Frank Schaeffer is a Methodist minister. In 2007, his gay son asked him to officiate at his wedding and he did so, even though the Methodist Church does not approve of same sex marriage. It turns out that three of the pastor’s four children are gay and that the son who got married had earlier contemplated suicide because of the difficulties of being gay in a small rural conservative town in Pennsylvania.
One can imagine the difficulty of such a decision for the minister and he chose to conduct the service even though it brought out into the open an issue that church congregations prefer to keep hidden. Some of the parishioners had suspected that he was less than zealous about preaching conventional doctrine and this act confirmed it. He was reported to the church hierarchy who put him on trial.
Yesterday a jury of 13 Methodist pastors found him guilty of two charges: “conducting a ceremony that celebrates same-sex unions” and “disobedience to order and discipline of the Methodist Church.” The punishment could range from a short suspension to defrocking.
The Methodist Church is the second largest mainline Protestant denomination in the US with 8.3 million members but has been somewhat reactionary on this issue.
The Methodist Church, like the rest of mainline Protestantism, has been wrestling with issues surrounding gay rights for decades. It has added affirmations about the dignity of gays and lesbians and the importance of pastors to minister to them, but unlike some other mainline denominations, the Methodist Church has not expanded gay rights on things such as marriage and allowing clergy to be openly gay.
This problem is not going away for the church. Another four ministers have also conducted same-sex marriages, some for their own children, and they may face trials too.
I grew up in the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka and we had a very progressive minister whom I really liked. He is dead now but I sometimes wonder how he would have responded to the issue of same-sex marriage. I like to think that he would have been on the right side.