Frank Schaefer gets to keep calling himself a Methodist pastor – at least for the next 30 days.
The United Methodist clergyman convicted of breaking church law for officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding was suspended late Tuesday, and ordered by a jury of his fellow pastors to surrender his credentials in a month if he can’t bring himself to adhere to the laws of the church’s Book of Discipline.
Schaefer said he had no intention of changing his mind about the church’s teaching on homosexuality, declaring he would perform more gay marriages if asked.
“I feel I have to be an advocate, an outspoken advocate for all lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people,” Schaefer told reporters after learning his sentence, adding that he expects to be defrocked when his 30-day suspension is up.
Before the punishment was announced, Schaefer, who was convicted for presiding over his son’s 2007 wedding ceremony in Massachusetts, told the jury that he is unrepentant.
Rather than beg for mercy, the pastor upped the stakes.
The church “needs to stop judging people based on their sexual orientation,” he told jurors. “We have to stop the hate speech. We have to stop treating them as second-class Christians.”
"I will never be silent again."
After the jury pronounced its sentence, Schaefer’s supporters began overturning chairs in the courtroom – symbolizing the biblical story of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers – and held an impromptu communion service. A few supporters scuffled briefly with the church’s trial staff.
Schaefer’s trial rekindled debate within the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination over church policies on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The denomination accepts gay and lesbian members, but it rejects the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Schaefer donned a rainbow-colored stole on the witness stand and told jurors it symbolized his commitment to the cause.
“I will never be silent again,” he said, as some of his supporters wept in the gallery. “This is what I have to do.”