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Defrocked minister: Same-sex wedding was an 'act of love' for son

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
updated 12:03 PM EST, Fri December 20, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Methodist minister says he performed son's gay wedding
  • He says denying that request would have been denying the love he's shown his son
  • Frank Schaefer was defrocked after a jury of 13 clergy found he'd violated church doctrine

(CNN) -- A Pennsylvania Methodist minister who was defrocked this week for performing a same-sex wedding said Friday he felt compelled to break church doctrine because it was an "act of love" for his son.

When Frank Schaefer's son was in his teens, he was suicidal, torn by sadness that the church would think less of him for being gay, Schaefer said Friday on CNN's "New Day."

When their son told his parents he was gay, the Schaefers recognized his pain and chose to embrace him. "My wife and I said, 'Look, there's nothing wrong with you. This is the way you were created,' " Schaefer said on "New Day."

"Obviously, he didn't choose this because he prayed to God to make him, quote-unquote, 'normal.' And when that didn't happen, he really went through this crisis," the minister explained.

Years later, in 2007, Schaefer's son asked his father to perform his wedding.

"For me, to say no to him ... it would have denied everything we ever told him in terms of affirmations and love that we gave him," Schaefer said.

The minister knew that performing the ceremony was going to stoke the ire of his superiors and that it was against church doctrine. So he was upfront with church officials. He told them.

For six years, he didn't hear a word about the incident. Then, apparently, someone in the church filed a complaint about him this year.

On Thursday, the minister at Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in the small town of Lebanon was found guilty in a church trial for officiating his son's same-sex wedding, church officials said.

The verdict came after a jury of 13 clergy members determined in November that the minister had been disobedient to the discipline and order of the church.

After that determination came a 30-day suspension. The church asked Schaefer to decide whether his advocacy on behalf of the gay community would prevent him from fully complying with church law, according to a statement from Bishop Peggy Johnson of the United Methodist Church.

The church told him that he could retain his standing if he never performed another same-sex wedding again.

Schaefer refused, telling the Board of Ordained Ministry that he could not uphold the church's Book of Discipline in its entirety because it is discriminatory.

That prompted the church to ask Schaefer to immediately surrender his credentials.

He refused again, forcing church officials to defrock him.

Losing his job shook the minister.

"Actually, I was in shock," he said on "New Day." "I didn't realize it right away, but my wife told me, when we were in the car, she said, 'Look at your hand,' and I looked at it. I was shaking."

"It really hit me harder than I thought," he continued. "Look, I mean, six, seven years ago, I was ready to give up my career for my son. I never thought this would ever come back after that long of a time, so I went on ministering. I'm a pretty effective minister, so I never thought it would come to this. And especially not to the kind of attention that this has gotten nationwide."

The incident had received media attention across the globe.

His son was recently interviewed, saying that he feels guilt for what has happened to his father, Schaefer said.

"I always tell him, 'Don't feel guilty about this. This really had nothing to do with you.' This is based on the exclusionary policies of the church. That's what causes this. We just have to stop the discrimination in the church."

The minister said that his views on homosexuality have evolved over the years.

At one point, he believed that it was a sin. But when he went through seminary, he learned about "different interpretations" of scripture that addressed homosexuality.

"By the time my son came out, I would describe myself as tolerant," he said.

But eventually, he became a "silent supporter" of his son, and once someone complained about the performance of his son's wedding, he decided to be vocal and open about his feelings.

His church is divided, he said, and he's lost friendships. It has been a "painful process."

But he wants to remain in the Methodist Church and work for change from within.

He said he has already filed an appeal and hopes to become reinstated to the Methodist clergy.

Schaefer's case will be reviewed by the appeals committee of the United Methodist Church's northeast jurisdiction. It could also go to the judicial council, which is equivalent to the supreme court of the church, according to Schaefer's attorney, Bill Ewing.

The attorney expects the appeal to be heard in 2015.

CNN's Rande Iaboni contributed to this report.

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