A United Methodist pastor was convicted Monday of breaking church law for presiding over his son's 2007 same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. The jury will reconvene Tuesday morning in southeastern Pennsylvania for the penalty phase which could range from a reprimand to "losing his credentials."
The Rev. Frank Schaefer, 51, entered a plea of not guilty as the trial began on Monday. He could have avoided the trial altogether if he had agreed to never again perform a same-sex wedding but he refused because three of his four children are gay.
Tim Schaefer, 29, at whose wedding his father officiated, knew asking his dad to perform the wedding ceremony might create trouble. "I remember thinking I have two choices: I can ask my dad and know I am putting him in a position ... where he would risk his career, or I could not ask my dad and really risk hurting his feelings. I think he would have been devastated if I hadn't asked him," he said.
Rev. Shaefer testified on Monday that he did inform his superiors in the United Methodist Church both before and after performing the ceremony. And while he did choose to keep the information from his Lebanon, Pa. congregation, it was only because he worried it would cause trouble for his family. "I just wanted this to be a beautiful family affair," Shaefer said, "and it was that."
Shaefer faced no discipline until this April, when one of his congregants, Jon Boger, learned of the ceremony and filed a complaint less than a month before the church's six-year statute of limitations was set to expire. Boger was the church's sole witness in Monday's trial.
"When pastors take the law of the church in their own hand ... it undermines their own credibility as a leader and also undermines the integrity of the church as a whole," Boger said.
He said he understood Schafer's motivation.
"It's his son. He loves his son. In a way I felt bad for him," Boger said. "But he's also shown no remorse or repentance, nor has he apologized to anyone."
When Schaefer chose to hide the marriage from the congregation, Boger said, "It was a lie and a broken covenant."
Testifying in his defense, the pastor told the jury that he broke the rules out of love for his son. Though actively disobeying the Methodist Book of Discipline, Shaefer added that he still felt he was "obeying God's command to minister to everyone."