Bishop Johnson responds to questions on Schaefer trial

BishopPeggyJohnson_sqBishop Peggy Johnson of the Philadelphia Episcopal Area, which includes the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference where the Rev. Frank Schaefer is a clergy member, responded to questions from The United Methodist Reporter about Schaefer’s trial.

Rev. Schaefer was convicted earlier this week of performing a same-sex wedding (for his son Tim) and disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church. He is currently on suspension and has 30 days to determine if he will be able to comply with the United Methodist Book of Discipline in its entirety (including the proscriptions against clergy participation in same-sex unions) or else surrender his ministerial credentials, removing Schaefer from pastoral ministry. Schaefer said during the trial that he would not be able to comply with the Book of Discipline. 

As the supervising bishop of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, Bishop Johnson was responsible for receiving the complaint against Schaefer and attempting to find a resolution prior to conducting a trial. Once all other avenues were exhausted, Johnson then had the responsibility for making provisions for the trial, including finding a presiding bishop and appointing the counsel to represent the church.

Bishop Johnson said that there had been much prayer and discernment in putting together the church trial, but acknowledged that the entire process was painful for all involved, especially Rev. Schaefer and his family.

UMR asked Johnson about the criteria used in selecting Bishop Alfred Gwinn to be the presiding bishop at the trial. She stated that Bishop Gwinn was one of several bishops that had been trained to preside at church trials, and that of those bishops his schedule made him most available to serve. “Bishop Gwinn was excellent and grace filled,” Johnson said.

When asked about the criteria for selecting the Counsel for the Church, the Rev. Christopher Fisher, Johnson said that the decision was one of “prayerful discernment.”

Johnson said that the full cost of the trial had not yet been tabulated, but that she was estimating the total cost at somewhere around $50,000.

UMR asked Bishop Johnson if she had any plans to meet with Schaefer during the 30 day discernment period. Johnson said that she is open to meeting with Schaefer should he desire to do so.

One of the themes of the trial were the divisions present at the Zion United Methodist Church of Iona, where Schaefer has served as the pastor for the past 11 years. When asked if Schaefer would be reappointed to the Lebanon, Pa. church should he decide to comply with the ruling of the court, Johnson stated that Schaefer’s future appointment is a matter of cabinet business which is currently not under consideration at this time. However, she also stated that Rev. Schaefer “…has been an effective pastor.”

“Church trials on this sensitive topic of same gender marriages are extremely difficult for the church,” Johnson said. “I believe that trial courts cannot get close to solving the challenge and in some ways makes the divisions and pain worse.  I believe that trials of this nature should be avoided at all costs and holy conferencing and just resolution should be the order of the day.  I pray for the day when we can agree to disagree on this and other matters around sexual orientation and that in that new-found peace people can work together for the building of the kingdom of God and making disciples.”

Jay Voorhees, Contributing Editor

The Rev. Jay Voorhees is a Contributing Editor of The United Methodist Reporter and the Chief Creative Officer for CircuitWriter Media LLC which operates this site and Jay is an ordained elder in the Tennessee Annual Conference. Jay has written on life and the practice of faith in The United Methodist Church at Only Wonder Understands since 2003.

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  1. "I believe that trials of this nature should be avoided at all costs" – It seems like bishops are certainly one party that have a great deal of control over whether things go to church trial or not!

  2. Hopefully Bishop Johnson remains strong on this point. 20,000 wrong people are still wrong. The role of the church leader is to be a leader!

  3. What she did was arrange a kangaroo court. God bless Rev. Schaefer.

  4. "Kangaroo Court"

    You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means

    • My understanding of a kangaroo court is a crudely operated court, especially one so controlled as to render a fair trial impossible.

  5. Believe it or not The office of the Episcopacy cannot do whatever it wants it is bound to uphold the Discipline. Had she just passed the complaint under the rug she would have been undermining the Discipline making herself subject to chargeable offenses. Wether she wanted to take the matter to trial or not was not in hers to decide considering the facts of the complaint registered. If upon investigation there had been discovery that countered the complaint, then she probably could have dismissed the complaint, as it stood she had no choice.

  6. Peter DeGroote says:

    The language used by the prosecutor was beyond the pale and could probably serve as grounds for charges against him.

