transgendered United Methodist minister

UMC Bishop’s Spouse “Comes Out” as Transgendered United Methodist Minister

John Lomperis on October 21, 2021

Last week, the Rev. Michael Johnson publicly “came out” as a transgendered United Methodist minister, who is now changing his first name to Mary. What’s more, this newly prominent transgendered minister is the spouse of liberal United Methodist Bishop Peggy Johnson, who served as bishop of both the Eastern Pennsylvania and Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conferences from 2008 until her September 1 retirement. Bishop Johnson used the opportunity to affirm the ministry of “a number of United Methodist pastors” she knows “who are either trans women, trans men, gender fluid, non-binary, or gender non-conforming.”

This announcement was predictably celebrated by the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), which has long been the main unofficial caucus pushing LGBTQ+ liberationist ideology in the United Methodist Church.

But the main announcement came from the official, denominational apportionment-funded communications office of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, the home conference of both Johnsons. On October 11, National Coming Out Day, conference staff touted Michael Johnson’s “story of transitioning to trans woman,” with a prominent article on the official conference website, and separate interviews with Michael/Mary and with Bishop Peggy Johnson. After the latter’s recent retirement, her husband “decided that I would now live openly as Mary Johnson” and that “I would no longer pretend to be a cis-gender male, which I have never been, although I was seen and treated that way since my birth.”

Much about this will doubtless raise eyebrows. Michael/Mary (who has not yet legally changed his name) says he may now wear dresses and other feminine clothing as part of shifting his “gender expression” to identify as a woman. Bishop Peggy Johnson recalls buying her husband “a pair of bright pink tights” and now describes him as female. Both Johnsons enthusiastically report Michael/Mary’s having begun hormone replacement therapy by artificially receiving estrogen. According to one pro-transgender medical website, “[m]ale-to-female [MTF] hormone therapy, or estrogen hormone therapy” brings various physical change to make biological males appear more feminine, including growth of breasts, fat redistribution in the body, reduction of facial hair, sexual changes, and even how “the eyes and face may take on a more ‘feminine’ appearance,” among other things.

We must acknowledge the sensitive and painful nature of these matters for the Johnson family. I have not walked a mile in Bishop Johnson’s shoes, but I can only imagine the stresses of being heterosexually married for three decades before your opposite-sex spouse “comes out” to you as a transgendered United Methodist minister and begins increasingly “transitioning” to mimic your own sex, all the while being bishop of a theologically divided area beset with LGBTQ controversies. Michael/Mary’s awful psychological anguish deserves great sympathy. Whatever else we may say about the ethics and pain of living “in the closet,” Michael/Mary demonstrated a commendable impulse to avoid undermining his wife’s ministry. And there is much that is laudable in Bishop Johnson’s own basic desire to reach out with open-armed compassion to at least some communities of people, such as the deaf and the transgendered, who have been mistreated and marginalized.

Michael/Mary’s discussing the pressures he felt over not fitting into cultural male stereotypes, both as a child and an adult, also merits wider discussion.

Baltimore-Washington Conference Bishop LaTrelle Easterling admits, “How one interprets Scripture will absolutely determine one’s understanding of people who are transgender.”

Fundamentally, none of the promotional pieces of the Johnsons’ announcement dispute that Michael/Mary has XY chromosomes and his body has naturally had all the main physical results. He is father of two sons with his wife. No matter what anyone says, calling a person male or female is a statement about physical reality, based on such objective truths.

If someone suffered from a mental illness that led him to insist that another objective physical reality about himself—such as his height, age, or which century he inhabited—was radically different from the actual truth, most observers would readily see that he needed psychological help to overcome his delusion, and would not accept that this man’s verbal declarations had changed physical realities.

But if anyone writing about Michael/Mary Johnson fails to describe him as a woman or use the pronoun “her” instead of “him,” there is no shortage of LGBTQ+ activists and woke virtue-signalers eager to shame and name-call you until you agree to use their dictated language.

I do not refer to Michael/Mary as “him” because I want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but because I am simply seeking to accurately report reality.

Now that the Johnsons are using this opportunity to publicly urge church acceptance of transgender ideology, it is fair to note problems with their arguments.

Both Johnsons bizarrely defend Michael/Mary’s transition as a transgendered United Methodist minister as an affirmation of how God created him. But in fact, as noted, God created Michael Johnson as a male. So his dramatically altering his persona, clothing, and even body to “express” as female is actually a denial of how God created him.

Truly loving people in such situations must mean going beyond shallow sentimentality or unconditional affirmation of whatever people ask us to affirm. Truly Christian love is costly, and must involve doing the difficult work of walking with those suffering from gender dysphoria (like other mental illnesses) and helping them find competent Christian counseling to accept the physical realities of the men and women God has made them to be.

