SPRING CITY, Pa. (AP) — A United Methodist minister convicted of breaking church law by officiating at the same-sex wedding of his son said Tuesday he is unrepentant, declaring he has been called by God to be an advocate for the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people.
The Rev. Frank Schaefer, testifying at the penalty phase of his church trial in southeastern Pennsylvania, also refused to promise he wouldn't perform another same-sex union — putting himself in jeopardy of losing his minister's credentials.
A day after convicting him, the 13-member jury of fellow Methodist clergy got the case late Tuesday afternoon and began deliberating Schaefer's punishment, following a church trial that has renewed debate over the denomination's policies on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
Rather than beg for mercy Tuesday, the pastor upped the stakes.
The church "needs to stop judging people based on their sexual orientation," he said. "We have to stop the hate speech. We have to stop treating them as second-class Christians."
A church prosecutor asked jurors to defrock the defiant pastor, saying ordained clergy can't be permitted to break church law with impunity.
The Rev. Christopher Fisher said in his closing argument that Schaefer refuses to live by his vows and should be kicked out of ministry.
"We should let him go and wish him well," Fisher said.
Schaefer donned a rainbow-colored stole on the witness stand and told jurors it symbolized his commitment to the cause.
"I will never be silent again," he said, as some of his supporters wept in the gallery. "This is what I have to do."
His counsel, the Rev. Robert Coombe, asked for lenience.
He told jurors they could help "shape the church we are becoming" and urged them to reject a punishment that is "punitive, retributive or harsh."
"The whole world is watching," Coombe said in his closing argument.
Jurors have options short of revoking Schaefer's credentials. They could also issue a reprimand or suspend Schaefer for violating a church law that forbids pastors from marrying same-sex partners.
The nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination accepts gay and lesbian members, but it rejects the practice of homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian teaching."
Earlier Tuesday, Fisher called former members of Schaefer's church who said his conduct split the congregation, and experts who said the punishment should serve as a deterrent to other clergy.
Christina Watson said her family left Schaefer's church because they no longer wanted to be "subjected to the preaching and teaching" of Schaefer.
"To me, it wasn't a good Christian example for ministers to say it's OK to break the rules of your church," she testified.
The Rev. Paul Stallworth, who leads a United Methodist task force on sexuality and abortion, testified that church law requires jurors to "openly rebuke" Schaefer so that fellow clergy will think twice before breaking it.
Schaefer had previously testified that he performed his son's 2007 wedding in Massachusetts out of love, not a desire to flout church teaching on homosexuality.
But Tuesday's testimony made clear he has had a change of heart.
"I have to minister to those who hurt and that's what I'm doing," said Schaefer.
Fisher invited Schaefer to "repent of your actions" and pledge never again to perform a homosexual union.
"I cannot," Schaefer replied.
Jon Boger, who filed the initial complaint against Schaefer, was outraged by the pastor's recalcitrance. The career Naval officer grew up in Zion United Methodist Church of Iona, the church that Schaefer has led for 11 years.
"Frank Schaefer sat here and openly rebuked the United Methodist Church, its policies, standards and doctrines," Boger told the jury. "He should no longer be in service as a minister of the United Methodist Church, not at Iona, not anywhere else."
Schaefer's son, Tim Schaefer, told jurors he knew he was putting his father in a difficult position by asking him to officiate his wedding. But he concluded he would hurt his father's feelings if he didn't ask.
Schaefer said he hoped his father's trial would start a larger conversation in the denomination.