By Bianca Phillips
MEMPHIS Tenn. (Reuters) - A U.S. pastor who was defrocked after officiating at his son's same-sex wedding ceremony, and later reinstated, made an appeal to hang onto his ordination before a Methodist judicial council on Wednesday.
The church punished Reverend Frank Schaefer, who has three gay children, last December by defrocking him when he refused to say he would never perform another gay ceremony. But an appeals panel reversed the decision last June.
Wednesday's hearing in Memphis, attended by dozens of Schaefer supporters wearing rainbow scarves, was before the nine-member Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church, the church's highest judicial body.
Schaefer, former pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, was charged under United Methodist Church law for having officiated at the same sex-marriage ceremony of his son in 2007.
The appeals decision overturning Schaefer's removal from ministry "sends a message to the church that it's OK to ignore and violate the discipline," said the Rev. Christopher Fisher, counsel for the church's Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, who argued against Schaefer's reinstatement at Wednesday's hearing.
Schaefer's counsel, Scott Campbell, called the appeals decision, "wise, faithful, and just."
"Schaefer began to see all the ways our church has done harm to our LGBT brothers and sisters and realized he could no longer remain silent," Campbell told the council.
Schaefer said after the hearing that he felt "cautiously optimistic," and that he has no regrets.
"I did what I did based on my heart and my conscience," Schaefer said, adding that he thought the church's stand against gay marriage thrust his son into depression.
The judicial council's decision is not expected to be announced until "several days" after its meeting concludes on Saturday, the church said.
(Reporting by Bianca Phillips; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Gunna Dickson)