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Methodist pastor who officiated son's same-sex wedding is reinstated

By Rande Iaboni, CNN
updated 4:46 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
  • Rev. Frank Schaefer is reinstated following his appeal trial
  • Schaefer was defrocked in December for officiating son's same-sex wedding
  • "Decision shows that the church is moving toward love over legalism," he says
  • Credentials will be restored; he is entitled to lost salary and benefits

(CNN) -- The Pennsylvania minister who was defrocked for officiating his son's same-sex wedding was reinstated Tuesday by the United Methodist Church.

Frank Schaefer, pastor at Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, had his credentials restored and is now entitled to lost salary and benefits since his defrocking in December, according to a written decision released by the church.

Schaefer was waiting for a phone call to inform him of the church's verdict, when he received the happy news as an e-mail attachment.

He opened up the PDF.

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"I had to scroll all the way to the bottom to find out what the verdict was, and the verdict was that I am reinstated as an ordained minister of the United Methodist Church," he told a group of people.

They broke into applause.

His suspension

Schaefer was suspended for 30 days following his initial trial, with the condition that after his suspension he was to deliver a written report assuring the judiciary board that going forward he would never officiate another same-sex wedding. When Schaefer refused to do so, he was defrocked.

Schaefer told CNN then that he could not commit to a statement like that because he has two more children who are gay.

His appeal was heard Friday by a nine-member committee, which upheld the original 30-day suspension that Schaefer had already served.

Bishop Peggy Johnson, leader of the church's Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, said in a statement that she will abide by the committee's decision and will return Schaefer to active service as an ordained clergy member.

The appellate committee unanimously determined that Schaefer's defrocking was "unlawful" because a clergyman can only be punished for what he has been convicted of doing in the past, not for what he may or may not do in the future, the decision read.

"I can't even begin to describe how meaningful this 'refrocking' is to me," Schaefer said in a statement immediately following the appeal decision. "I never did understand the severity of my punishment for an act of love for my son, Tim," Schaefer said.

The United Methodist Church says it welcomes members regardless of sexual orientation, but same-sex marriages cannot be performed in Methodist churches or by ordained ministers under church policy.

How it started

The initial complaint was filed by one of Schaefer's church members who read about his son's wedding in a newspaper, and the church leadership decided to act upon it, Schaefer said.

Schaefer was found guilty by a jury of 13 clergy members and suspended for 30 days in November 2013. After his suspension Schaefer told the Board of Ordained Ministry that he could not uphold the church's Book of Discipline in its entirety because it discriminates against gay people.

Schaefer was asked to immediately surrender his credentials, but he refused, forcing church officials to defrock him, the statement said.

Schaefer previously told CNN's Zoraida Sambolin that his son asked him to officiate his wedding in 2007 and he decided to do it "out of love for him."

Although he once believed that homosexuality was incompatible with his Christian beliefs, Schaefer said his views on the controversial topic evolved. "By the time our son came out, I was ready to embrace him," Schaefer told Sambolin.

A precedent case

In March, the United Methodist Church dropped its case against a New York clergyman, Thomas Ogletree, who had also officiated his son's same-sex wedding. Ogletree was instead ordered to join others from varying perspectives in a public forum that "shall reflect a variety of different opinions and understandings."

Upon hearing of that decision, Schaefer told CNN in March, "It doesn't seem fair, two United Methodist minsters are charged with the same exact 'crime' of officiating at their son's same-sex weddings -- one is defrocked, the other one's case is dropped without conditions."

Jimmy Creech, the first United Methodist minister to be defrocked over performing a same-sex marriage ceremony in 1999, acted as an adviser to Schaefer during the trial.

"The decision is a win for Frank Schaefer, for the United Methodist Church, and for the movement toward justice and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender United Methodists," Creech said in a statement.

Schaefer said that he is now considering an offer to serve in the ministry of the California-Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

"Today's decision shows that the church is moving toward love over legalism," Schaefer said in his statement Tuesday.

"Their movement of love embraced me and together we are moving forward to bring about that day when our denomination no longer excludes any of God's beloved children. And I will continue to work toward that goal," he said.

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