There is a key line in the ruling issues today, re-frocking Frank Schaefer.
The penalty the Trial Court imposed on Rev. Schaefer is unlawful for the additional and independent reason that revoking his credentials cannot be squared with the well-established principle that our clergy can only be punished for what they have been convicted of doing in the past, not for what they may or may not do in the future.
The entirety of the case rests on the penalty Schaefer initially received:
Suspend Rev. Frank Schaefer from all ministerial duties effective immediately for
30 days. If there are any violations of the Discipline during the 30 days, his credentials will be surrendered to the annual conference.
During these 30 days, Rev. Schaefer must take the opportunity to discern his
newly discovered calling for the LGBT community. If at the end of the 30 days Rev. Schaefer has determined he cannot uphold the Discipline in its entirely, he must surrender his credentials.
The District Superintendent of record shall monitor the progress. Rev. Frank Schaefer will provide a written report to and interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry within 30 days regarding his call and his willingness to uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety.
The initial penalty involved something out of the bounds of the Book of Discipline, and included something only used in Minority Report, the ability to tell the future. The committee referred to ¶2711.3:
3. Penalties—If the Trial Results in Conviction. Further testimony may be heard and arguments by counsel presented regarding what the penalty should be. The trial court shall determine the penalty, which shall require a vote of at least seven members. The trial court shall have the power to remove the respondent from professing membership, terminate the conference membership and/or revoke the credentials of ordination or consecration of the respondent, suspend the respondent from the exercise of the functions of office, or to fix a lesser penalty. The penalty fixed by the trial court shall take effect immediately unless otherwise indicated by the trial court.
Basically it’s like this, had the initial court simply defrocked Schaefer, they would have been in better legal standing. After all, they would have then fulfilled the tightly construed penalties prescribed in the Book of Discipline. But, in giving the 30 day penalty and then defrocking because of a possible future violation, they themselves violated the Book of Discipline.
The key word there is “or.” You can either fix the lesser penalty (the 30 days suspension) or you can de-frock. You can’t do both. Further, you cannot charge a penalty before a crime is committed.
In a private conversation I have permission to make public, Kevin Carnahan suggested that to have had this de-frocking case stick, you would need to change the discipline to make “a stated disposition to violate the Discipline” a chargeable offense to make this carry legal weight. I don’t think anyone wants to see that happen.
While people are already crying “Let’s leave,” essentially, the de-frocking side has won. You can de-frock ministers for performing gay marriages, if you only de-frock them when they are found guilty. Further, the Book of Discipline has been upheld and justice carried.