July 8, 2015

Eastern Pennsylvania United Methodists Call for Accountability, Invite Covenant-Breakers to Leave UMC

While the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church has been through a lot in the past couple of years, the conference took some major, positive steps in the right direction at its annual session this spring, including a strong word of rebuke of the sort that few United Methodists (outside of the renewal movement) have so far had the courage to make to renegade clergy.

As many readers are aware, the destructive actions of self-described “Christian agnostic” Frank Schaefer tore apart the congregation he had been entrusted with shepherding, and engulfed the conference in painful controversy. And the church region was further engulfed in controversy by the actions of the “Philadelphia 36” who performed a publicity-stunt same-sex union in open defiance of our denominational covenant.

This year, a sizable evangelical congregation in Quarryville, PA left the conference and the denomination altogether, out of exasperation with our bishops’ collective failures to enforce the United Methodist Church’s own biblical standards on marriage. Many see the conference’s Bishop Peggy Johnson as part of this problem, through her own failures to offer stronger public leadership in keeping her word to uphold our denomination’s covenantal standards, standards which she and the rest of our clergy chose at their ordinations to vow to uphold.

The congregation Bishop Johnson helped drive away was reportedly the fastest-growing United Methodist congregation in the Northeast.

Even knowing her relative liberalism, many evangelicals, including myself, had really tried for some time to give Bishop Johnson the benefit of the doubt. But then she released her joint statement on gay rights in which she selectively quoted from our denomination’s Social Principles, ignored traditionalist aspects of United Methodist social teaching she dislikes, and callously dismissed concerns about attacks on traditionalists’ freedom of conscience. If Bishop Johnson cannot bring herself to speak out against less liberal believers facing legal harassment, loss of livelihood, or even threatened jail time for our faith, it is not clear in what meaningful sense she really sees us as her brothers and sisters in Christ.

However, the clergy and lay members of the Eastern Pennsylvania annual conference have offered leadership where their bishop (and other bishops) has not.

The conference addressed several petitions that would have, in different ways, clearly opposed the UMC’s biblical stance that homosexual practice is inherently “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and our requirement for clergy to behave accordingly. All were rejected by majority vote.

Subsequently, the Rev. Joan Trout withdrew her petition to affirm the UMC’s biblical standards of sexual morality (including our commitment “in ministry for and with all persons”), since the conference had just made its stance sufficiently clear by rejecting all attempts to oppose these standards.

Evangelical friends of mine in the area are encouraged by the overall General Conference delegation they elected. As one of them told me “You can let folks know that there are more people in the Northeast Jurisdiction than they might think who are still committed to the historic faith!”

Most notably was the non-narrow adoption of a resolution entitled “Affirming our Covenant and Accountability” and submitted by the Eastern Pennsylvania Evangelical Connection (EPEC).

All attempts to modify it failed, and it passed by a 60 percent majority.

With this strongly-worded resolution, the Eastern Pennsylvania conference publicly affirms its commitment to “abide by the rules of our common covenant as outlined in the Book of Discipline, and … [to] hold one another accountable to that covenant.” In a clear rebuke of the clergy-disobedience movement besieging our denomination, including the Philadelphia 36 within this very annual conference, this resolution reminds everyone that “clergy within the United Methodist church have voluntarily promised in ordination to uphold our church’s teachings and keep its disciplinary rules.” The resolution also helpfully “declares that there is no necessary contradiction between love and law; and that holding one another accountable to promises made” is “an act of love, however painful, to maintain both order and unity in the body.”

In conclusion, the resolution boldly calls on clergy of diverse views to honor our community covenant and work through its proper channels to promote any changes, while calling on those clergy who will not honor our covenant to leave the United Methodist Church as a better alternative to destructively damaging our ministry from within.


The full text of that resolution follows below:





Resolution Relating to Affirming our Covenant and Accountability

Presented by the Eastern Pennsylvania Evangelical Connection (EPEC)


WHEREAS, The United Methodist Church is a global denomination in which churches, clergy and laypeople are bound together by a common covenant of doctrine and discipline; and

WHEREAS, the United Methodist Book of Discipline represents and outlines both the privileges and the obligations of that common covenant, and legitimately governs our life together as an annual conference, to which we are accountable; and                               

WHEREAS, we have a process that allows changes to be made to that covenant, which we call “holy conferencing,” a representative and democratic process that is public, and always open to revisiting questions previously decided; and

WHEREAS, clergy within the United Methodist church have voluntarily promised in ordination to uphold our church’s teachings and keep its disciplinary rules;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the EPA Conference will abide by the rules of our common covenant as outlined in the Book of Discipline, and will hold one another accountable to that covenant;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the EPA Conference declares that there is no necessary contradiction between love and law; and that holding one another accountable to promises made is not a punitive act, but an act of love, however painful, to maintain both order and unity in the body;

BE IT FURTHER RESOVED, that the EPA Conference affirms those among us who seek to change the provisions of our covenant through legitimate channels of holy conferencing, rather than breaking that covenant;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the EPA Conference calls upon those clergy who feel that they can no longer abide by our common covenant to withdraw themselves from our connection, rather than continue to cause damage to our ministry through ongoing judicial proceedings.


