PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A United Methodist pastor from central Pennsylvania who was defrocked after officiating his son's gay wedding was invited by a California Methodist bishop to serve in her region in yet another sign of a split in the nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination.
Frank Schaefer said he is deciding whether to accept the offer from Bishop Minerva G. Carcano to join the California-Pacific Annual Conference. The region includes California, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands.
"I'm actually leaning toward it right now, but I can't make that decision myself because it involves my entire family," Schaefer said. "We are considering it very, very seriously."
Carcano does not have the authority to restore Schaefer's ministerial credentials but he said he would have most of the same rights and responsibilities as an ordained minister. Schaefer said it would not be a tenured appointment, unlike ordained ministers, and he would be paid less.
Schaefer has led a congregation in the town of Lebanon for more than a decade. Earlier this year, a church member filed a complaint over Schaefer performing the 2007 wedding of his gay son in Massachusetts, where same-sex unions are legal.
A church jury suspended him for 30 days last month and told him to decide whether he would uphold the church's Book of Discipline or resign. Schaefer refused to surrender his credentials and the church's Board of Ordained Ministry defrocked him. He appealed the board's decision on Friday.
John Coleman, a spokesman for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the denomination, said Thursday that Schaefer left officials no choice after defying the order of a religious jury to resign.
Schaefer said that he has never met Carcano and first spoke to her when she called to offer him the position on Friday.
"It was such a feeling of welcome I sensed from her and just understanding and comfort," he said. "For somebody like her, a bishop, to reach out to me and say, 'you know what you did was absolutely right and we are proud of you,' it just felt great."
Carcano said in a statement on the California-Pacific Annual Conference's website that the church's position on homosexuality is wrong. Although the church accepts gay and lesbian members, it rejects homosexual acts as "incompatible with Christian teaching" and bars clergy from performing same-sex unions.
"I believe that the time has come for we United Methodists to stand on the side of Jesus and declare in every good way that the United Methodist Church is wrong in its position on homosexuality, wrong in its exclusion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and wrong in its incessant demand to determine through political processes who can be fully members of the body of Christ," Carcano wrote.
Most other Protestant denominations have decided their position on the issue. But the Methodists, with about 7.7 million members in the U.S. and many more overseas, remain divided. At their last national meeting in 2012, delegates reaffirmed the church's 40-year-old policy on gays.
Yet hundreds of Methodist ministers have publicly rejected the doctrine, and some face discipline for presiding over same-sex unions. Last month, in a public challenge to church rules, a retired Methodist bishop officiated at a wedding for two men in Alabama.