When people choose to break the covenant that holds us together, there has to be some accountability, said Rob Renfroe, a United Methodist pastor. He was commenting on the decision by a United Methodist court to strip pastor Frank Schaefer of his clergy credentials because he had conducted a same-sex wedding ceremony for his son and refused to promise to refrain from such actions in the future.
Renfroe, who heads a conservative movement in the United Methodist Church known as Good News, was alluding to specific language in the UMC’s governing document, the Book of Discipline, which calls clergy into a “covenant of mutual care and accountability.” This document has recently been amended to state that clergy who perform same-sex weddings are guilty of a “chargeable offense.”
A growing number of UMC clergy are performing such ceremonies in open defiance of the Book of Discipline, prompting a series of church trials which has bitterly divided the church. After Schaefer’s trial in December, John Lomperis, United Methodist director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, praised the ruling for upholding “biblical standards” and added that Schaefer “was not the first United Methodist minister to be defrocked for crossing these lines and will not be the last.”
But it’s not at all clear how much defrocking will take place. The case against Thomas Ogletree, the former Yale Divinity School dean who presided over the same-sex wedding of his son, was dropped by a UMC court in New York, and the bishop in New York, Martin McLee, declared that no trials will be conducted in the future. Instead of holding trials, McLee said, the New York Annual Conference will offer clergy “a process of theological, spiritual, and ecclesiastical conversation.”