Friday, April 28, 2006

Judicial Council Meeting in KC

The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church has been meeting for the past few days here in Kansas City. (Well, Overland Park, Kansas, to be precise!) I have been there all three days, for an hour or more each day, to be in prayer for the members of the Council and to witness to my belief in the profound inclusivity of God’s grace as is manifest in the church of Jesus Christ. The Council's sessions were closed, so we gathered in the lobby of the hotel, just outside the door of the room in which the meetings were happening.

At the meeting, I joined members of the Reconciling Ministries Network, including staffers Troy Plummer and Sue Laurie. Students and faculty from Saint Paul School of Theology, and several local pastors and church folks were there, also. The main reason for the witnessing presence there was the possibility that the Council may decide to reconsider their decisions 1031 and 1032.

The case goes like this, in a nutshell: A pastor in Virginia named Ed Johnson refused to give church membership to a man on the basis of the man’s sexual orientation. As a result, in June Rev. Johnson was placed on involuntary leave by his conference. In October, the Judicial Council reinstated Johnson, and his bishop, Charlene Kammerer reappointed him to the same congregation. Then Bishop Kammerer and the Virginia Board of Ordained Ministry filed separate motions asking the Judicial Council to reconsider. These motions came before the Council this week.

The most remarkable thing about this week happened this morning, when the Judicial Council invited the members of RMN and the other witnesses to celebrate communion together. The service was led by Bishop Fritz Mutti, retired from Kansas, and Dr. Myron McCoy, president of Saint Paul School of Theology. I was not present, but when I arrived later in the morning, those who had been present described it as a wonderful, holy moment. The power of the common loaf and cup was manifest in the ritual, as people who find themselves quite firmly on opposite sides of the spectrum regarding the issue at hand shared together in the sacramental grace of Christ.

All in all, the week was a profound experience for me. I have done protests, vigils, and marches for various things before, but I was particularly struck this time by the gentle relentlessness by which the witnesses carried themselves. There was a calm assurance in the faces of the people there, a strong hopefulness that was inviting and inspiring. We were encouraged all week long to form relationships, both with one another and with members of the Judicial Council, because sexual orientation is not an “issue” to be resolved by a judicial decision or a legislative decree. “Issues” always have faces attached to them, and when the faces become people, and the people become friends, it is far more difficult to simply write someone off as an unrepentant sinner and deny them membership into your church.

One of the neatest elements of our witness was a half dozen doors sent by as many United Methodist congregations in the San Francisco area. These congregations had literally removed a door in their church buildings and painted messages of support and encouragement on them, urging the Council to reconsider the decisions. The doors were painted with bright colors, and filled with the signatures of the congregants. Throughout the week, witnesses in Kansas City held up these doors on behalf of our brothers and sisters in California. (My friend Mandy is going to email me some pictures so that I can post them here.)

The Judicial Council may decide not to reconsider the decisions at all, or to reconsider them at their fall meeting, or they may have gone ahead and reconsidered them this week. Their decisions will be posted on the United Methodist Website, probably early next week.


adam mustoe said...


It's pretty inspiring to see you live out your faith through attending things like these, and keeping people like me informed who may talk the talk, but not walk it like you. Nice work.


John said...

The case goes like this, in a nutshell: A pastor in Virginia named Ed Johnson refused to give church membership to a man on the basis of the man’s sexual orientation.

That is incorrect. Johnson refused him membership because the man refused to cease practicing homosexual conduct, which the UMC regards as sinful.

Anonymous said...

“Issues” always have faces attached to them

Would love to hear your perspective on how to sort through those "issues". Its apparent that there are persons, perhaps yourself, and the people from RMN who were witnessing at the meeting that consider their position to be the only right position and the others position to be wrong. And because of that they felt justified in mistreating Pastor Johnson as affirmed by the Judicial Council's previous decision. He's an issue too, does his "face" count too?

If the decision is reversed and he is fired, what justice is that for someone who serves his God the same as someone who might disagrees with him on an earth bound issue? Whether holding fast to homosexuality as being a sin is really a sin in Jesus's eyes, according to your own perspective - doesn't matter because Jesus loves all. If we are to love all then we have to love all, the Beth Strouds and the Ed Johnsons. Everything else falls short.

