NORRISTOWN, Pa. (AP) — United Methodist church officials defrocked a pastor from central Pennsylvania on Thursday who violated religious doctrine by officiating his son's gay wedding and then, after being suspended, defiantly refused to resign.
The Rev. Frank Schaefer met briefly with the Board of Ordained Ministry at church offices in suburban Philadelphia. Schaefer apparently made good on an earlier vow that he wouldn't voluntarily surrender his credentials as ordered by a religious jury.
Officials had no choice but to terminate his ministerial office, church spokesman John Coleman said afterward.
"When asked to surrender his credentials as required by the verdict, he refused to do so," Coleman said. "Therefore, because of his decision, the board was compelled by the jury's decision to deem his credentials surrendered."
Schaefer left the building without commenting. He planned to hold a news conference Thursday afternoon at a Methodist church in Philadelphia where an associate minister was defrocked in 2005 for being in a lesbian relationship.
Last month, a church jury suspended Schaefer for 30 days for performing the 2007 wedding of his gay son in Massachusetts, where same-sex unions are legal. Although the Methodist church accepts gay and lesbian members, it rejects the practice of homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian teaching" and bars clergy from performing same-sex unions.
The issue has split the nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination amid a rapid shift in public opinion. Same-sex marriage will soon be legal in 16 states, and opinion polls show that a majority of Americans now support it. Hundreds of Methodist ministers have publicly rejected church doctrine on homosexuality, and some of them 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.
Most other Protestant denominations have decided their position on the issue one way or another. But the Methodists, with about 7.7 million members in the U.S. and many more members overseas, remain divided. At their last national meeting in 2012, delegates reaffirmed the church's 40-year-old policy on gays.
Jurors who convicted Schaefer said he should use the suspension time to decide whether he could uphold the church's Book of Discipline. If he decided he could not, he was told to give up his pulpit in Lebanon by Thursday.
Schaefer gave his answer publicly Monday during a news conference in Philadelphia, surrounded by dozens of sympathetic ministers and laity. Schaefer described the Book of Discipline as contradictory and biased against gay people, said he would not go quietly.
"I cannot voluntarily surrender my credentials because I am a voice now for many — for tens of thousands — of LGBT members in our church," he said then.
Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam and AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll contributed to this report.
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