Church trial for Pennsylvania pastor who held same-sex wedding
The church trial of a Methodist pastor accused of violating the denomination’s teachings by officiating at a same-sex marriage began on Monday in rural Pennsylvania, where scores of his backers gathered to show their support.
The trial for Rev. Frank Schaefer, who in 2007 officiated at the wedding of his son Tim and another man, kicked off with opening statements by a prosecutor and the defense before a presiding officer.
Thirteen pastors constitute the jury at the trial, which was expected to last two days at a church camp near Spring City, Pennsylvania.
Schaefer is pastor of the Zion United Methodist church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
Outside the trial, about 100 supporters were on hand to give Schaefer encouragement.
They unfurled a banner, several feet long, that read “We Are Open and Affirming” and had signs reading “Law or Love – Jesus Chose Love” and “Church trials are incompatible with Christian teaching.”
“We oppose the homophobic position of the United Methodist denomination,” said Rev. Hal Taussig of Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill United Church, which is affiliated with both the United Methodist and the United Church of Christ denominations.
The United Methodist Church has some 12 million members worldwide.
According to an article on an official Methodist blog, the trial is the first of its kind since 2012 when the church’s governing body affirmed its stance that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings.
But it is at least the eighth trial in the past 20 years of a member of the clergy accused of violating church law by performing a same-sex marriage or by acknowledging being gay, the blog report said.
In the blog article, Schaefer was quoted as saying his son had prayed “that God would change him and make him normal and when that didn’t happen he became suicidal.”
“When he came out, my wife and I just loved and supported him and told him there was nothing wrong with him,” he said in the blog.
Deciding to officiate at the wedding, he said: “I knew I was putting my career, my ministry, on the line, but in another sense it was easy because my heart told me I had to do this.”
The wedding was held in Massachusetts, which in 2003 became the first U.S. state to permit gay marriage.
Potential punishment for Schaefer could range from suspension to revocation of his ordination credentials.