PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Methodist church's highest court will decide later this month whether a minister who officiated his gay son's wedding can keep his pastoral credentials.
The Rev. Frank Schaefer was defrocked following a church trial in southeastern Pennsylvania last year, then re-instated by an appeals panel in June. That decision was appealed to the Judicial Council, the church's highest court.
The nine-member panel said on the Methodist Church's website that it will hear oral arguments in the case Oct. 22 in Memphis, Tennessee.
The issue of gay marriage has long roiled the United Methodist Church, the nation's second-largest Protestant denomination. Hundreds of Methodist ministers have publicly rejected church policies that allow gay members but ban "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from becoming clergy and forbid ministers from performing same-sex marriages.
Traditionalists say clergy have no right to break church law just because they disagree with it. Some conservative pastors are calling for a breakup of the denomination, which has 12 million members worldwide, saying the split over gay marriage is irreconcilable.
The church suspended Schaefer, former pastor of a church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, for officiating his son's 2007 wedding, then defrocked him when he refused to promise to uphold the Methodist law book "in its entirety." Schaefer successfully appealed, arguing the decision was wrong because it was based on an assumption he would break church law in the future.
The Rev. Christopher Fisher, who served as the church's prosecutor at Schaefer's trial, then appealed to the high court.
The Judicial Council has the final word on the matter. No decision is expected until several days after the council adjourns on Oct. 25.
Schaefer has since launched a student ministry in Isla Vista, California.