Bishop Johnson’s blog post

December 17, 2013

Peggy Johnson, bishop of the Eastern Pennsylvania conference of the United Methodist Church, posted the following text on her blog Monday evening.

Johnson wrote the post in response to a letter from 44 members of the clergy from her region who support the Rev. Frank Schaefer, a pastor in Lebanon, Pa., who was suspended for officiating at the marriage of his son to another man. The clergy group asked Johnson to “take a stand” for gay equality and to “acknowledge that some statements in the Book of Discipline are discriminatory and that we need to engage in a process of discernment, prayer and change.”

The blog entry followed an initial statement Johnson released earlier Monday, using slightly different language about the Book of Discipline.

Tuesday afternoon Johnson, whose region includes some 900 churches, issued a statement saying she wished to stick with the wording in the initial statement. She then edited the blog so it matched her initial statement.

I bid you grace and peace from our Lord, Jesus Christ. I appreciate your passion for social justice for all people and your letter of concern specifically on behalf of all LGBT members in the church. I agree that we are in a time of turmoil over differences in opinion and theology with regard to human sexuality.

I ask you to:

●Intentionally work to build relationships with those, who are Christians like yourself, who believe differently than you do theologically.

●Acknowledge that there is pain and hurt on both sides of this house.

●Pray for God’s grace that we might build bridges of communication and unity through the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

●Acknowledge that many statements in our Book of Discipline are positive and nondiscriminatory: Paragraph 162J – “Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.” Paragraph 162-III – “We support the basic rights of all people to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection. We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, status, economic condition, sexual orientation, gender identity or religious affiliation.” Paragraph 161 F – “All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence.” Paragraph 161 F further states “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth created in the image of God. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving and loving one another, as Christ as loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”

●Acknowledge that the church trial created a great deal of public outcry against the UM position around this social issue. Thus, much positive attention has been given to your progressive position as a result, and some would like to continue to see more trials for that reason.

●Acknowledge that I am bishop to all and am called to extend unconditional love and regard to the full spectrum of theological perspectives in our church that are based on Scripture, reason, tradition and experience.

Per your request I acknowledge that:

●Our LGBT sisters and brothers are of sacred worth regardless of their sexual orientation (Paragraph 161F) or gender identity.

●Several statements in our Book of Discipline may seem discriminatory if construed as prohibitions against persons rather than practices that the church has found objectionable. Some may see these prohibitions as contradictory to the many affirming statements about the rights and sanctity of all people. The Discipline is intended to be clear and fair, although admittedly, it is not a perfect document.

●Church trials around the chargeable offenses that relate to the LGBT community are not helpful. They use time, resources, and energy that could be better used for the ministry of the church. I will continue to try in every way to avoid having church trials, as far as it depends on me; but as a bishop of the church, I must uphold my vow to follow the due process mandated by our Book of Discipline.

●I will commit to continuing to call the church to its main mission: preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, making disciples and transforming the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.

— Peggy A. Johnson, Bishop

Michelle Boorstein is the Post’s religion reporter, where she reports on the busy marketplace of American religion.
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