In an earlier post about some happenings among United Methodists of western Pennsylvania it was noted that a group of lay persons had circulated a letter which questioned the stance on the issue of homosexuality taken by two prominent pastors and one lay person who is high profile in the "Believe Again" campaign being pushed vigorously by Bishop Tom Bickerton of the W. PA Annual Conference.
The bishop quickly responded by a letter in which in rather forceful and detailed language he defended the three persons and stressed the fact that they were persons of high integrity, etc.
A second letter has just been sent by the original group of lay persons as they continue to pursue the issue. In this one they take some space to explain the reason for remaining anonymous and it is a valid reason. They are fearful of retaliation being taken against their pastors and their churches. They cite the example of Ed Johnson and the calamity he experienced due to his position of refusing to receive a practicing homosexual into church membership.
In the W. PA Annual Conference there have been occasions in which churches have taken actions which were unpopular and retaliation has taken place in the form of appointments in the future or the threat of not appointing a pastor to what has been regarded as a "rebel" church!
So the group of lay persons in choosing to remain anonymous in this present controversy has taken an action that is wise at least for the present. But if the bishop and his cabinet ever find out the identity of these persons, then look out -- heads will roll!
This whole issue can be easily resolved with the bishop taking the lead:
- First, he can clearly define his own position on homosexuality and lesbianism, and specifically spell out as to whether or not such practices are a sin. After all, he signed, along with all other active bishops, the letter which condemned the Judicial Council for its decision in which it ruled that Ed Johnson was to be reinstated and reimbursed back salary etc. due to the actions of Charlene and her executive session in suspending him. This letter of response by the UMC bishops in effect said that anybody (including a practicing homosexual) should be taken into the membership of the United Methodist Church if that person makes such a request, and each pastor should honor the request!
- Second, the bishop can define as to whether it is acceptable to have practicing homosexuals and lesbians serving on church boards, agencies, etc. Just flat out state in plain words (no church-ese confusing language) -- is it or is it not acceptable -- yes or no!
- Third, the bishop can direct that the two clergy and one lay person singled out in the circulated letter also publicly define their specific positions on homosexual and lesbian practices -- no hedging or dodging -- just plainly state whether or not these practices are morally wrong and whether or not they agree with God's revelation on the issue. There is not one reported instance in the totality of the Scriptures where homosexuality and lesbianism are given a positive stamp of approval -- the practices are always regarded as being negative and soundly condemned!
Will the bishop do this? It is highly doubtful -- UMC bishops are beginning to take more and more a "popish" position when they speak -- if they said it, then it is settled -- and laity, you are to pay the bills and keep your mouth shut -- don't ever raise a question about anything, especially about moral issues in these days of calling what is black, white and vice-versa! Interesting, is it not, that all too many in the UMC hierarchy forget very quickly that their salaries and perks are paid by the laity who have every right to raise questions and issue challenges when there are things taking place which contradict the Scriptures and basic doctrines on which the Methodist Church was founded in the times of John and Charles Wesley!
So to you lay folks in United Methodist churches in W. PA, someone in your church has received this 2nd letter -- ask about it -- ask your pastor if he or she has seen and read it, and then ask whether the bishop intends to clarify this matter as suggested above! It is simply an honest question which deserves honest answers so that everyone knows where the bishop and the persons in question really stand on very critical moral issues which are tearing the UMC apart!
Further, you have the right to insist on total clarification as to where the bishop and the three named individuals in the controversial letters stand on the issue of homosexuality and lesbianism. You also have the right to make your personal contact and appeal to the bishop on this matter: write to Bishop Thomas Bickerton at 1204 Freedom Road, PO Box 5002, Cranberry Twp. PA 16066-0002.
Or you can give him a phone call at 724-776-2300. As mentioned, the lay folks are the ones who pay the bills, and they have the right to know precisely where the leadership of the conference and the denomination stand on moral issues!
And a friendly word of advice -- don't ever let any member of the United Methodist hierarchy intimidate you! Our ultimate accountability is to our Lord Jesus Christ, not to any church leader who holds some kind of power position within the denominational structure.
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! --- Isaiah 5:20