Because I agree more with Ed Johnson than the Beth Strouds, I am becoming reviled among my own Methodist Christian peers. As though my sin of exclusion, if it is a sin, is the ultimate unforgivable. Yet my Christian peers preach that there is no unforgivable? Which is it? Forgive me if this sounds caustic, it's not meant to be. Just struggling with what it all means.

Anonymous said...

To John... As a pastor, I don't believe it as the "job" of very human (and sometimes sinful) pastors to judge one's so-called "sin" (Matthew 7:1-5) precisely because we are ALL sinners (Romans 3:23) last I checked. Wouldn't your logic dictate that no one (including you and me regardless of sexual orientation) could become a member of Rev. Johnson's church if “un-ceased” sin is the determining factor for membership? Thanks for thinking about this we me! Peace… A:)

Larry said...

Wow Andy,

I've seen other posts where you disdain "legalistic" arguments, but here you answer Johns post that way.

Be serious; Pastor Johnson has a discipline that states that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian Teaching. The person in question openly stated that he would choose to continue openly gay relations, which meant he would intentionally sin in that context. When I joined the church I never said I wouldn't sin, but I fully understand that I can not intentionally continue in a sin after it has been revealed to me.
That would be ceaseless sin and is an outright rejection of the saving grace of Jesus.

Can you really say that with any sense of reason that Pastor Johnsons actions imply that “un-ceased” sin is the determining factor for membership?

John said...

As a pastor, I don't believe it as the "job" of very human (and sometimes sinful) pastors to judge one's so-called "sin" (Matthew 7:1-5) precisely because we are ALL sinners (Romans 3:23) last I checked.

So church leaders should not hold members accountable for their behavior? Did the apostles Paul and John write letters to their congregations, demanding holiness and even separation from the unholy? Did not all of the epistolary writers "judge" bad behavior?

Wouldn't your logic dictate that no one (including you and me regardless of sexual orientation) could become a member of Rev. Johnson's church if “un-ceased” sin is the determining factor for membership?

Yes. And I have no problems with that.

Andy B. said...

Dear Larry,
The comment from "A:)" is not from me. But A:) does raise some interesting questions for pastors. I do think it is a pastoral responsibility to help parishioners turn from sin and toward God. But membership in the church is a different topic.

Dear A - In your opinion, what is the relationship between repentance and church membership?

Submitted by - Andy B.

Larry said...

Andy B - Sorry I mistook the A: for you. It seemed a tad out of character for your usual posts. I should have looked closer at the signature. lol :)

To A: as some of my comments were directed at the "out of character" post from what I thought was Andy, please excuse the majority of the post.

But, I think the idea of un-ceased sin in the context of someone continuing a known sin would be reasonable grounds to exclude someone from membership. If a married adulterer asked to be a member of the congregation and the Pastor asked him if he would continue having affairs given the knowledge that this is a sin, and the person said I don't care, I'll keep having those affairs anyway, it's reasonable to say that person doesn't need to be made a member. As for his eternal destiny that's between him and Jesus. Membership in a church doesn't determine that.

From what I know of Pastor Johnson's case, is that the same question was posed in light of the homosexual act, which is currently stated to be a sin (or at least "incompatible") according to the Methodist Discipline. Not many people would object to keeping the adulterer out of membership, but because homosexuality is becoming more acceptable and there is a tremendous amount of activism inside and outside the church who's stated goal is to normalize the behavior, it is understandable that some people in the church might take the view that homosexual activity isn't a sin.

But in my opinion attacking and lobbying the Judicial Council whose charge it is to uphold discipline undermines any sense of direction the congregation can have. If they cannot hold up current Discipline in light of criticism from minority groups now, who's to stop any other minority from changing things in the future?

The best way out of this morass for the church is to get the General Conference to change the Discipline to state that either homosexual behavior is or is not a sin, so people who come to the church won't be confused anymore.

John said...

Larry, the Discipline is very clear on the subject. There is no confusion among people seeking membership except that which is spread by pastors who think that homosexual conduct is not a sin, and say so, contrary to their vows of ordination.

