FRANK SCHAEFER, a Methodist preacher in Pennsylvania, officiated at his son’s same-sex wedding in 2007. This act of sacrilege earned him a suspension. When he couldn’t promise he wouldn’t do it again for another same-sex couple, the United Methodist Church decided to defrock him last year. But in June the church went ahead and re-frocked him. A panel of judges decided it was unwise to punish the minister for something he had not yet done. Mr Schaefer now has plans to resume his pastoral work in Santa Barbara, California, ministering to college students. “One day we will celebrate the fact that we have moved beyond this horrible chapter in our church’s life,” he said.
Same-sex marriage poses an existential problem for a number of religious groups in America. Now that these unions are legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, faith-based leaders are left wondering how much they need to change with the times. Though some are sympathetic to the needs of gay congregants, many pride themselves on their principled dissonance with popular culture. Indeed, not a few Methodists are appalled at the example set by Mr Schaefer. Reverend Rob Renfrone, president of Good News, a United Methodist organisation that opposes same-sex marriage, says that the decision to keep him in the fold “helps us see that maybe we are so different that we’ve come to the end of the road together.”