A United Methodist minister convicted of breaking church law by officiating at the same-sex wedding of his son in the US said on Tuesday he is unrepentant, declaring he has been called by God to be an advocate for the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.
The Reverend Frank Schaefer, testifying at the penalty phase of his church trial, again refused to promise he wouldn’t perform another same-sex union. Three of his four children are gay. “The church needs to stop judging people based on their sexual orientation”, he said.
“We have to stop the hate speech. We have to stop treating them as second-class Christians,” he told a jury of fellow United Methodist pastors. I will never be silent again,” he said, as some of his supporters wept in the gallery.
A church prosecutor urged the jury to defrock him. The jury, which convicted him on Monday and began deliberating on Tuesday afternoon, could also issue a reprimand or suspend him for violating a church law that forbids pastors from marrying same-sex partners. The trial has renewed debate over the denomination’s policies on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination accepts gay and lesbian members, but it rejects the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching”. Experts said the punishment of Schaefer should serve as a deterrent to other like-minded clergy.
Schaefer had previously testified that he performed his son’s 2007 wedding in Massachusetts out of love, not a desire to flout church teaching on homosexuality. But Tuesday’s testimony made clear he has had a change of heart. “I have to minister to those who hurt, and that’s what I’m doing,” said Schaefer.
His son, Tim Schaefer, told jurors he knew he was putting his father in a difficult position by asking him to officiate his wedding. But he concluded he would hurt his father’s feelings if he didn’t ask.
The Reverend Christopher Fisher, who is serving as the church’s prosecutor, told jurors that Schaefer’s disobedience couldn’t go unpunished. “Ministers are not free to re-interpret (their) vows according to personal preference,” said Fisher.