor to his / her own family members, which makes Mr. Schaefer’s situation distinctive from that of other UMC clergy. Does the UMC really want to state that clergy must give a higher loyalty to the church than to their own families?


November 18th, 2013

What will they do, fling proof texts at each other, like seminary freshmen arguing in the dorm?

The history of global expansion by discrete western sects, and especially the handling of reasons that expansion may be appropriate or horridly inappropriate, would be interesting to read.

It’s like they’ve gone into a war without an exit strategy. And we all know how that turns out.


November 19th, 2013

The case has been decided. Mr. Schaefer was found to have violated the United Methodist “Book of Discipline,” which is what the internal rule book is called. The decision on his punishment, which can range from a reprimand to revocation of his ministerial ordination is yet to come.


November 19th, 2013

News reports show words from the prosecutor as more ugly than I would ever have anticipated. And a satisfied accuser. Jeez.


November 19th, 2013

Corporations don’t hold full trials and don’t pretend to have judicial authority like that.


November 19th, 2013

Any parent not willing to lose his or her job in order to support their child is not worthy of being called a mother or a father.

To top it off, all of this is over a dispute between what one group of people says an imaginary man thinks, while another group of people says the same (?) imaginary man says another thing. Meanwhile, real people in the here and now are being harmed. Charming. Charming in the name of god, so it’s extra charming.

The concrete reality is that this is a man’s child and the fact that an organization would destroy his career over his love for his children just shows me how sick religion truly is.


November 19th, 2013

Steve: So you prefer good ol’ arbitrary, due-process-less, instantaneous firings in your corporations?

What do you mean, pretend? Like it or not, churches have the authority to regulate, discipline and fire their clergy, like any other employer.

DN: Yeah. But he chose to remain an employee of this organization, fully aware that it was antigay.


November 19th, 2013

Agreed, Marcus – that’s why I have very limited sympathy when a gay teacher at a catholic school is fired for being gay.


November 19th, 2013

Then fire him. Or dock some of his pay. But don’t hold a phony “trial” like it’s the middle ages.

Another thing: he didn’t hold a church wedding and he didn’t act in an official capacity for his church. He performed a civil wedding in other state. Therefor he didn’t violate any rules.


November 19th, 2013

Steve: So the trial was phony and UMC rules allow their pastors to conduct same-sex civil weddings? Can you provide a source?

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