The Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals reinstated Rev. Frank Schaefer's ministerial credentials on June 23. Last fall Schaefer was suspended from his ministerial duties for 30 days and it was declared that if he could not “uphold the Discipline in its entirety” at the end of the suspension, he would surrender his credentials. He was then asked to surrender his credentials by that conference's Board of Ordained Ministry in December.(Read more about the appeal in this UMNS Report: Frank Schaefer Reinstated as United Methodist Pastor)
Rev. Tom Salsgiver, a District Superintendent in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, shared the following explanation to help both pastors and laity understand the appeal process a bit better.
About Church Trials and Appeals
When a Church Trial has been completed and the verdict and penalty has been rendered by the court of an Annual Conference, either party may appeal the decision. The appeal goes first to the Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals. Once it is heard and a decision is made by the Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals, it may be appealed to the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church. The Judicial Council is the final appeal allowed by church law.
The Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals is comprised of four Clergy, one Diaconal Minister, one Full-Time Local Pastor, three Laity. In addition, four Clergy, one Diaconal Minister, one Full-Time Local Pastor and three Laity are elected as alternates. The election takes place at Jurisdictional Conference and the term is for four years.
When an appeal is made to the Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals, persons who are residing in the Episcopal area from which the appeal comes shall not serve on the Committee on Appeals. In the case of the appeal of Rev. Frank Schaeffer, no one from Eastern PA Conference or Peninsula Delaware Conference could serve—since those two conferences make up an Episcopal area. These persons must recues themselves and they cannot hear the appeal or participate in any deliberations.
There are only two questions that can be considered during the appeal:
a.Does the weight of the evidence sustain the charge or charges?
b.Were there such errors of Church law as to vitiate the verdict and/or the penalty?
About Schaefer's Appeal
In the case of Rev. Schaefer, the appeal was based not on the charge of being found guilty, but rather on whether errors of Church law were made so as to vitiate the verdict and/or the penalty.
The Eastern PA Conference court had rendered a guilty verdict based on Rev. Schaefer performing a same gender marriage. The penalty was a 30 day suspension and that he appear before the Board of Ordained Ministry. When he met with the Board of Ordained Ministry, he had to say he would follow The Discipline in its entirety. If he could not say that he would follow The Discipline in its entirety, the Board would ask him to surrender his credentials.
On the day of the meeting with the Board, Rev. Schaefer indicated he could not say with certainty he could follow The Discipline in its entirety and he would not surrender his credentials. At that point, the Board of Ordained Ministry took his credentials, indicating that he no longer held ordination in the United Methodist Church.
The appeal that came to the Committee on Appeals centered not on the guilty phase of the trial, but rather on the penalty phase of revoking Rev. Schaefer’s credentials. The reason for the appeal centered on the fact that he said he would not uphold The Discipline in the future. It was because of that admission that Rev. Schaefer’s credentials were taken. It was based on what he might do in the future. The Committee on Appeals ruled that the Trial Court erred in that a Trial Court cannot levy a penalty for something you might do in the future.
The Judicial Council ruled in another case that the punishment imposed on a clergy person convicted of a chargeable offense must be based solely on the offense for which he or she was actually tried and convicted, not on anything that might or might not happen in the future.
The Committee on Appeals also ruled that the Trial Court could not combine penalties such as suspend Rev. Schaefer for a short period of time and then craft a subsequent proceeding in which another body (namely Board of Ordained Ministry) could change the suspension into termination. Only the Trial Court can determine the penalty—not another body outside the Trial Court.
It was on those two points that the Committee on Appeals ruled that the penalty phase is invalid. They ruled because of those points of law, his credentials shall be restored and he shall receive compensation for lost salary and benefits from the time his suspension ended.
What has changed?
~What has changed is that Rev. Schaefer is a United Methodist minister with his orders. He is able to serve a UM congregation as an ordained minister. According to Bishop Minerva Carcano, resident Bishop of California Pacific Annual Conference, Rev. Schaefer will transfer his conference membership to Cal Pac Annual Conference. He will be appointed July 1 to the Isla Vista Student Ministries in Santa Barbara, CA
What has not changed?
~The Discipline of the United Methodist Church has not changed. At this point in our history, it is still a chargeable offense for a UM pastor to conduct a same gender marriage. Only the General Conference which meets every four years can change The Discipline.
~What has also not changed is the process for a trial and an appeal. The process is clearly set forth in The Discipline and this was followed in both the Church Trial and the Committee on Appeals. While there are those who rejoice at the decision there are others who disagree.
~The decision of the Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals can be appealed to the Judicial Council.
~What has not changed and what has been heightened is the need for all United Methodists to be in earnest prayer and constructive, open discussion with one another. These discussions should not involve vilifying a person or people because they believe differently than what “I” may believe. The discussion needs to be about finding ways where we can be in disagreement in love and still be in ministry together.
~What has not changed is the expectation that Christians will act in a loving, kind, and caring way toward each other and toward all people. The words of the Apostle Paul and Timothy are as important to our life now as they were when they wrote them:
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with
compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear
with one another , forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven
you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the
peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called
in the one body.”
—Rev. Tom Salsgiver, District Superintendent in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference