The pastor previously defrocked by the United Methodist Church has been reinstated and will be able to continue his ministry among and advocacy for LGBT persons.
On the morning of Monday, October 27th, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church released an official ruling affirming the reinstatement of Rev. Frank Schaefer as a clergyperson.
As the highest court of the United Methodist Church, the Judicial Council’s decision will be the United Methodist Church’s final ruling on the matter. It validates the reinstatement and upholds a ruling initially made earlier this year by the Northeastern Jurisdiction appeals committee, a lower regional court. Schaefer was defrocked in December 2013 after being found guilty of judicial charges for performing his son’s same-sex marriage.
His trial, defrocking, and commitment to LGBT equality have been a lightning rod for a United Methodist Church divided on questions of sexuality – particularly same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination. The church’s central book of legal and doctrinal teachings, The Book of Discipline, contains condemnatory statements on “homosexuality,” the ordination of “practicing homosexuals,” and the celebration of same-sex marriage at the same time that it recognizes the sacred worth of all persons and implores families and churches not to condemn LGBT persons.
While Schaefer’s reinstatement does not change the institutional policies or doctrinal teachings of the UMC, indeed the earliest court’s guilty finding was not overturned and his reinstatement only pertains to the terms of his punishment, the high court’s findings do signal what many are calling “a small step” toward institutionally reevaluating the exclusionary teachings of the UMC. Former chair of Methodists in New Directions (MIND) and judicial advisor to Schaefer, Dr. Dorothee Benz writes, “It signals that even while the church’s discriminatory rules remain on the books, there is some room for pastoral faithfulness and acts of conscience.”
The Reconciling Ministries Network also welcomed the ruling and reported a continued commitment to pursuing sexual justice, freedom, and inclusion in the Methodist Church. Executive Director Matt Berryman called Methodists to “join Rev. Schaefer in committing acts of biblical obedience and ministry without fear, illuminating God’s love within ourselves, the LGBTQ community, the church, and the entire world.” As for Rev. Schaefer, he committed himself to continued ministry and advocacy on the issue. He writes, “I will never again be afraid to speak out for LGBTQ people. God’s message of love shared without fear is what transforms the world!”