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UM Bishop Promises To Work With Other Bishops To Disobey High Court Ruling In Suspended Pastor Ruling

October 31, 2005

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

I come to you with deep concern on my heart. I am meeting with the Council of Bishops this week for our regular fall meeting and I learned today that the Judicial Council has made critical rulings that affect our life together. The Judicial Council is the "supreme court" of The United Methodist Church and rules on matters of church law.

I want to share with you about two of the cases that the Judicial Council ruled on:

I. Beth Stroud Case

Who: Irene Elizabeth "Beth" Stroud

Where: Germantown, Pennsylvania

What: Beth Stroud, who had been serving as an assistant pastor of First United Methodist Church in Germantown, Pa., admitted in a 2003 sermon and in a letter to her congregation that she was "a lesbian living in a committed relationship with a partner." Last December (2004), she was found guilty of violating church law, which forbids the ordination and appointment of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals," (Para. 304.3) and lost her ordination credentials. Then in April 2005, the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals reversed and set aside the verdict and penalty decided by the trial court. The conference then filed an appeal with the Judicial Council.

Decision: The Judicial Council, after reviewing the case, found that the Eastern Pennsylvania trial court had ruled correctly and mandated that Beth Stroud surrender her clergy orders.

II Rev. Edward Johnson Case

Who: The Rev. Edward Johnson

Where: South Hill, Virginia

What: a man who had been attending Rev. Johnson's church for several months, who sang in the choir, who was well known in the community, asked to become a formal member of the church. The pastor turned him down because the man is gay.

a) Johnson was placed on unpaid leave after he rejected calls from his superintendent (and his bishop) to admit the man.

b) Last June 13, Rev. Johnson was placed on involuntary leave of absence from the Virginia Conference by a vote of the conference's clergy. The yearlong leave began July 1.

c) The Judicial Council was asked to rule on two items.

1) The first concerned Bishop Charlene Kammerer's decision related to the disciplinary purview of the conference relations committee of the board of ordained ministry and the fair process rights of a pastor. (The issue here was due process.)

2) The second is the bishop's decision of law related to the authority of a pastor under Paragraphs 214 and 225 of the 2004 Book of Discipline to exercise judgment in determining who may be received into membership in the local church.

Decision: the pastor has the right to exclude people from membership

Above all else, I want to affirm that good people of faith may disagree on these rulings and on the issue of homosexuality. I also want to say that, based on what our Discipline says, I am not surprised that the Beth Stroud decision has been overturned.

However, I must admit that I am shocked by the ruling that gives clergy the right to exclude people into church membership because of their sexual orientation. I will continue to reflect on this issue and prayerfully consider how I will lead in the future based on this ruling. The following are some of the questions this decision raises for me:

1. When grace and law are in conflict with each other, which side will we err on?

2. If you believe homosexuality is a sin, do you want sinners to be a part of the community of faith or outside the community of faith?

3. Will we now expect pastors to determine whether those seeking to join our churches are adequately repentant of all possible things a particular pastor might consider sinful? On what basis will pastors decide?

4. Is full understanding of "sin" or "sins" a prerequisite for membership or is membership a step along the way in our journey?

5. Should gay and lesbian laity be barred from membership in The United Methodist Church if they are willing in good conscience to take the membership vows and commit to follow Christ?

To the many gay and lesbian members and worshipers of The United Methodist Church and to the families that have gay and lesbian family members or friends, I want you to know that I believe gay and lesbian persons should be welcome and received as members in our churches. I will work to insure that gay and lesbian members will continue to have the right to be members of The United Methodist Church. I also believe that efforts to exclude people from membership for whatever reason is generally a bad idea. Congregations are places where all people can be loved into relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

The Council of Bishops will spend time in prayer and discernment this week to understand where God is leading us and the church. I believe the Council of Bishops will issue a statement later this week, and at that time I will share it with you.

I also want to share that I have been receiving a number of questions and letters concerning a report from a non-United Methodist organization on what I said at the Hearts on Fire event. This organization over the past year has misquoted, or taken quotes out of context, in such a way as to distort what I have said. I made a statement at the Hearts on Fire convocation indicating that I would make sure gay and lesbian United Methodists elected to conference committees and agencies would have the opportunity to serve. This statement has been portrayed in such a way as to cause people to ask me whether I intend to ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals or appoint transgender people to the Cabinet. I have consistently said that I will be responsible to follow the procedures and rules of our Book of Discipline. I am sorry my comment has been used to suggest otherwise. I am appreciative to those who have made the effort to ask me what I actually said.

I recognize that these are trying times for each of us. Jesus never said that making and engaging disciples in the Discipleship Adventure would be easy. As a matter of fact, he said it may cost us everything.

The days ahead may be filled with challenge, misunderstanding, differences of opinion and anger. The question is, will they also be filled with compassion, hope and a commitment to seek what Jesus Christ wants for the Church? I invite you to join me in following and serving Christ even if it means giving our all and losing everything for Christ's sake.

In Christ,
John R. Schol

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