For her part, Bishop Peggy Johnson cites the biblical principle of unity in Christ in service of both urging church acceptance of transgender ideology and her incredulously asking “[h]ow can we justify a church split.” But on several levels, these arguments of hers simply do not appear to be well-developed.

If Bishop Peggy Johnson really believed that no church splits were ever justified, she would become Roman Catholic, rather than remaining Protestant and thereby perpetuating church splits.

She broadly declares that Paul’s famously teaching the Corinthian church, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21) is “a ban on exclusion.” Yet the bishop conveniently ignores the context of how earlier in that very same epistle (1 Corinthians 5) Paul forcefully commanded the excommunication (in hopes of eventual restoration) of a church member unrepentantly engaging in sexually immoral behavior.

Bishop Peggy Johnson’s own track record as an active bishop at times demonstrated a rather contrary attitude to good faith and Christian unity with more evangelical United Methodists. She effectively advocated against basic freedom-of-conscience protections for Christians who believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman. As part of a “just resolution,” she got evangelicals to agree to make major concessions in exchange for her making a public statement that she should not have had to be bargained into making: “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….” But then she later chose to betray her promise, issuing a new statement in 2019, pledging that for the rest of her time as active bishop, she would “not refer any such complaints for a church trial,” and notably avoiding any plea for liberal clergy to avoid violating our denomination’s prohibition of same-sex weddings.

The UMC’s governing Book of Discipline says nothing explicitly about transgenderism. Proposals to adopt statements affirming or critiquing transgender ideology have both been rejected by recent General Conferences. However, current church-law realities are less simple than Bishop Easterling’s statement that “with respect to the Book of Discipline, it is clear that being transgender is not a chargeable offense.” If both Michael/Mary and Peggy Johnson say than the former is really a woman, are they actually saying that they have now have a lesbian marriage, which the Discipline currently forbids for our clergy? A further complication is Michael/Mary sharing that he has “not legally transitioned” at this point, which presumably means that the Johnson marriage remains heterosexual in the eyes of civil law.

In any case, as we learn from our past and look to the future, this development brings important warnings for all of us. 

In a variation on Neuhaus’s Law, it appears that when certain heterodox teachings are allowed to flourish and be celebrated in some significant segments of a denomination, these teachings will eventually become dominant.

In 2005, many United Methodists were upset by the radicalism of the Reconciling Ministries Network’s “Hearts on Fire” convocation, at which several bishops spoke supportively. The most out-there speaker there was probably Karen Oliveto, who refuted the very words of Jesus Christ and bizarrely defended the alleged benefits of demon possession. Less than a dozen years later, Oliveto was elected bishop, elevated to be president of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops, and has used her power to intimidate congregations who are not thrilled with her spiritual leadership.

At that same event, an RMN board member shared about previously being male and evangelical, but then transitioning to female and relating to his wife as a lesbian. Now less than two decades later, we are seeing a similar gender-bending relationship openly practiced by a bishop and her transgendered United Methodist minister spouse, with apparently little room for anything but full affirmation in the post-separation UMC (psUMC).

Indeed, for the psUMC, this again raises the question of if there ever will ever be any limits to how far it goes in following the ever-evolving new causes of the secular LGBTQ liberationist movement. And the further that denomination goes in accepting all that LGBTQ activists want them to accept, the less tolerance we can expect for church members who question the new secular orthodoxies.

Bishop Easterling pays lip service to “leav[ing] room for differing interpretations.” The same article quoting this statement, written by Easterling’s conference staff, promotes several links to allegedly help readers learn more. But these are all to LGBTQ activist groups, with no other perspective offered.

To take trans activists at their word, any suggestion that Michael Johnson is not really a woman or that his expressing himself as Mary is a result of mental illness is unacceptable bigotry, phobia, and hate that must have no place in polite circles, and certainly does not deserve any serious intellectual engagement. Accordingly, a fully LGBTQ inclusive psUMC would, by definition, have no room for church leaders who openly question such gender transitions, and little to no place for laypeople who will not gladly submit to the spiritual authority of transgender bishops and pastors.

For the Global Methodist Church, it would be a terrible mistake to think that after we separate, we will no longer have to “deal with” or proactively address homosexuality or transgenderism.

After all, the Johnsons met and married as students at Asbury Theological Seminary, a bastion of evangelical Methodism. Over time, others will emerge within the GMC who also, through no choice of their own, find themselves experiencing feelings of same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.

