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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 10 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 41
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Controversial UMC Pastor Frank Schaefer to speak in Seattle October 12
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Controversial UMC Pastor Frank Schaefer to speak in Seattle October 12

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

'I'm celebrating!' Frank Schaefer exulted when he spoke with SGN on October 6. It was less than an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would not hear appeals attempting to reverse lower court decisions in favor of marriage equality.

'Isn't it wonderful?' Schaefer laughed. 'That's 30 states!'

Schaefer had reason to celebrate. For more than a year, his life has revolved around same-sex marriage.

The pastor of a Methodist church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania - 'Pennsylvania Dutch country, Amish country,' he says - he was asked to officiate at his son's 2007 wedding. The kind of request any pastor would agree to in a heartbeat. There was just one catch - Schaefer's son Tim was marrying another man.

While fairly liberal on many issues, his United Methodist Church does not agree with same-sex marriage.

'I really searched my heart,' Schaefer says. 'When I agreed, I was aware of other cases. I expected to be fired. I expected a call from the District Supervisor,' a church officer.

'I didn't try to keep the wedding a secret,' he added, 'but I didn't make a big announcement. I wanted to - every parent wants to. But it was in Massachusetts, 300 miles away from my church.

'It was my first same-sex marriage,' he recalls. 'The first I attended and, of course, the first I performed. I've been to many since, and there's something about the applause - you know after the minister pronounces the marriage, there's always applause - there's something about the applause at a same-sex wedding. It's louder, stronger. Because it's a victory, an accomplishment.'

Finally called to account by his Bishop, Schaefer was tried by a church court and defrocked in 2013. The verdict was reversed in June this year, and Schaefer is now serving as a pastor in Isla Vista, California, far from his Pennsylvania Dutch roots.

The church lawyer who brought the original charges against him has appealed, and Schaefer will face another church hearing on October 22.

'They will be representatives from the global church,' Schaefer says of the appeals court that will hear his case. 'From Africa. From Latin America. They are more conservative than most Methodists in America.

'In America I don't get the sense that I'm in the minority,' he explains. 'Even in the Deep South. Even in Texas! I get the sense we're split 50/50' on the issue of same-sex marriage.

'I love being a pastor,' he continues. 'It's my calling. If I get defrocked again there's a possibility I could stay in the church. I could pursue ordination again. Or I've had offers from other denominations&I have to think about whether my conscience allows me to pursue that.

'I'm just taking it one day at a time. I'll see where my heart will direct me.'

Asked if he saw the Supreme Court decision as a kind of vindication, Schaefer replies, 'No, I don't feel that way. I'm not a vindictive person. The whole experience has been positive for me, speaking about the church and putting pressure on the church to change.

'The Supreme Court decision is momentous for the United Methodist Church. The more states that allow marriage, the more pressure will be on the church.

'Now if they defrock me, it will be very, very discouraging for progressives in the church. If it goes the other way, it will be the same for the conservatives. I hope and pray the decision signals that change is on the way.'

Asked what motivated him to put his ministry and so much of his time and energy on the line for equality, Schaefer was quick to reply.

'It all goes back to Tim coming out,' he explained. Since then, he has learned that three of his four children are Gay.

'That's what's changing America. All of a sudden you know someone who's Gay. And you always loved that person.

'The most important point that the church hierarchy is not getting is that we're harming these people. We're telling people that if you're Gay or Lesbian, you can't be married in the church, you can't be Christian.

'My son even considered suicide. Horrible! It amounts to spiritual abuse!'

Schaefer has written a book about his struggle with his church leaders, Defrocked: How a Father's Act of Love Shook the United Methodist Church. He will be appearing in Seattle on Sunday, October 12, to preach the annual Matthew Shepard Memorial Sermon at Trinity Episcopal Church, 609 8th Avenue in Seattle.

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