Performing his son’s same-sex wedding could cost a minister his church

The United Methodist Church has convicted the Rev. Frank Schaefer of violating its law

Topics: LGBT, Religion, Marriage equaltity, Gay Marriage,

Performing his son's same-sex wedding could cost a minister his churchThe Rev. Frank Schaefer, right, of Lebanon Pa., walks to the gymnasium with an unidentified woman, before facing his sentencing at Camp Innabah, a United Methodist retreat, in Spring City Pa. Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013. A jury of his pastoral peers convicted Schaefer on Monday of breaking his vows by officiating his gay sons' Massachusetts wedding in 2007. Schaefer could face punishment ranging from a reprimand to a suspension to losing his minister's credentials. (AP Photo/Chris Knight) (Credit: Chris Knight)

Like many ministers, the Rev. Frank Schaefer just wanted to perform his child’s wedding. And that’s what he did. In a 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts, he officiated as his son said his vows. Now, Schaefer has been convicted by the United Methodist Church of violating its law, and stands in danger of being officially defrocked. All because Schaefer’s son is gay. And in a truly vindictive twist, the charges against Schaefer arrived just one month shy of the church’s statute of limitations. They were brought because a member of his own church “was dismayed and shocked” when he learned about the wedding.

The United Methodist church says it accepts gay and lesbian members, but that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” And though he could have avoided going to trial if he promised never to officiate at another same-sex union, Schaefer, who pleaded not guilty, refused to do so. As the minister explained, three of his four children are gay. On Monday, Schaefer acknowledged he knew he was going against the “ritual purity” of the Methodist Book of Discipline and admitted that keeping the wedding secret from his congregation had been “a lie and a broken covenant.” But, he said, he had told his superiors about the wedding, and that he believed he was following his faith’s command to minister to all.

Jon Boger, the church member who submitted the original complaint, meanwhile said at the trial that he felt “betrayed” by Schaefer’s act, adding, “It’s his son. He loves his son. In a way I felt bad for him. But he’s also shown no remorse or repentance, nor has he apologized to anyone.”

Maybe he doesn’t feel the need to apologize for being loving and supportive to his kid. In a conversation with the AP earlier this week, Schaefer’s 29-year-old son, Tim, said that as a teenager, he considered suicide and prayed that “God would make me normal, take this away from me.” But when he finally told his parents he was gay when he was 17, he says they accepted him “completely.” That’s why he wanted his dad to do his wedding. ”I remember thinking I have two choices,” he says. “I can ask my dad and know I am putting him in a position … where he would risk his career, or I could not ask my dad and really risk hurting his feelings. I think he would have been devastated if I hadn’t asked him,” he said.

You Might Also Like

It’s a thorny issue when a church’s rules are not yet up to speed with either the laws of a particular state or the basic enlightenment of its time. The United Methodist Church likely didn’t want to find itself in the throes of a potentially precedent-setting challenge, but here it now is. A church spokeswoman told Schaeffer’s Pennsylvania news affiliate, “It’s been an ongoing concern and a matter for prayer and we keep on discussing.” 

Schaeffer said on Monday that “I did not want to make this a protest about the doctrine of the church. I wasn’t trying to be an advocate. I just wanted this to be a beautiful family affair, and it was that.” Yet all the dogma in the world is meaningless in the face of our actions. It’s by the things we do, not the beliefs we profess, that we express who we truly are. And when he officiated at his son’s marriage, Schaeffer was being an advocate – an advocate for love and acceptance and blessed, blessed change. It may cost him his church. But it was true to his soul.

Mary Elizabeth Williams
Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...