From the beginnings of our new denomination, Global Methodists must be willing to do the hard work of proactively establishing some clear, compassionate, biblically and theologically grounded teaching and standards related to sexuality and what some call gender identity. We must be deliberate about not letting fear of being unfairly smeared as “anti-LGTBQ” (by those who are going to smear us anyway) intimidate us into shrinking back from offering explicit clarity and straightforward guidance.

Or else we can kid ourselves into thinking that such concerns are no longer our problem, and then in a few decades find ourselves in a similar place to the United Methodist Church today.

  1. Comment by Bobp on October 21, 2021 at 4:20 pm

    The abominations continue.
    The bible has always been selectively relevant in justifying any liberal doctrine. When the church starts believing and doing something new, we need to ask is it because there has been a careful study of scripture which uncovered something, or is it because the culture thought of it first and then the church capitulates?

    So they think “God made me that way” and we need to affirm that. It’s more likely Romans 1 comes into play that they’ve been handed over to a reprobate mind.

  2. Comment by Tom on October 21, 2021 at 5:31 pm

    Standard playbook:

    1. Pick some trendy, fashionable cause.
    2. Endorse same.
    3. Announce that your position is “loving”
    4. Denounce anyone who opposes you as “not loving” or “hating.”
    5. Demand everyone else agree with you for “unity.”

    Rinse and repeat as desired.

  3. Comment by David S. on October 21, 2021 at 5:44 pm

    “Indeed, for the psUMC, this again raises the question of if there ever will ever be any limits to how far it goes in following the ever-evolving new causes of the secular LGBTQ liberationist movement. And the further that denomination goes in accepting all that LGBTQ activists want them to accept, the less tolerance we can expect for church members who question the new secular orthodoxies.”

    As a recently departed member of the PC(USA), I can tell you that this will be the case. The national leadership of that denomination, while they state that they reaffirm the Reformed Tradition’s historic polity of diversity of thought from the Westminster Standards on the one hand, continue to make it clear that they do not mean what they say on the other hand by consisting charging dissenters as racists, bigots, anti-LGBT, etc.

    In my parting email, I made it abundantly clear what Scripture teaches about Satan being an angel of light and more often than not, he does not appear as the ravenous wolf or roaring lion or the images that the Medieval and Renaissance artists portrayed him, but more like they, the false prophets, preachers, and teachers that they are with a pleasant smiling face.

  4. Comment by td on October 21, 2021 at 8:56 pm

    I grieve that this person has been living in so much pain for so very long. Unfortunately, changing how the person dresses, person’s sex identity, or official pronouns probably won’t change this. It is monumentally heart breaking after more than 60 years and a wife. So much pain all around us. So many people still not feeling comfortable with the human condition after many years.

    There’s never a dull moment with the baby boomer UMC bishops! There’s no sinful actuon that they won’t eventually endorse and parade in full display.

  5. Comment by Reynolds on October 21, 2021 at 9:39 pm

    The way you stop it is never allow it to be tolerated on the Global Methodist Church. You have to make the punishment quick and permanent. The PCA is dealing with now mad it is dragging on and it will slowly end the PCA. Have a trial and make it quick and fast. If you don’t do it that way then eventually they will come for you once the liberal church has lost all members

  6. Comment by Dan W on October 22, 2021 at 7:25 am

    “Don’t you get to feeling independent, ‘cause I’m gonna force you to obey.” (No More Kings, Lynn Ahrens 1975)

    No more bishops. No more lifetime appointments. Accountability for all.

  7. Comment by Donald Link on October 22, 2021 at 5:00 pm

    Seems like one more denomination circling the drain. It also
    appears that the concerns and beliefs of the 90% that may not subscribe to the new theology and discipline are being completely ignored. Just saying.

  8. Comment by Stephanie on October 22, 2021 at 6:50 pm

    Good grief.

  9. Comment by Wm. Zmistowski, Jr., AIA, Architect on October 22, 2021 at 7:28 pm

    Transgenderism, etc. violates the 7th Commandment. This is in all of our various editions of the Bible we have at home except one.

    Let me see how you argue against this point/reality.
    God Bless,
    Bill Z

  10. Comment by BG on October 22, 2021 at 7:49 pm

    Same arguments, but if they Love… one another, how can you deny them marriage, sex changes, etc. Simply stated, love justifies sin.