  7. Peter DeGroote says:

    When you don't post a comment you might be courteous enough to explain in a response.

  8. Many of you seem to forget that we are to follow God's Word in these matters and God has clearly defined homosexuality to be a sin, in both the Old and New Testaments. You have to come up with some extremely creative interpretations to avoid the numerous scriptures which state that homosexuality along with numerous other sexual practices are sins. It is true that we are also to love the sinner, to minister to the sinner but it is NOT for us to condone or accept the sin itself. Are we next to decide that adultery is really not all that bad and to be loving we must start teaching from the pulpit that adultery is simply another form of love and we must support it? I think not.

    When you stop following God's teachings and start following the whims of men, you cease being Christian. You become something else that may resemble being Christian but in God's eye, it is not. And in the end, it is what matters in God's eye, not the eyes of men.

    There are plenty of other "Christian" churches out there who will accept homosexual marriage. God gave us all free will and the power to choose how we live. If you are not happy with the United Methodist Biblical stand against this practice, I suggest you attend one of these other faiths. You do so at your own peril but that is your right given to you by God.

  9. She was just following orders. After Nuremburg, I didn't think that was still a good defense for perpetuating injustice.

  10. What language are you referring to?

  11. As a member of the Easter PA conference I have been very disappointed in Bishop Johnson's statements in regards to this issue. How can we agree to disagree (see II Corinthians 6:14-18). Those of us that support the Discipline believe the Bible is the Word of God, and relevant in its entirety for all time. Those who oppose the discipline seem to believe the Bible is the word of men written only for an ancient culture. If we can't agree on the very foundation of our faith, what can we agree on?

    • Thankfully modern United Methodism is proud to be labeled as “Open Hearted and Open Minded” with subsequent open doors. Therefore we are happily varied in our practice and opinions. That’s appropriate and helpful in a pluralistic culture like the USA. Probably part of why UMC is so big nation wide.
      Now, the Discipline is not claiming to be God breathed, therefore should not claim any inerrancy or sufficiency for Christians. It’s function is to help us divergent folks work together and is updated as would be found needed.
      Generally, topics regarding our future relationships with folks identified as “gay” or “homosexual” have been difficult for annual conference meetings to deal with… Often the issues have been tabled until the next year and so on and on. And here we are. The issue is being brought to the table with what looks like “civil disobedience.”
      I resonate with E. Stanley Jones, one of Methodism’s great voices in mission work and dealing with Plurality. We are people of God over being people of a book. I won’t say Christian Scriptures are merely human but are similar to the Incarnation. They are Human and Devine. A huge point of Christianity is that the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. It’s not Devine Flesh become ink and paper. We are a people of The Person and His Kingdom over being people of a book… Sacred or otherwise … At Best we live move and have our Being as a moving growing Life in this world not as a stiff unchanging book or an inflexible reading … Hermeneutic of that book. Dialog and working together is what is required if possible.
      So, if God is bringing the world closer to Him in Christ I would like our open door policy to have doors that are labeled “enter” rather than “don’t let this hit you on the way out.” So that will mean being able and willing to move forward in dialog.
      Is our Discipline working? Is it helping us or hurting us as we try to work together?

  12. Greg Evans says:

    Well, is it time for Bishop Peggy to ask forgiveness for her lynch mob that attacked Frank Schaefer? Looks like the Methodists in New York have seen the light. Maybe Bishop Peggy and her Asbury Seminary buds may have to hold on to their seats…or maybe they will be Free Methodists before long.

  13. Dr. Raymond Whitham DrMéd, DrMédVét, MPH says:

    My grandfather was a deacon for the Methodist Church in Plainfield, NJ and my family brought me up as a Methodist. In 1969, when I was 19, I came out as Gay and Proud to my pasteur and requested he remove my name from the Methodist Church member list because of the hate that the Christian Church has shown to the LGBTQ+ community. You say you feel the Methodist Church is a model for society in another post. As far as I am concerned, the Christian Church is a bastion of hatred and ignorance concerning those who are not like you. It’s your hatred and adherence to fairy tales and the Leviticus Book’s hit list of human beings to be stoned to death in the Bible without any consideration of the the love expressed by Jesus. You can all go to Hell – you invented it, you can go there.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)


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