- by Reconciling Ministries Network -
In a statement released yesterday responding to a petition from her clergy, Bishop Peggy Johnson of Eastern Pennsylvania named specific laws of The United Methodist Church as “discriminatory.”
Several statements in our Book of Discipline are discriminatory (forbidding ordination of homosexual persons, forbidding the performing of same-gender marriages, and considering the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching). There appear to be contradictions between the many affirming statements (mentioned earlier) and these statements. This has led to confusion by many from outside of the church wondering how we can talk out of two sides of our mouth. (Read the full statement here.)
Rev. Frank Schaefer, who is under the supervision of Bishop Johnson, faces the Board of Ordained Ministry on Thursday, December 19 who will decide the fate of his future as a clergyperson in The UMC. Schaefer was found guilty last month for officiating the wedding of his gay son, an action that is against UMC law. Schaefer was adamant in a statement to the press on Monday that he would refuse to denounce his actions, and he would not voluntarily surrender his credentials.
If the Board chooses to defrock Schaefer, they will do so with the knowledge that Schaefer’s only crime was being disobedient to a rule that their own bishop has now called “discriminatory.”
By not obeying the Discipline’s discriminatory rule, Schaefer was obeying theDiscipline’s call to inclusiveness:
Inclusiveness means openness, acceptance, and support that enables all persons to participate in the life of the Church, the community, and the world; therefore, inclusiveness denies every semblance of discrimination. Book of Discipline, ¶ 140
By not obeying the Discipline’s discriminatory rule, Schaefer was practicing Biblical Obedience and obeying Jesus’s call to love one another and followed Paul, Philip, and the example of other apostles who broke church law and practices to offer the ministry of Christ to all—even to gentiles, eunuchs, and others against whom the early church discriminated.
Other parts of Bishop Johnson’s statement were more problematic:
Bishop Johnson asks us to “acknowledge that there is pain and hurt on both sides of this house.” When bishops and leaders of the church say this, it equates the oppression of LGBTQ people with the “pain” felt by those who feel hurt because they are being asked to give up privilege and heterosexist policies. LGBTQ people are committing suicide, being bullied at church and in schools, and excommunicated from their families and churches. These “pains” are not equivalent. Continuing to equate such pains perpetuates institutional oppression by seeking to minimize the culpability of the Church and its leaders in their role as perpetrators of physical, emotional, and spiritual violence against LGBTQ persons.
Bishop Johnson insinuates that groups like RMN want more clergy to be put on trial because of the publicity. It is not RMN’s desire to see more trials. We encourage our clergy and network to be in ministry with all people and to continue celebrating ceremonies of Christian marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Trials are a result of a broken system. The UMC would rather criminalize ministry than celebrate the love, commitment, and fidelity of queer couples. RMN is not fueling stories in the media. Rather, the blatant discrimination of the church against LGBTQ persons and their families is driving the media’s attention.
Claiming that RMN wants more trials is similar to claiming Civil Rights Era activists in the South wanted more victims of Jim Crow laws. The Civil Rights activists pointed to malignant discrimination that was happening. However, it was the violent actions of those in power that drove the press coverage. Those pictures and stories of people of color being arrested at lunch counters, attacked by police dogs, and sprayed down with hoses began a shift in the American conscience. The media want to tell the story of Rev. Frank Schaefer and the many others because The United Methodist Church has decided to enforce discriminatory laws that do harm to people in our churches.
We thank Bishop Johnson for her courage to speak her heart. United Methodists deserve leadership from their bishops that is an honest reflection of how God has shaped their belief and faith. We believe Peggy Johnson first responded to her call to the ministry because she believes in the Gospel, not because she desires to preserve the status quo. We hope she has more to say about the Gospel. We are eager to listen.
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