  11. Comment by Ken Dean on October 22, 2021 at 7:52 pm

    I harken back to the early scriptures. Sin is Sin and so many are falling to the traps set by Satan. Read THE first 5 books. Learn the truth of GOD

  12. Comment by BG on October 22, 2021 at 7:58 pm

    For Methodists, the simple question is when does the Progressive Methodist Church cross the line for them. Because where we are now begs the question of what comes next? Is it blessing a person in their new gender? Is it blessing polygamous relationships? Polygamous marriage? Is is blessing sexual relationships between adults and youth? Adults and children? Adults and infants? Is it adults and their pets? (one woman has already tried to marry her dog) What comes after that?

    The secular world has already shown that they want no boundaries. For some reason, the Progressive Methodist Church thinks this is OK. So when will they cross your line?

  13. Comment by Catherine on October 22, 2021 at 9:13 pm

    Simply a weapon of secular culture’s war against Christianity. Starting first with denying faith being part of the founding of our nation. Removing faith references from public facilities. Interpreting scripture with a hippie love mentality. Progressively working down the road to declare any who disagree as being unloving haters. Throw Jesus out the window. Declare Buddha and Mohammed as God’s equal. There now. I’m ok. You’re ok. Everything’s fine. Anything goes!

  14. Comment by Pastor Mike on October 23, 2021 at 8:20 am

    Perversion and mental illness should never be enabled or affirmed.

    A “minister” who rejects fundamental Christian theology and doctrine, believes that truth is relative, that God is only interested in “love” and not obedience, and that God makes “mistakes” that need to be “corrected” by man, should never be allowed in a pulpit.

    Prayers for Michael Johnson and his family.

  15. Comment by Sarah Flynn on October 23, 2021 at 11:08 am

    I do hope that the GMC comes into being sooner than later for your rather than mine.
    Just as LGBTQI convictions arise out of lived experience so also your conservative convictions. No rational arguments will change minds on either side, something that 40+years has amply demonstrated.
    It is past time to split and go our separate ways and leave the final judgment to God and the discernment of future generations of believers. The futility of continuing this debate reminds me of how the professional medical community came to accept the standards of care for Trans and LGBQI people. Having tried everything else and failed, they arrived at a treatment of support which has proved to be successful in helping those who come to them for help.

  16. Comment by David on October 23, 2021 at 11:23 am

    Since we live in a society where one can pursue interests that are often associated with the opposite gender, I cannot understand the need for medical intervention. This is potentially harmful. I sometimes wonder if this is related to a clothing fetish.

    There are, however, rare cases of people being born intersex, perhaps 1 in 1,500 to 2,000 depending on how one defines the condition. We should not forget that we all start as females and are not created as male and female.

    “Geneticists have discovered that all human embryos start life as females, as do all embryos of mammals.”

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/4470128/

  17. Comment by floyd lee on October 23, 2021 at 11:31 pm

    Even the gay activists will tell you that “Transgender” is NOT the same as hermaphroditism or “Intersex”. The latter is a medical problem, a genetic/other disorder. It’s not gay identity, gay behavior, gay marriage, gay sin. Hence the Bible’s very clear teachings can NOT be escaped by trying to invoke hermaphroditism.

    The LGBTQ religion has destroyed the United Methodist Church. That’s the real problem, regardless of what happens in 2022. The End is just about here., and it won’t be pretty.

    Unless, of course, the UMC quickly returns to the Bible, returns to the Gospel, and openly repudiates the corrosive LGBTQ religion. Like, immediately!!

  18. Comment by David Gingrich on October 24, 2021 at 9:08 am

    So many wonderful, faithful comments. Thank you

  19. Comment by td on October 24, 2021 at 12:54 pm

    No, David, we do not all start out genetically as females. We start out xx, xy, or some 3 chromosomal anamoly.

    I think what you are referring to is that we all initially start developing in utero according to the x (female) chromosome. However, for those with a y (male) chromosome, the y chromosome gets triggered which ends up directing male sexual development instead of the x chromosome.

  20. Comment by Retired UMC pastor M. Hale on October 24, 2021 at 7:11 pm

    The UMC has failed to teach new believers about sin. . . how it begins as a thought, but, in Christ, and by the Word, a believer has the authority to reject any unbiblical and sinful thought, even if that thought returns over and over. As Jesus did in His temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4), He ordered Satan to get away from Him. Romans Chapters 6,7 & 8 have been called the Sin Stopper Chapters. Thank God someone directed me to these chapters when I was young. It is a battle against the enemy of our souls.

  21. Comment by Reverend Dr. Patricia Slomanski on October 24, 2021 at 9:34 pm

    God’s Word is VERY CLEAR. This is an abomination. You sound as if you approve. I guess you are going to join the PCUSA, the Lutherans, the Episcopalians and others in the apostate basket. God help you.

