A pastor who presided over his son’s same-sex wedding ceremony and vowed to perform other gay marriages if asked can return to the pulpit after a United Methodist Church appeals panel on Tuesday overturned a decision to defrock him.
A nine-person appeals panel ordered the church to restore Frank Schaefer’s pastoral credentials, saying the jury that convicted him of breaking church law erred when fashioning his punishment.
The church suspended Schaefer, of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, last year for officiating his son’s 2007 wedding. It then defrocked him because he wouldn’t promise never to preside over another gay ceremony.
Schaefer appealed, arguing the decision was wrong because it was based on an assumption he would break church law in the future.
The appeals panel, which met in Linthicum, Maryland, last week to hear the case, upheld a 30-day suspension that Schaefer has already served and said he should get back pay dating to when the suspension ended in December.
The jury’s punishment was illegal under church law, the appeals panel concluded, writing in its decision that "revoking his credentials cannot be squared with the well-established principle that our clergy can only be punished for what they have been convicted of doing in the past, not for what they may or may not do in the future."
The topic of gay marriage is contentious in the Methodist Church. Recently, hundreds of ministers have spoken out against the church’s doctrine on homosexuality, which allows for gay members but bars "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from becoming clergy, and forbids ministers from performing same-sex marriages.
Schaefer was charged after a member of his congregation complained to the church about his officiating his son’s wedding.
Schaefer planned an afternoon news conference in Philadelphia to discuss the decision.
The church can appeal the decision to its highest court, the Judicial Council.