Bishop Warns Against Further Disobedience

Bishop Johnson

Bishop Johnson

By Walter Fenton

Bishop Peggy Johnson announced last week that the complaint against the 36 clergy members who presided at a same sex wedding service at Philadelphia’s historic Arch Street United Methodist Church has been resolved. The 36 clergy members joined together on November 9, 2013, to preside at the service as an act of protest against the church’s policy on same sex services. They were also intending to show support for the Rev. Frank Schaefer who was facing an impending church trial for officiating at his son’s same sex service.

“Like everyone else, we too want to avoid church trials,” said Rev. Tom Lambrecht, vice-president for Good News. “We are grateful for the complainants in this process. They were willing to support the teachings of our Book of Discipline, to call for accountability, and to work for a just resolution. We stand by their decision to affirm the resolution of this case.”

While the 36 clergy members “recognized that [they] … violated certain rules of our Discipline, which are binding on all United Methodist clergy,” they did not offer an apology for breaking covenant with others or for the disruption they created for the local churches in the area. At the time, reports of their action were covered widely in the Philadelphia media. Pastors in the Eastern Pennsylvania, Greater New Jersey, and Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conferences were forced to field questions and comments from congregants regarding the actions of their colleagues. Not surprisingly, many UM pastors and members were disappointed and dismayed that the 36 UM clergy would so blatantly disrespect the church’s teachings.

In a concurrent statement Bishop Johnson welcomed the just resolution. “I am pleased” she wrote, “that the complainants and respondents have come together in a way which is respectful, and supportive of our covenantal obligations under the Discipline.” While acknowledging she was sympathetic to the pastoral concerns of the 36 clergy members, she said, “It is unacceptable to disregard and disobey the Book of Discipline; change must be sought through our established means of Holy Conferencing.”

In strongly worded language, Johnson went on to warn clergy members against violating church teachings in the future. “I pledge that, in future cases where clergy within my jurisdiction officiate or host a same-gender ceremony, any complaints that I receive will be handled swiftly and with significant and appropriate consequences, which may include a trial, involuntary leave of absence without pay, or other significant consequences, in accordance with theDiscipline and in consultation with the Board of Ordained ministry and the clergy session of the annual conference.”

“We welcome Bishop Johnson’s strong statement,” said Lambrecht, “and we hope other bishops will follow suit. We need our bishops to restore order, and promote our church’s gracious and biblically grounded teachings on marriage and human sexuality.”

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and an analyst for Good News.


  1. Kell Brigan says

    So, what exactly happened? The 36 clergy admitted they were in violation, but didn’t apologize. Were they suspended? Did they suffer any negative consequences (other than sullying their own reputations)? It sounds like nothing whatsoever happened. So, what’s to discourage them, or someone else, from pulling this protest stunt again?

  2. Why is it the Methodists have to change? Why don’t those who disagree with the Book of Discipline become Presbyterians, I hear they allow you to believe whatever you please?

  3. al milligan says

    Rev. Larry Sonner has chosen to publicly challenge the UMC’s Discipline by officiating at a Lesbian marriage ceremony in Iowa. The Des Moines Register gave this a front page coverage lauding Sonner and disparaging anyone who might think otherwise. It really does seem that the Discipline is of no consequence to our lives as United Methodists, that one person can claim to be a law unto themselves, break the covenant and be congratulated as a hero for doing so. Thus does the Register now make our policy for us?
    One thing that I really object to, however, is that regardless of the United Methodist stand on so-called gay marriage is that those who advocate this nonsense use the Communion Table of the UMC to argue their case. They tell us that as long as we object to gay marriage we hold the communion table closed to gays. I object. The communion table is open to all people regardless of race, gender, sexual-orientation or whatever other human designation. The offer is to come take and eat whoever you are. Those who use this argument hit at the foundation of our Faith. They use the Faith for their own social agendas.
    (As an aside, the openness of the Communion table is a good reason to, as Wesley advocated, to have communion as often as we can. We effectively close the Communion table to those present or who may be visiting when we do not offer it.)

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.