Pa. United Methodist minister who performed gay wedding suspended

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SPRING CITY, Pa. -- A United Methodist minister from Pennsylvania who was convicted under church law of officiating at his son's same-sex wedding ceremony was suspended for 30 days Tuesday and told that he will lose his credentials if he violates any of the church's rules in that time.

The same jury of fellow pastors that convicted the Rev. Frank Schaefer on Monday of breaking his vows also told him that he must surrender his credentials if he can't reconcile his new calling to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community with the laws from the church's Book of Discipline.

Mr. Schaefer told reporters afterward that he had no intention of changing his mind and said he expects to lose his credentials in 30 days.

Before the punishment was announced, Mr. Schaefer, who was convicted for officiating at his son's 2007 wedding ceremony in Massachusetts, told the jury Tuesday that he is unrepentant and refused to promise that he wouldn't perform more gay unions.

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."

After the jury pronounced its sentence, Mr. 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.

Mr. Schaefer's trial rekindled debate within the nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination over homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The denomination accepts gay and lesbian members, but it rejects the practice of homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian teaching."

Mr. Schaefer donned a rainbow-colored stole on the witness stand and told jurors that 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."

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jon Boger, who filed the initial complaint against Mr. Schaefer, was outraged by the pastor's recalcitrance. The career officer grew up in Zion United Methodist Church of Iona, Lebanon County, the church that Mr. Schaefer has led for 11 years.

"Frank Schaefer sat here and openly rebuked the United Methodist Church, its policies, standards and doctrines," Cmdr. Bolger said when called as a rebuttal witness. "He should no longer be in service as a minister of the United Methodist Church -- not at Iona, not anywhere else."

Earlier Tuesday, the Methodists' prosecutor called former members of Mr. Schaefer's church who said his conduct split the congregation as well as experts who said the punishment should serve as a deterrent to other like-minded clergy.

Christina Watson said her family left Mr. Schaefer's church because they no longer wanted to be "subjected to the preaching and teaching" of the pastor. "To me, it wasn't a good Christian example for ministers to say it's OK to break the rules of your church," she testified.

The Rev. Paul Stallworth, who leads a United Methodist task force on sexuality and abortion, testified that church law requires jurors to "openly rebuke" Mr. Schaefer, so that fellow clergy will think twice before breaking it.

Mr. Schaefer had previously testified that he performed his son's 2007 wedding in Massachusetts out of love, not a desire to flout church teaching on homosexuality.

But Tuesday's testimony made clear that he has had a change of heart. "I have to minister to those who hurt, and that's what I'm doing," Mr. Schaefer said.

The prosecutor, the Rev. Christopher Fisher, invited Mr. Schaefer to "repent of your actions" and pledge never again to perform a homosexual union.

"I cannot," he replied.

His son, Tim Schaefer, told jurors that he knew he was putting his father in a difficult position by asking him to officiate his wedding. But he concluded that he would hurt his father's feelings if he didn't ask.

Tim Schaefer said he hoped that his father's trial would start a larger conversation within the denomination.

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