A group of Methodist ministers will jointly officiate the marriage of a same-sex couple — in violation of church doctrine — to show solidarity with a colleague facing possible dismissal for presiding at his gay son's wedding.
More than 30 pastors from Lancaster to Reading to Philadelphia have pledged to officiate the same-sex marriage next month, despite the risk it poses for their careers, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Sunday (http://bit.ly/1a40hqT).
"The more we get, the harder it will be for the church — it's not impossible — the harder it will be to go after any one person to take away their (religious) orders," said the Rev. David Brown, of Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia.
The group is acting to support the Rev. Frank Schaefer, who leads Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon. He faces a church trial on Nov. 18 for officiating his son's 2007 wedding in Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal.
The United Methodist Church, which has about 12 million members worldwide, accepts gay members. However, it bars openly gay pastors and the blessing of same-sex unions.
A member of Schaefer's congregation filed a complaint against him in April, less than a month before the church's statute of limitations expired. The complaint is confidential, said Bishop Peggy Johnson, one of three Methodist bishops in Pennsylvania.
"I am in prayer for all involved in this process, and I urge everyone to join me in lifting up in prayer each of the persons involved," Johnson said in a statement.
Schaefer's trial would be the first such proceeding in the church since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of a federal law restricting the rights of gay couples.
"Once again," he said, "society is bringing this to the church as a challenge."
Schaefer said he would not help officiate the same-sex wedding next month. Ceremony details were not disclosed, including the name of the couple or where it will take place. Gay marriage is not legal in Pennsylvania, though several lawsuits are challenging that prohibition.
Ten other ministers are considering joining the 31 who have already pledged to officiate, Brown said. Names of participating pastors will be made public on the marriage certificate.
Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.inquirer.com