Bringing his case before a nine-member appeals panel of the United Methodist Church (UMC), Frank Schaefer will be reinstated as a reverend within the denomination. This reverses the church's December 2013 decision to defrock him—a severe punishment for ordained clergy in which they lose their credentials--seven years after officiating the wedding ceremony for Tim, one of his three gay sons, and Tim's husband.
Though now "refrocked," Rev. Schaefer does not plan to return to his previous church, Zion United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Additionally, Rev. Schaefer will receive back pay dating back to when was initially defrocked.
The UMC, the second largest Protestant denomination in the US, continues to experience deep internal divides over LGBT equality and how to treat people who are LGBT. While "church law instructs Methodists to accept gays and lesbians as members," MSNBC reports, UMC law simultaneously finds marriage equality or same-sex couples' relationships "incompatible with Christian teaching," and does not permit those who are openly gay to be ordained. Despite these policies, many Methodist clergy—including Monica Cosaro, Bill McElvaney, Thomas Ogletree, and Bishop Martin McLee--and grassroots advocates in the church continue to speak out and act in support of the LGBT community.
Rev. Schaefer said in a statement today, "I can't even begin to describe how meaningful this 'refrocking' is to me. Today's decision by the committee is a hopeful sign for our LGBTQ community. They recognized that I was wrongfully punished for standing with those who are discriminated against." He added, "I've devoted my life to this church, to serving this church, and to be restored and to be able to call myself a reverend again and to speak with this voice means so much to me."
Initially suspended, Rev. Schaefer was ultimately defrocked because he would not refuse to perform marriages for LGBT couples in the future. Following the panel's decision today, that punishments cannot be doled out in anticipation of future violations, Rev. Schaefer said he will continue to advocate "with an even stronger voice from within the United Methodist Church" for the LGBT community.