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Friday, December 20, 2013

Defrocking Opens Deep Divide Among Methodists

Former United Methodist pastor Frank Schaefer speaks with reporters after a news conference, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, at First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Former United Methodist pastor Frank Schaefer speaks with reporters after a news conference yesterday at First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)

The United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania defrocked the Rev. Frank Schaefer yesterday, after he said he could not uphold Methodist Church teachings on homosexuality.

Last month, a jury of fellow Methodist pastors convicted Schaefer of violating church discipline when he officiated the same-sex marriage of his son six years ago. The church suspended him from all ministerial duties at his small, Zion United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Penn., and gave him a month to decide if he could uphold all of the church’s teachings, including the ban on same-sex marriage.

The Methodist Church has gone out of its way to affirm the dignity of gay people, and emphasize that church pastors minister to gay people, but the church’s book of discipline also says that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” which is why the church does not allow same-sex marriage or the ordainment of openly gay ministers.

This week, Schaefer said he could not uphold the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, but he would not step down voluntarily. Yesterday, church officials stripped him of his clergy credentials. Schaefer is now appealing that action and joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the next steps.

Interview Highlights: Frank Schaefer

On accepting his defrocking

“It’s really been a long fight. It’s been going on for almost nine months now, and I have to tell you I didn’t expect it. Of course I knew it was a possibility that I would be defrocked. But even on the day when I went to the hearing yesterday, I thought to myself, ‘They aren’t going to do that over an act of love for my own son.’ But it did happen, and I was actually shocked. … It’s a strange feeling to find myself outside of the church, you know, being excluded, really, because I stood with the LGBT community and with my son.”

On gays and lesbians joining his congregation after his son’s marriage

“As this became known to some people in the congregation, we did attract some LGBT folks to our congregation. You know, I just couldn’t have said no to all the lesbian and gay couples that I’ve gotten to know at my church. You know, they’re wonderful people. They’re wonderful Christians. There is no way that I could have said no to them, because they are created just like everybody else: In the image of God. They were created homosexual, that was not their choice, and I could not hold that against them.”

On America’s changing attitude towards gay rights

“Something will have to change, because our society is changing at such a fast pace. … All these new states that are now saying gay marriage is legal. So much is changing, and as you know, the polls are changing as well. Now the majority of American people are saying that they are in favor of gay rights and marriage rights. And the United Methodist Church is a part of that, you know, we are part of the populace of the United States. If you were to take a poll among United Methodists you would probably find a very similar result. ”

On confronting discrimination

“This has to do with the exclusionary policies of the church. That is the price that we have to pay for the exclusionary policies of the church. And it feels totally like discrimination to me now too. I mean, I spoke out for my son, my children, for the LGBT community and demanded equal rights, and find myself outside of the system.”


  • Frank Schaefer, minister in Pennsylvania who has been defrocked by the United Methodist Church.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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