Same-sex marriage and the Methodist pastor who defied his denomination by performing a wedding ceremony for his gay son are at the heart of a documentary to be screened Sunday at the Campus Theatre, 413 Market St.

“An Act of Love” tells the story of the Rev. Frank Schaefer, a former pastor in Lebanon, defrocked by the United Methodist Church in December 2013 at the culmination of a church trial.

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The case garnered worldwide attention. The church restored him as a pastor on appeal. Schaefer now serves in California.

Showtime is 1:30 p.m. Admission is free.

A panel discussion will follow featuring the Rev. Robert Coombe, who represented Schaefer at the church trial, and the Rev. Gere Reist, secretary of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference.

The General Conference is held every four years to set the direction for the denomination. The next conference will be in May and will feature a debate about how the church could incorporate the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Since 1972, the church’s book of law holds that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and forbids same-sex unions and gay clergy, according to the UMC website.

“I think we’ve fallen behind society,” said the Rev. Mark Reisinger, pastor of Beaver Memorial United Methodist Church, Lewisburg.

Beaver Memorial is a reconciling congregation, the only one in northeastern and central Pennsylvania. It accepts the LGBT community; however, Reisinger can’t officiate same-sex weddings. He hopes that will soon change.

“We believe they’re created in the image of God like everyone else and that affords them the same rights in society as it should in the church,” Reisinger said.

Coombe was pastor of Yardley UMC in Bucks County at the time of Schaefer’s trial. Some in the congregation didn’t support gay marriage or his defense of Schaefer, but he said the majority “overwhelmingly” supported both issues.

“I just saw in Frank an incredible transformation of himself. To move from where he was at the beginning to really affirming a role as an advocate for ministering to the LGBT community — he took that risk with great integrity,” Coombe said.

Coombe advocates that the General Conference revises the UMC Book of Discipline to be inclusive of LGBT people.

“For me, the sin isn’t the sexual orientation. The sin is the prejudice against people for living out who God made them to be,” Coombe said by telephone this week.

Now pastor of Germantown’s First UMC, he helms a church that saw a former pastor, Irene “Beth” Stroud, defrocked in 2005 after coming out as a lesbian. She was never restored as a pastor.

The Rev. John Colatch, an ordained Methodist pastor, is chaplain of Bucknell University. The Office of Chaplains & Religious Life is co-sponsoring the film’s showing with Beaver Memorial. Schaefer was a guest speaker at Bucknell two years ago.

Like Reisinger and Coombe, Colatch believes the denomination should accept LGBT people into the church. He called it an issue of social justice, one many denominations are struggling with.

“It goes beyond Methodist doctrinal guidelines,” Colatch said, adding that he wrote a doctoral dissertation on the issue in 2003.

Asked if he thinks the Book of Discipline will be revised to accept homosexuality and permit gay weddings and gay clergy, Colatch said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach.

“My fear is we’re going to lose some people one way or another,” Colatch said. “Look at our country politically,” he added. “The church certainly reflects that.”


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