OBERLIN — One phone call changed Frank Schaefer’s life.
It was the moment that he found out his son was gay.
An ordained United Methodist minister, Schaefer believed his son hid his feelings from him because of their close ties to the church — one that condemns homosexuality. His son’s fear of disapproval was so strong, he later found out, that he was contemplating suicide.
“He cried himself to sleep many nights and he prayed to be normal. He decided it would be better to be gone,” Schaefer said.
Fourteen years ago, Schaefer told his son that he accepted him. That he still loved him.
Acceptance from his church in Lebanon, Pa., however, was a different story.
On Thursday, Schaefer visited First Church in Oberlin to discuss how he was defrocked for officiating at the 2007 gay marriage of his son. Schaefer’s visit to Oberlin came just after a federal judge ruled that Ohio must recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.
He was joined in a panel discussion by Cornelius Graves IV, an Oberlin College prospective seminarian; the Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, an Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Ohio; and Yvonne Zimmerman, associate professor of Christian ethics at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio.
Since he was banned from the United Methodist Church, Schaefer has toured the country in support of same-sex marriages and has pushed for the church’s acceptance of them. Schaefer said he never meant to be an activist, but the church’s actions spurred him to speak out.
Schaefer said he was honored when his son asked him to officiate at the wedding. Although the United Methodist Church Book of Discipline bars clergy from performing same-sex marriages or civil unions, he said, “There was no way in Hell that I could say no.”
After the wedding, Schaefer was required to attend a church trial for the violation. On the second day of the trial, he donned a rainbow stole, refused to comply with a mandate to refrain from taking part in such activities in the future and said, “I cannot be silent any longer; I must speak out for the (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer and Transgender/Transsexual) community.”
As a result, the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Board of Ordained Ministry revoked Schaefer’s clergy credentials — something that Schaefer is appealing, according to the United Methodist News Service.
The United Methodist News Service reports that since 1972 the Book of Discipline has stated that all people are of sacred worth, but “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
United Methodist Church law says that marriage is to be between a man and a woman and bans United Methodist clergy from performing and churches from hosting “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.”
The church’s rule cannot change until the next General Conference in 2016.
Schaefer, who has three gay children, said he cannot support those portions of the Book of Discipline, but he keeps his faith in God.
“It’s amazing where we are now,” he said. “I was contemplating not ever going back to the church because of what happened, because I was so hurt.”
Schaefer said that while many protested his actions, more stood behind him, including members of the church, which he said is split on same-sex marriage.
He said he will continue to meet with those who feel that their church has abandoned them, and he hopes that discussion will change the minds of those in power.
“What people have meant for harm, God has turned into something beautiful, and I’m so proud to be a part of that,” he said.