NPR Story
3:35 am
Fri December 20, 2013

Minister Defrocked Over Officiating Gay Wedding Will Appeal

Originally published on Fri December 20, 2013 2:12 pm

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. On Thursday the United Methodist Church defrocked a Pennsylvania pastor who's presided at the wedding of his gay son. That wedding was back in 2007. The pastor is appealing the decision in his church trial, which has become a parable for the divisions in a church with more than eight million members across the United States. From member-station WHYY in Philadelphia, Emma Jacobs reports.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: The Reverend Frank Schaefer was stripped of his credentials when he told a board of ordained ministers he could not pledge to uphold the Methodist Book of Discipline in its entirety, including its ban on officiating same-sex marriages.

REVEREND FRANK SCHAEFER: I will not give up the fight. I am still a minister in my heart and I will continue to minister. I will continue to be a voice for the LGBT community.

JACOBS: Until November, Schaefer led a small Methodist congregation in Lebanon, a town in rural central Pennsylvania. He says he grew up in a small, conservative Baptist congregation in Germany believing homosexuality was a sin. His thinking changed over the course of years.

SCHAEFER: There are people that feel strongly on the other side of the issue, but I'm hoping and praying that they also will go through this evolution and come to the same place that I have come to.

JACOBS: The Reverend Rob Renfroe challenges the idea that same-sex marriage is something the Methodist church will evolve towards. He's the president and publisher of the Methodist publication Good News.

REVEREND ROB RENFROE: We're championing that we think that the Bible is God's word, that it's clear on this issue, that God wants the best for us and we're not going to change God's word just because it offends progressive sensibilities.

JACOBS: But Renfroe acknowledges the church is split. Emily Click, assistant dean at Harvard's Divinity School, says that the United Methodist Church's emphasis on upholding a shared code of conduct makes differing opinions across congregations especially fraught.

EMILY CLICK: There are people within the Methodist tradition who want very much to be able to support gay people making a holy covenant with each other as well as people who think it's fundamentally wrong. So the issue is how do you stay together as a church when there's that diversity of opinion?

JACOBS: The old Gothic church in Philadelphia where Schaefer spoke on Thursday has lived with this. Ten years ago an assistant minister was defrocked for being openly lesbian even while parishioner Barbara Mitchell says the church is committedly pro-gay and has welcomed her and her partner, Ruth.

BARBARA MITCHELL: We feel accepted and loved and a wonderful part of this church community, and what more could you ask for.

JACOBS: Reverend Schaefer is planning to appeal the decision that removed him from the ministry. Several more trials are pending for other clergy who have also performed same-sex marriages. For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.