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Methodists reinstate defrocked pastor

Methodists reinstate defrocked pastor

The United Methodist Church has reinstated the pastor who was defrocked for performing his son’s marriage to male partner. New York Times has the story:

A onetime Methodist pastor who was stripped of his clerical credentials because he presided at the wedding of his gay son is being reinstated, a startling reversal for a large Protestant denomination that, like many, is riven by divisions over same-sex relationships.


A United Methodist Church appeals committee — a nine-member panel made up of laypeople and clergy — said Tuesday that it had decided to overturn the punishment of Frank Schaefer, who with three gay children and a determination to celebrate their relationships has become an unexpected champion of gays and lesbians in church life. The panel deemed the punishment too harsh.

Mr. Schaefer, who had been the pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pa., was defrocked last year, six years after officiating at the same-sex wedding of his son. An all-clergy church court found him guilty of disobeying the denomination’s order and discipline.

Image from Chalice Press


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John Thomas

A victory for Rev. Schaefer, but he won the appeal on a technicality: The church trial court could not conditionally state Schaefer must promise not to conduct same-sex unions in the future. The appeals court ruled the penalty must relate to the violation of The Book of Discipline committed. Had the trial court imposed defrocking as the trial outcome, Schaefer would still be defrocked today.

To translate into Episcopal Church language, the best I can:

The trial court was at the diocesan level, the appeal at the provincial. UM bishops have very limited authority, they must address a formal complaint that canons were violated either by trial (where they appoint the prosecutor, but have no other role), or separately by dispute resolution between the accuser and accused with an outcome agreed by all.

The Book of Discipline (the national canons) is a convoluted document containing everything from the Articles of Religion, to the vows of deacons. The prohibition against conducting same-sex unions is not core doctrine, but it’s an enforced prohibition. As in The Episcopal Church, elders and deacons vow to uphold the discipline of the church at ordination — often United Methodists consider discipline to mean The Book of Discipline… but it’s impossible to uphold The Book of Discipline to the letter (due to contradictions, certain parts are inapplicable in some regions, etc).

The homophobic language in the Book of Discipline remains, in part, due to the more rural nature of the UMC, powerful conservatives at IRD and Asbury Seminary (the UMC version of Natosha House), and the fact that The UMC is an international church: Imagine if Anglican dioceses in Africa were able to vote on church law that effected The Episcopal Church in the US– That’s how the UMC is organized. UMC numbers in the US are declining, while there’s growth in Africa and elsewhere, so it’s unlikely the homophobic policies will change by majority vote at General Conference (like General Convention).

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