Persons Responsible for Presenting Resolution:

Rev. Joseph F. DiPaolo, Rev. Timothy Kriebel


19 Responses to Eastern Pennsylvania United Methodists Call for Accountability, Invite Covenant-Breakers to Leave UMC

  1. Nick Porter says:

    If only Standing Committees and bishops in diocese in TEC would have been so bold, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Weaklings.

  2. Horatio Hornblower says:

    its over prepare to exit

  3. Cindy says:

    I applaud them.

  4. the_enemy_hates_clarity says:

    This is wonderful! I may introduce it in my annual conference or at our charge conference.

    By the way, Mr. Lomperis, do you know what the failed attempts at modification were?

    In Christ,

    the enemy hates clarity

  5. Thomas Soyars says:

    While this is good the members of the Methodist Church still need to take a stand on abortion.

    • John S. says:

      The UMC has taken a stand on abortion. It is pro-abortion. Read the BOD.

      • Thomas Soyars says:

        I have read it. It’s the wrong position. And what they say in the BOD is not consistent with practice. The Methodist Church is a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which advocates for abortion rights. Bill Meffords, the Director of Civil and Human Rights on the General Board of Church and Society of the UMC, in response to the Match for Life in Eashington, D.C. stood on the sidewalk at t h e March with a sign saying. “I March for sandwiches”. While the BOD says that the boundaries of life are God given but circumstances may justify abortion. The simple fact is that 92% of abortions are for birth control.

        • John S. says:

          So when you say the UMC must make a stand on abortion you mean they must take your stand on abortion?
          So how do you answer those who say the BOD is wrong on LGBTQX issues? If you call for discipling those who violate the BOD over those issues should not those work against the BOD stand on abortion also be sanctioned?

          • Thomas Soyars says:

            I bet you would like them to take your position so that isn’t really something as an argument. I want them to do two things: 1) admit their current stance on the BOD is inconsistent with how they govern and intellectually dishonest and 2) come out with a biblically supported position rather than a soft “we recognise life is hard” position. If you can support a position biblically I will stand behind whatever position that is. The same goes for the LGBTQQFAGIPBDSM, to use the all inclusive Wesleyan acronym. Find a biblically based position and I will stand with it.

          • John S. says:

            What is my position on abortion or LGBTQX issues? I’m curious since I’ve said nothing for either. I’m discussing UMC polity, which is probably more contentious that those two issues.

            If you can decry the official UMC policy (as set forth in the BOD by the GC), work to change it (you have contacted your delegate to the GC and worked to introduce a change, correct?) and do what you can to undermine it (true christians are against abortion!) and would be filled with righteous indignation if you were disciplined for acting contrary to the UMC why do you object to the same by those with whom you disagree? Do you have anything better than: “I’m right and they are wrong!” “The Bible supports me!” and so on? They say the same thing.

          • Thomas Soyars says:

            Are you actually reading what I said? You said that I wanted them to take my position and and my response was you probably want them to take your position as well. Nothing in my post questions or implied what your position is.

            As to my position, I haven’t identified it either. What I did was point out that the position taken in the BOD is inconsistent with the practices of the church and its leadership and that I want them to find a Biblically supported position and be true to it and I said I would stand on whatever position that was. In no way have I decried the position. I have not referenced anyone’s right to petition the church for their position or even advocated for any particular change.

            As to me taking a position I have made my position known to our bishop but when I talk to others I get the sort of response I get from you. You attack my position without knowing what it is, say that I have asked about your position or implied that I know what it is when I have done neither, say that I decry policy while you are discussing polity but in point of fact what I address is polity as I simply asked that they either enforce the current BOD or find a position they can Biblically support.

          • John S. says:

            Did you not say the BOD position on abortion is wrong?

            Did you not say it was good, per the above article, that people be disciplined for violating the BOD position on same sex marriages and non-celibate homosexual Elders?

            Those are the positions I am referencing. If you did not write those in your posts then yes I am wrong.

  6. PadreDave says:

    It is sad that an Annual Conference has to pass legislation to affirm and promise to abide by the very principles, policies, and covenant that they agreed to when becoming members of the Annual Conference. But, such is the state of our church today. Nevertheless, I applaud their efforts, and see it as an encouraging sign in the midst of flagrant and destructive disobedience and disregard for our Discipline and covenant. Well done EPA Conference. Start a revival among our people!

  7. Bystander says:

    The resolution affirms “those who want to change though legitimate channels” which is good. It does not however define the position that must be affirmed by those it welcomes to leave, and it does not offer clarity on what changes would be acceptable to consider through proper channels. The step toward affirming the covenant is an admirable move toward accountability, however with mid-western UM seminaries teaching that the Bible is myth, and that Muslim imams and Buddhist priests should be welcomed to teach their religion as a part of the UM church – this measure does not go far enough in affirming the Bible (properly interpreted in context) as the foundation and authority for the church.

  8. Dan Roth says:

    I’m an elder in the EPA.
    While the focus of this coverage of the resolution is on the call for those who disagree to separate, that was little-to-none of the focus of discussion and debate at Annual Conference. The discussion was almost entirely on the current Discipline language.

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