LEWISBURG — A recently defrocked United Methodist minister visited Rooke Chapel at Bucknell University on Tuesday, not to preach, but to share his powerful story of love, acceptance and religion.
About 100 people — mostly community members — listened to Pastor Frank Schaefer’s talk, which focused on “a father’s struggle,” he said. Schaefer talked about his decision not only to perform the same-sex union of his son, Tim, but his refusal, after a trial in front of his superiors in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, “to uphold the Book of Discipline, which meant virtually to denounce gay marriage rights,” according to his biography.
Schaefer compared his compassion for LGBT individuals to the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, who was saved by a passer-by after being passed by others, saying it “was exactly the intersection I felt I was in, between the love of my son and the laws of the church.”
“If you actually look at the original Greek, it said ‘his stomach turned’ (at the sight) — that’s how much compassion he had for that person in the road,” he said.
The crowd was mostly supportive of Schaefer’s message of acceptance and equality; however, there were some who questioned his views in light of biblical passages that seem to condemn homosexuality.
But Schaefer said the Bible does not address homosexual relationships in the context of a monogamous, consensual, same-sex relationship.
“When I look at those Scripture passages ... they really do not talk about a committed, homosexual, loving relationship,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer’s story began in 2000, when his then 17-year-old son came out to him, saying he struggled with suicidal thoughts.
“He confirmed that he had cried himself to sleep many nights, praying to God, ‘Please take that away from me,’” he said.
Schaefer felt he could not negate the years of affirming his son’s identity by refusing to perform his wedding, which took place in Massachusetts in 2007. Schaefer was later reported to church officials by a parishioner.
After a trial in 2013, Schaefer was found guilty, something he said left him “devastated.”
As he faced a penalty phase, Schaefer decided he could not refuse to perform LGBT ceremonies.
“I knew God wanted me to tell the jury that these rules are wrong and unjust, that they are discrimination, they are hurting and harming God’s children,” he said. “I was actually surprised I didn’t get defrocked right away.”
When the penalty came down, Schaefer said he felt tension between his family and his duty to the church.
“(The church officials) were asking me to denounce gay marriage rights,” he said. “But after 30 days, I had to say what was in my heart. Discrimination has to stop.”
He was defrocked in December. But Schaefer said his journey with God did not end there.
“Even though I lost it all, God has been so faithful to me and my family,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
Schaefer has been able to continue his work speaking to groups, including at progressive churches.
“I am preaching out every Sunday for the next six months,” he said. “For a defrocked minister, I’m awfully busy.”
It didn’t hit Schaefer until he was preaching at a church in Hollywood, Calif., that he was working for the good of so many more people than just his son.
“What you do, if you stand up for what is right, if you stand on your faith, it will have an impact on the world around you,” he said. “One that you have no idea (how much).”
Schaefer said the Methodist church needs to grant LGBT parishioners equal rights. “We need to stop treating them as second-class citizens,” he said.
More clergy members have expressed support for Schaefer and his message than opposition, he said. “I got the spectrum, but most were very supportive,” he said.