A formal complaint has now been filed in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church against the “Philadelphia 36,” United Methodist clergy who jointly presided over a publicity-stunt same-sex union ceremony at Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia last November, in open defiance of the church policies these clergy promised God and His church they would follow.
The complaints were initially filed by a racially diverse group of about 50 Eastern Pennsylvania United Methodist women and men – largely clergy, including the pastors of some of the conference’s largest congregations.
The widely reported case of Frank Schaefer, in that same conference, has already established defrocking as a good, very recent precedent for the just consequences for such ministerial unfaithfulness, both to punish the wrongdoing and to protect the conference in the future.
We have earlier reported on how the Philadelphia 36 had made clear that their publicity stunt was intended to both express solidarity with Mr. Schaefer and to basically challenge church officials to a sort of childish game of “chicken,” and on how these covenant breakers declined an invitation from Eastern Pennsylvania Bishop Peggy Johnson to pray with her and evangelical leaders in the conference.
A knowledgeable source, who asked not to be named, stressed that this filing of formal complaints was pursued only as a last resort after months of inaction by Bishop Johnson, who did not issue any clear public statement repudiating the covenant-breaking actions of the Philadelphia 36 as entirely inappropriate, did not take initiative in having complaints filed, and did not suspend or otherwise punish any of the offenders. The source further reported frustration among orthodox United Methodists in Eastern Pennsylvania over how at the recently concluded 2014 annual conference session, Bishop Johnson used her position to prevent delegates from even considering some resolutions that would have mandated some accountability steps to be taken by the conference, while scheduling other resolutions, that would have put the conference on record as supporting biblical, United Methodist standards for sexual self-control, so late on the schedule as to virtually ensure that there was no time for the conference to address them.
(I invited Bishop Johnson to offer any comments on this for the article, but did not hear back by press time.)
The denominational accountability process will be slow. But at least it is now moving along, as faithful United Methodists in Eastern Pennsylvania are standing together to defend biblical faithfulness and compassionate Christian ministry for ALL people. They will not be intimidated by or roll over for the destructive, covenant-breaking, any-means-necessary tactics of the Philadelphia 36. And neither will we.