AFTER TWO ROUNDS of national media attention - once in December when he was defrocked by the United Methodist Church for officiating at his gay son's 2007 wedding, then again last month when he was officially refrocked - the Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, Pa., is embarking this week on a new job in California.
He's set to give his first sermon Sunday at Isla Vista Student Ministry, a United Methodist church in the Santa Barbara area. On July 30, he will release his first book, "Defrocked."
Schaefer spoke to reporter Stephanie Farr last week as he and his wife, Brigitte, packed up to head across the country.
Q Were you born and raised in Lebanon?
I was born and raised in Germany. I came to the states when I was 27 years old. Originally, it was to be immersed in the language because I was studying to be an interpreter. It was during that time in the United States that I received my calling to be in the ministry.
Q How did you receive your calling?
I became a part of a church here. One day the pastor wanted to see me in his office. He said, "I feel that God has placed a calling on your life to be a minister." I talked it over with people. I prayed over it.
It was really something I had wanted to do, but I always thought I needed to hear this booming voice from heaven. That was my idea of a calling. I never thought it could come from another person.
Q How did your son, Tim, come out to you?
The way it happened is I received an anonymous phone call from a lady in the community. She said, "Your son is struggling with his sexual orientation and he is considering suicide." We were somewhat in disbelief, we never saw it coming. We asked him and he said, "Yes, it's true."
Faith was always important to him. One year I took him to a conference, he was 13 at the time, and there was a debate on the floor about homosexuality and it was a brutal discussion and some horrible things were said. He was devastated. He took this to mean he could not be homosexual and go to heaven. He cried himself to sleep at night and prayed for God to make him normal.
When he shared that with us, we were just so sad and just shocked. We just hugged him and said, "You are our son. We love you no matter what."
Q Given the repercussions, was officiating his marriage to another man a difficult decision for you?
I really didn't have a choice but to say yes. I felt honored, but this was a moment where I needed to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, even though I could get in trouble with the church.
I decided to let my superiors know. I put it in writing, sent it to my superior bishop. I also wrote that, "By the way, I have three gay children. I affirm gay rights in my theology and believe this is a social justice issue." I expected to receive a phone call and be fired. That call never came.
Q Have you ever wondered why three of your four children are gay?
People ask me, "What's up with that?" I say I really think God wanted me to get the message.
It's interesting, our first three children are gay. We never knew about Pascal (his youngest son) so we always wondered: Is he gay or straight? Well, he probably became the first person in the history of human kind who had to come out as straight.
Q Why do you want to be a part of a church whose doctrines you didn't agree with?
It's different than from a secular job. This is not only my employment, this is my family's faith tradition - to us, it's not just a profession, it's a way of life.
So we decided we will fight this from inside of the church because if all the progressive people leave, then change will never come.
Q What do you hope to see while driving across the country?
Well, we're debating. We're also pulling a car, so I don't think we're going to be too adventurous, but we're thinking the Grand Canyon, which is sort of on the way.
Q What's your favorite book not directly having to do with religion?
"Call of the Wild." That's the kind of movie I like to watch too. My all-time favorite movie along those same lines (He yells to his wife: Hey honey, what's the name of my favorite movie, the one with Alec Baldwin?). It's "The Edge."
My favorite line of the movie is "What one man can do, another can do." It's sort of become a motto in my life. When I face difficulties, I remember that others have come before me.
Q Favorite bit of scripture?
That's a difficult question to ask a preacher. It would probably be the love chapter out of First Corinthians 13, one through 8, especially "Love is kind."
And it's not just because I get to read it at most weddings. It's just so poetic and so true.