Southeastern PA

Congregation divided over church's decision to punish pastor

Congregation divided over church's decision to punish pastor

EAST VINCENT TWP., Pa. - The same-sex marriage debate is rocking the United Methodist Church to its core.

A pastor in Lebanon County has been suspended for 30 days for officiating his son's same-sex marriage. The congregation remains divided over the church's decision.

Supporters immediately flipped over their chairs and started singing in support of Frank Schaefer's family following Tuesday night's penalty hearing. The suspended pastor then began serving communion to his followers.

The 13-member jury decided to suspend Schaefer for 30 days for officiating his son's same-sex marriage in 2007. During those 30 days, he can decide to continue following the church discipline and keep his credentials or support the LGBT community and be defrocked.

"We believe that when there is an alleged violation of the book of discipline of the United Methodist Church we are required to respond," said Rev. Michele Bartlow, a spokeswoman for the United Methodist Church.

But Schaefer said he can no longer be a silent supporter; he must be an outspoken advocate. He said he will not refuse ministry to anyone, and he expects to be defrocked in 30 days.

"I am no longer willing to accept the church's hate speeches, the church's treatments of some people like they are second-rate Christians," Schaefer said.

Schaefer called the biblical message that refers to marriage being between a man and a woman antiquated, but the United Methodist Church disagrees, calling it a difficult issue for people of faith and conscience.

The church also recognizes that same-sex marriage will continue to be an ongoing issue.

"We know that United Methodists have diverse opinions on this issue, and our hope is that we pray and work together toward unity and greater understand and healing," said Bartlow.

We also reached out to some United Methodist congregations in Berks County for their reaction but have not yet received a response.

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