By Pat Loeb
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A group of Philadelphia-area Methodist ministers plan to officiate at a wedding for a same-sex couple this month, in defiance of church rules and in support of a colleague who faces disciplinary action for conducting a same-sex wedding for his son.
“We thought this would be the appropriate way for us to affirm that God’s love extends to people of all gender and sexual preferences,” says David W. Brown, an associate minister at Arch Street United Methodist Church in center city, who is helping to coordinate the ceremony.
He says details of the wedding — between two male parishioners who have long sought a church blessing for their twenty-year relationship — remain private, but that it will take place before the church trial of Rev. Frank Schaefer, scheduled for November 18th in Chester County.
Schaefer, pastor of Iona UMC in South Lebanon Township, Pa., officiated at the wedding of his son and another man six years ago. A complaint was filed this past April, just before the church’s statute of limitations ran out.
Schaefer admits he knew the ceremony was a violation of the Methodist Book of Discipline. But, he adds, “There are some extenuating circumstances here. After all, we’re talking about my son — I did this for my son.”
Schaefer also takes issue with the exclusion of same-sex couples from church-sanctified weddings. He says he was following another church teaching when he helped his son tie the knot:
“Love the children of God that were created in the image of God, just like everyone else.”
More than thirty ministers have committed to the group wedding celebration to show solidarity with Schaefer, though Brown says there’s a practical consideration for having so many participate.
“Because we all know that we all are taking a risk by taking on this particular action, there may be some degree of safety in the numbers,” he admits.
And Schaefer says he is overwhelmed by the gesture of support from his fellow ministers.
“It just feels great to have somebody stand up and stand with you when you go into a trial,” he tells KYW Newsradio. “And to think that these pastors risk their careers, not just for me but for the LGBT community, in our church and beyond, that takes a lot of courage and that takes a lot of care and love. And I so appreciate that.”
There has been no official comment from Methodist Church officials.
Many Christian denominations are deeply divided on the issue of gay marriage. Some, like the Methodists, face dissent for not allowing same-sex marriage but they, like Episcopalians who have begun to bless same-sex unions, encounter backlash that can lead to turmoil.
Brown says the risk of a backlash does not deter the ministers.
“Our history has been marked by differing opinions that have initially caused some separation, but we’ve stayed together,” he says. “That’s why we’re the United Methodists. That’s why our policy is, ‘Open hearts, open minds, and open doors.’ We can’t qualify that and say, ‘Open to certain people.’ So I think that a little bit of pain that builds bridges through the process is worth the sacrifice.”
Schaefer is hopeful. “There is a change happening here,” he says.
“At one point in our discipline, we had laws that allowed slavery and the whole church split over this, and now these laws are gone. At one point we struggled with women in the clergy, and now we have female bishops. We do see that the discipline over time is changing, so hopefully we will get rid of these exclusionary policies,” he said.