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Pastor guilty in gay wedding

| Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, 10:00 p.m.

SPRING CITY — A United Methodist pastor was convicted Monday of breaking church law by officiating his son's same-sex wedding and could be defrocked after a high-profile trial that has rekindled debate over the denomination's policy on gay marriage.

The Methodist church put the Rev. Frank Schaefer on trial in southeastern Pennsylvania, accusing him of breaking his pastoral vows by presiding over the 2007 ceremony in Massachusetts.

The 13-member jury convicted Schaefer on two charges: that he officiated a gay wedding and that he showed “disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church.”

The jury will reconvene on Tuesday morning for the penalty phase, where Schaefer faces punishment ranging from a reprimand to losing his ministerial credentials.

“Obviously I'm very saddened. What we're hoping for tomorrow is a light sentence,” said Schaefer's son, Tim Schaefer, 29, whose wedding led to the charges.

Testifying in his defense, the 51-year-old pastor said he decided to break church rules out of love for his son. He said he might have lost what he called his “ritual purity” by disobeying the Methodist Book of Discipline, but that he felt he was obeying God's command to minister to everyone.

“I love the United Methodist Church. I've been a minister for almost 20 years, and there are so many good things about the United Methodist Church except for that one rule,” said Schaefer of Lebanon.

Schaefer, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, could have avoided the trial if he had agreed to never again perform a same-gender wedding, but he declined because three of his four children are gay.

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

The church's lawyer, the Rev. Christopher Fisher, told the jury that Schaefer clearly violated the Book of Discipline. He said the complainant, Jon Boger — a member of Schaefer's congregation — was dismayed and shocked when he learned this year about the ceremony.

Fisher used his closing argument to condemn homosexuality as immoral and said Schaefer had no right to break a Methodist law.

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