  22. Comment by David on October 25, 2021 at 7:13 am

    TD, people do not become male until the Y chromosome kicks in and this is not immediate. There are also cases, fortunately rare, where a person has both XX and XY cells in their body. Also, only one of the X chromosomes in a female actually “works.” My late boss was involved with this discovery. I spent 40 years in a genetics lab at a medical school and had to deal with some unfortunate situations. A married woman came in for infertility and was discovered to be a male. Externally, she looked q

  23. Comment by David on October 25, 2021 at 7:18 am

    [sorry]…quite normal, but was a victim of testicular feminization. While medical abnormalities are not are part of the current subject at hand, the notion that everyone is strictly one gender or the other is incorrect. We might also consider whose fault these situations are.

  24. Comment by Steve on October 25, 2021 at 8:56 am

    As David himself admits, what he’s decided to talk about is NOT part of the current subject at hand. So why’d he post it? Just to troll, as usual.

  25. Comment by dan jarrell on October 25, 2021 at 1:09 pm

    David, i am educated in the subject you are discussing. When someone says genetically male or genetically female this is referring to whether their 23rd chromosome is xy or xx or some other anamoly.

    A person’s 23rd chromosomr is either xy or xx or some anomaly. It is completely objective; a person can not decide that it is different. What you are defining as genetically male or female is not genetic- it is the person’s phyisical appearance. It matters not a wit if men begin early development in the womb exactly the same as women. Genetically, they are xy not xx. It also matters not at all that a large portion of one x of an xx individual is effectively turned off.

    Considering this article, there is absolutely no debate that this person is genetically a male. In fact he has begun hormone therapy to effecrtively shut down the consequences of his genetic sex..

  26. Comment by Dr. Lee D. Cary on October 25, 2021 at 1:23 pm

    Think the story above is odd? Nope. Just standard fare these days. Here’s odd:

    Once upon a time, the deceased Columbian drug tsar, Pablo Escobar, illegally imported four hippodromes. They’ve since multiplied into 80. (No joke)

    “The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio recognized the late Escobar’s infamous “Cocaine Hippos” as legal persons for the first time in the United States. The ruling on Oct. 15 came on the same day the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an application on behalf of the hippo plaintiffs in Colombia intended to stop that country’s government from killing the animals. The ALDF announced the decision in a news release Wednesday.” Huffington Post, 10/21/21

    Hippos are now people.

  27. Comment by Jonathan Razon on October 26, 2021 at 8:57 am

    I don’t know how these people can sleep at night without bothering by their conscience!

  28. Comment by Mike Pinner on October 26, 2021 at 10:27 pm

    Ladies & Gentlemen:
    This is an astounding article and it only further indicts the heretical excuse that passes for leadership in the UMC. But, after reading articles and watching the actions of the UM News Service, statements by bishops, and other authorities in the United Methodist Church, I do NOT believe that the “Protocol of Separation” will be affirmed, voted on, whatever process you deem might actually happen. Those of us who are evangelical and remain faithful to historic, biblical Christian faith will not see a new denomination. The GMC will not pass “Go,” you will not receive 25 million dollars, and you will be told that either you remain with the UMC (and its heresy) or you get the hell out. “They” will never surrender the real estate. They own the local churches, the institutions, and hold the money. IF I were one of “them,” I’d never agree to the separation. It would be the UMC way, or the highway. I’m continually disappointed by the apathy of the conservatives.

  29. Comment by Jeff on October 27, 2021 at 1:05 am

    >> you will be told that either you remain with the UMC (and its heresy) or you get the hell out

    Right you are, Mike. I’ve had it with the UMC BS. I’m out. 🙂

  30. Comment by Ellen Richardson on October 27, 2021 at 6:59 pm

    This is why our UMC is circling the drain. If someone is a transsexual and wishes to make their transition that’s fine, but why force feed it on others? When gender disphoria was treated as a medical issue 20+ years ago and not a woke political one counselors advised
    their patients to be understanding themselves and not to expect family, friends, colleagues, etc to accept in “5 minutes” what the T person spent a lifetime understanding. Sadly this wisdom has been forgotten in the liberal/woke accept or be canceled age.

  31. Comment by Joe E Sherrill on October 29, 2021 at 6:18 pm

    I will no longer attend services at the Church I call my Church. While I believe our Pastor does not agree with what is happening to the not so United Methodist Church. The Leaders in the Church should never entered into a discussion about homosexuality as it is declared as sin in the Scriptures. We do not waste time offering other declared sins the same opportunity for discussion. It was an attempt by female homosexuals who have been allowed to be Bishops even in their sinful life style. It what happens when you fail to declare sin as sin and ignore it. Shame on our leaders who allowed this to occur.

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