March 23, 2015

Virginia “Just Resolutions” Show Liberal Methodist Zeal of “Punishment for Thee but not for Me”

As reported earlier, two recent “just resolutions” resulted in two very mild punishments of short suspensions for Dr. John Copenhaver and Amanda Garber, two United Methodist clergy who broke our denomination’s biblical rules against clergy conducting same-sex union services. Supporters of biblical standards for sexual self-control widely agreed that these punishments did not go far enough, particularly since they involved no full apologies and no specific promises by Copenhaver or Garber to perform no more “sin blessing” ceremonies.

But these “just resolutions” were roundly decried by liberal caucus leaders for even including a minimal level of punishment. The Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) denounced this settlement as “far from a just resolution” and asserted that “the outcome is the same as a trial.” (Indeed, it is possible, though perhaps not that likely, that any now-averted trials for Copenhaver and Garber may have instituted no more serious penalties). Both Copenhaver and Garber lamented the punitive suspensions on the Reconciling Ministries Network website, and in interviews with the Washington Post (for an article for which I was also interviewed) refused to call the settlements “just resolutions.”

The liberal United Methodist outcry over even such mild punishments contrasts sharply with the same groups’ reactions to another case a decade ago in this very same Virginia Annual Conference.

Rev. Ed Johnson is a pleasant, mild-mannered small-town pastor. When a homosexually active man began attending his congregation, the Rev. Johnson welcomed him into the life of the church, to attend worship services, and sing in the choir. Because of his Christian love and pastoral concern for this man, Pastor Johnson could not affirm the man’s sexual sin, and instead continued in pastoral relationship with him while holding off on rushing the man through immediate church membership (and eligibility for leadership positions) until the man could gain an appreciation and a sincere commitment to the vows of the United Methodist membership covenant. This covenant commitment includes vows to repent of one’s sin and to “receive and profess the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”

In other words, Pastor Johnson was offering the very sort of genuinely loving – in a truly biblical, Christian way – ministry to a same-sex-attracted individual that is far more difficult and far more deeply compassionate than the shallower, secularized sin-affirmation harmfully offered by “reconciling” clergy like Copenhaver and Garber.

Liberal United Methodist leaders launched an energetic, overwhelmingly, and downright fierce campaign to demonize, bear blatant false witness against, and punish this obscure rural pastor for simply daring to seek to minister to a same-sex-attracted individual in a “loving not affirming” way. All their high-sounding rhetoric in other contexts about how “the way of Jesus is not the way of punishment,” “retributive justice is bad,” and “we desire to stay at the table with our beloved conservative sisters and brothers” went immediately out the window. As a direct result of the heavy-handed bullying of now-retired Bishop Charlene Kammerer, a vehement supporter of the LGBTQ cause, the Rev. Johnson, who had a family to provide for, was effectively suspended for about four months without pay and forced to move out of his parsonage.

While the United Methodist Judicial Council (our denominational supreme court) eventually found that Johnson had done nothing against our church law and required repayment of his back salary, this was loudly decried by liberal United Methodist leaders, who were, without any exception I recall, zealous to harshly punish the Rev. Johnson and force him out of our denomination.

So this seems to be the thinking of liberal United Methodist leaders and caucuses for how our denomination should be operated, based not on wild speculation but rather on their own words and actions about what they wanted to happen in such cases as those addressed above: Our clergy who keep their ordination vows to “preach and maintain” our doctrine and to uphold our standards, and who go on to offer compassionate ministry according to United Methodist doctrine and standards, should be punished for doing so. This punishment absolutely MUST be taken to the point of denying these orthodox clergy their salary for four months (and perhaps indefinitely), kicking them and their families out of their homes, and ideally forcing them out of our denomination entirely.  But people who say the same vows in order to get themselves ordained and then choose to openly break their own promises they chose to make to God and His church are to be celebrated as heroes. And such “heroes” must never face even mild, symbolic penalties for even their most blatantly disruptive refusals to respect the community’s standards.

Such a vision for the church hardly embodies such values as order, honesty, trustworthiness, integrity, and moral consistency.

Do partisans of liberal caucuses like MFSA, RMN, or Love Prevails ever stop to think through the “end game” of what sort of new church community their tactics and rhetoric would lead us toward?

4 Responses to Virginia “Just Resolutions” Show Liberal Methodist Zeal of “Punishment for Thee but not for Me”

  1. Sandra K Jenner says:

    This Pastor Johnson should be a role model for all clergy. Whereas the Reconciling Ministries Network is misnamed, the real reconciliation that should matter to clergy is that all people be reconciled to God and forsake their sins. Christ gives us all equal opportunity to fellowship with Him, but there is no fellowship without repentance and forgiveness. The church is a gathering place for sinners, but not unrepentant sinners.

  2. Dan says:

    The VA Annual Conference, and the wider UMC, is a shining example of Mark 3:25 – “And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” They further prove Neuhaus’s law; i.e., “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” I highly recommend reading “The Unhappy Fate of Optional Orthodoxy” on the First Things web site – to get an excellent exposition of where this is all headed.

  3. DMurphy says:

    16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

    Matthew 7

  4. John S. says:

    “Everybody knows that a revolution in the first person is legal, as in our revolution. It is only in the third person, their revolution, that it is illegal.” 1776-the play.

    It is not a double standard its defending the right. Personally I always thought Rev Johnson got hammered more for successfully (for a short time) defying a bishop and showing that the bishops were subject to the BoD.

    The lessons learned? Sooner or later the bishops will take care of anyone who stands up to them. Second, ensure that the BoD is never used against a bishop again.

    Mission accomplished.

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