The Rev. Frank Schaefer was jubilant yesterday, discussing what’s been dubbed his “refrocking” in the United Methodist Church (UMC), calling it a “huge” decision for LGBT rights.
The UMC’s Judicial Council ruled this week that he would continue to be an ordained minister in the church, overruling a Pennsylvania church jury that had defrocked him in 2013 after he’d both officiated over his son’s same-sex wedding several years earlier and refused to promise that he would not perform same-sex marriages in the future.
“It was a very technical argument, and some argue that I got off on a technicality,” he said about the decision, which didn’t change church doctrine opposed to gay marriage. The church’s high court rather overruled the jury decision, it stated, because the penalty was wrongfully handed down for a violation not yet committed. Schaefer had been given a 30-day suspension for officiating over his son’s wedding, but the Judicial Council said he could not be penalized further, with defrocking, for the possibility of a future violation.
However technical the decision, Shaefer believes it was a big step forward. “Yesterday’s decision, I felt like, wow, now I got my day in court,” he said in an interview with me. “Justice was recognized and done in an LGBTQ case and it’s huge. To me, it’s a very, very huge decision.”
Schaefer, who was transferred from his conservative congregation in Eastern Pennsylvania to one in California in July, said he will not back down on speaking out for equality for LGBT people in the church, including marriage equality.
“One of the things I vowed during this whole period was that I will never be silent again,” he said. “I will continue to be a voice and one of the things we encourage all pastors to do is declare that they will be willing to perform a same-sex marriage if they are asked to do that. We call that the ‘open altar’ action. And so, we are working toward all kinds of strategies, and plan all kinds of strategies for our General Conference in 2016…I am hoping and praying that something will change at that conference, because if it doesn’t I fear that a schism might be a real possibility.”