It is common to hear references to Protestant mainline churches as those churches which are in a state of confusion, or churches that have become a theological rubble. Many conservatives are quite surprised to learn of the wonderful renewal efforts being faithfully made in these older churches.
Like all of these historic Protestant denominations in North America the United Methodist Church has been embroiled in a controversy about homosexual practice. The most significant recent case was that of Pastor Ed Johnson, a UMC pastor in South Hill, Virginia. Following ethical and biblical protocol Johnson postponed receiving an unrepentant and actively involved homosexual into the membership of his congregation. For this faithful action Bishop Charles Kammerer ordered Johnson to receive the man into membership. Johnson, being faithful to both God and conscience, stood against his bishop. For this decision he was removed from his ministry, and all financial support, and placed on Involuntary Leave of Absence. He was, in short, thrown out of his pulpit, without pay, and with no place to live!
Such actions remind me of other times in church history when faithful ministers were “ejected” from their parish for fidelity to Scripture.(Methodism was itself born through opposition to the work of the Spirit in renewing the church.) These actions also remind me that orthodox mainline pastors, who consistently refuse to bend their conscience to the “gender ethics” of modern political correctness, are very courageous men and women. Such ministers are likely to become the real heroes in the next great persecution and renewal in the church, at least in the modern West. (By the way, I expect persecution to be intimately linked to renewal and do not think we can read the Bible or history otherwise.) While most pastors in the more conservative denominations (and independent church groups) decry the inroads of liberal theology from the outside pastors like Ed Johnson model conviction on the inside. These ministers just might be the change agents needed to stir the hearts and souls of a new generation. I pray so every day.
The good news, at least for now, is that the Judicial Council of the UMC reconsidered the two decisions of the Methodist Conference with regard to Ed Johnson and overturned Bishop Kammerer’s decision. Johnson was reinstated as pastor of his church and given back pay. The end of this wrangling in the Methodist Church is far from over. All who love the gospel and Christ’s church should pray for the ministers and lay leaders of the UMC who steadfastly stand as one for the gospel.