Larry said...


I would say that you and I agree that the Discipline is clear.

However, my Bishop (Bishop Minerva Carcano) does not agree with that statement and she's in a position to have influence over a lot of people who don't take the time to think through the issues. She even used her time in the pulpit when she last visted our church to give a very one sided account of decision 1031 and 1032 and made reference to her position on homosexuality saying she disagreed with some of her fellow Bishops and Pastors on their position regarding homosexuality.

It was quite upsetting for me that a Bishop would use worship time that way and that she chose to present only a biased single sided account of the story. Its pure and simple activism from the pulpit.

So while you and I may think it is clear, it's not clear to church leadership. So until the General Conference can make clear statements through the votes of delegates, there will be no end to this controversy. And as it stands now, I don't see a clear resolution from a General Conference because we have people such as Soulforce walking through the conference proceedings touting their views with undue influence afforded to them by those running the conference and Bishops pushing their activist views from the pulpit.

I wish you well on your quest to become a pastor.

Andy - Sorry if this strays OT a bit. But hopefully you can get a sense for how some of us on the "other side" are feeling right now too.

Anonymous said...

Lots of comments seem to revolve around not judging Homosexual people becuase we are all sinners. While I agree that we all have sinned, I do not accept that homosexuality itself is sinful. I believe these persons are created that way and have no choice. We all of course choose what to do with our sexuality but I did not choose heterosexuality and I cannot accept that a person would choose homosexuality with all the judgement and difficulty it entails. Our church (the local congregation I serve) gladly accepts gay people and we celebrate our life in Christ together and are united in continuing to live lives of grace and joy and humility. I am constantly amazed at the continuation of the Biblical argument against gays and lebians persons since there are literally hundreds of Biblical tenents we no longer observe in our world. The Discipline needs to be changed and I will continue to work to that end. Grace and peace to all of you, gay or straight, male or female, black or white - all of you. JB

Anonymous said...

Wow! Seems like I may have caused a little comment-board stir… My first comment was very quick, so to follow up…

First, to Andy… I fully believe in the power of “repentance from sin” to transform our lives away from estrangement and alienation toward life-giving, reconciled relationships with God, creation, others, and self. In fact, my life is a living testament to the power of this transformation! With that said, I do not believe that homosexuality is a sin (thus the “so-called” in my previous comment), therefore I do not believe that one must repent of it…

Second, sorry if my first comment came off “legalistic.” I really do appreciate that feedback! My first comment, which was very quick, attempted to address this important “issue” (with beloved names and faces across the entire spectrum) from the perspective of, “if it is a sin,” thus the “judge not” and the “all have sinned” references, etc… Again, thanks for the feedback.

Third, to stir the conversation once more... Several years ago, I read an interesting argument (from a guy named R. Scroggs I think) asserting that the Hebrew and NT scriptures addressing homosexuality were very likely condemning pedophilic homosexual acts (older males utilizing young boys for sexual gratification) instead of covenanted relationships between two consenting adults of the same gender. Further, he asserts that covenanted relationships between two consenting adults of the same gender did not exist in the same way they do today. If it is at all possible that the HB and NT scriptures were primarily addressing pedophilia instead of covenanted relationships in their historical context and not ours, how could and should the contemporary UM church (the general conference and judicial council in particular) respond?

And fourth, to stir a little more… From the Book of Discipline: "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider[s] this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian community. 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” (161G). Several of you pointed to the first sentence of this super-important UM social principle to justify Rev. Johnson’s decision in this case, but you didn’t address the second and third sentences in your comments… Any thoughts on this?

Thanks for thinking about this with me! A:) (Ashley for short)

Tim Sisk said...

Andy B. What is the rationale for having 1031 reconsidered? Isn't it about Ed Johnson receiving due process? Do you believe he wasn't given due process?

Tim Sisk said...

Andy: What is the rationale behind asking 1031 to be reconsidered? Isn't it a decision that Ed Johnson didn't receive due process? Doesn't he (and all elders) deserve due process?

Tim Sisk said...

Doh! Strike the second comment of mine. I didn't think the first appeared!