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Associated Press
The Rev. Frank Schaefer, right, of Lebanon Pa., walks to the gymnasium with an unidentified woman, before facing his sentencing at Camp Innabah, a United Methodist retreat, in Spring City Pa. Tuesday. A jury of his pastoral peers convicted Schaefer on Monday of breaking his vows by officiating his gay sons' Massachusetts wedding in 2007.

Pa. pastor who performed gay wedding suspended

SPRING CITY, Pa. – A United Methodist minister from southeastern Pennsylvania who was convicted under church law of officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding ceremony was suspended for 30 days Tuesday and told he will lose his credentials if he violates any of the church’s rules in that time.

The same jury of fellow pastors that convicted Rev. Frank Schaefer on Monday of breaking his vows sentenced him Tuesday to the suspension. The jury told him he must “discern his newly discovered calling to the LGBT community” and surrender his credentials if he decides he can’t uphold all of the church’s Book of Discipline.

Before the punishment ruling, Schaefer, who was convicted for officiating at his son’s 2007 wedding ceremony in Massachusetts, told the jury Tuesday that he is unrepentant and refused to promise he wouldn’t perform more gay unions.

Rather than beg for mercy Tuesday in the trial that has rekindled debate within the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination over church policies on homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the pastor upped the stakes, telling jurors in that he has been called by God to be an advocate for the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people.

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.”

Schaefer donned a rainbow-colored stole on the witness stand and told jurors it symbolized his commitment to the cause.

“I will never be silent again,” he said, as some of his supporters wept in the gallery. “This is what I have to do.”

Jon Boger, who filed the initial complaint against Schaefer, was outraged by the pastor’s recalcitrance. The career Naval officer grew up in Zion United Methodist Church of Iona, the church that Schaefer has led for 11 years.

“Frank Schaefer sat here and openly rebuked the United Methodist Church, its policies, standards and doctrines,” Bolger said when called as a rebuttal witness. “He should no longer be in service as a minister of the United Methodist Church, not at Iona, not anywhere else.”

The nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination accepts gay and lesbian members, but it rejects the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Earlier Tuesday, the Methodists’ prosecutor called former members of Schaefer’s church who said his conduct split the congregation, and experts who said the punishment should serve as a deterrent to other like-minded clergy.

Christina Watson said her family left Schaefer’s church because they no longer wanted to be “subjected to the preaching and teaching” of Schaefer.

“To me, it wasn’t a good Christian example for ministers to say it’s OK to break the rules of your church,” she testified.

The Rev. Paul Stallworth, who leads a United Methodist task force on sexuality and abortion, testified that church law requires jurors to “openly rebuke” Schaefer so that fellow clergy will think twice before breaking it.

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.

The prosecutor, the Rev. Christopher Fisher, invited Schaefer to “repent of your actions” and pledge never again to perform a homosexual union.

“I cannot,” Schaefer replied.

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.

Schaefer said he hoped his father’s trial would start a larger conversation in the denomination.

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