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Pastor denies membership to homosexual, placed on leave

July 26, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*

A United Methodist pastor in Virginia has been placed on “involuntary leave of absence” for refusing to allow a homosexual to become a member of his congregation.

The Rev. Edward Johnson was placed on a yearlong involuntary leave of absence, effective July 1, by action of the clergy of the denomination’s Virginia Annual (regional) Conference on June 13. He will receive medical benefits but no salary.

The clergyman, pastor of South Hill (Va.) United Methodist Church for six years, could be reinstated as a United Methodist pastor in good standing if he fulfills recommendations from the conference’s board of ordained ministry. 

The Rev. William Anthony “Tony” Layman, who was district superintendent when Johnson was placed on leave, said the pastor’s unwillingness to allow a homosexual to become a member of the church led to the filing of a complaint against Johnson.

Layman told United Methodist News Service that he worked with Johnson for four months before filing a complaint against him in April for refusing to allow the person membership into the congregation.

“For me, this was the last recourse,” Layman said. “Johnson had two opportunities to receive the person into membership himself or allow the associate pastor to do it. He would do neither.”

Johnson refused to obey the district superintendent or the bishop, Layman said. “It was this act of insubordination that put him on notice.” 

Layman said he and other conference officials “did all we could do to help (Johnson) see the inconsistency of his stance in his ministry.”

“Our Social Creed says that we as a church would not ordain homosexuals, but they have the right to be received in membership,” Layman said. “The church supports homosexuals as part of the congregation and as persons of definite worth.

“Johnson has deep beliefs around this issue,” Layman said. “He is a man of integrity who is living out his conscience.”

United Methodist News Service contacted both the office of Bishop Charlene Kammerer, leader of the Virginia Annual Conference, and Johnson, asking for comment. No response had been received as of July 26.

According to the June 13 minutes of the conference’s clergy session, Kammerer said all matters in clergy executive session are highly confidential under the Book of Discipline. She urged the clergy members to honor that confidentiality.

Carole Vaughan, director of communications for the Virginia Annual Conference, would only confirm that Johnson had been placed on involuntary leave of absence. Due to confidentiality issues, she would not tell why Johnson was placed on leave. Officials at the South Hill church also would not comment.

Gary Creamer, a member of Johnson’s congregation, said the conference’s action “is unjust and over the top.”

“The church is not upholding the biblical principles outlined in Leviticus, 2 Timothy and Corinthians about homosexuality and the sins thereof,” Creamer said.

“I cannot see how you can take Holy Communion and openly practice that lifestyle. The Bible says homosexuality is a sin. Now everybody sins, but we like to think that everybody who is a member of the United Methodist Church is attempting to repent of their sins. Openly practicing homosexuality is not an attempt to repent of sins, in my opinion.”

The placement of Johnson on involuntary leave stemmed from him being charged with violating church polity and being “unwilling to take direction from his district superintendent and his bishop,” according to the minutes of the clergy session. The action was confirmed by a two-thirds vote of those at the clergy session — 418-114, with 8 abstentions.

During the clergy session, Kammerer was asked whether it is lawful for a clergyperson to “receive into the membership of a local United Methodist church anyone who is able to receive the vow, affirm the vow and promises to fulfill the vow, and who, at the same time, acknowledges and impenitently practices homosexual relations?” Kammerer said the bishop and the district superintendent are charged to give guidance, as was done in Johnson’s situation, according to the minutes.

Kammerer also was asked if the permissive language in Paragraphs 214 and 225 of the Book of Discipline gave “Johnson the right and responsibility to exercise responsible pastoral judgment in determining who may be received into church membership of a local church.”

Kammerer ruled “negative in this case,” the minutes report.

In a July 26 statement, the evangelical Good News organization said the standards of Scripture and the interpretation of those standards within the Book of Discipline regarding homosexual practice are “equally applicable to clergy and laity, and that Rev. Johnson’s decision finds support in church membership vows.”

What was being denied to this individual was membership in the church, not participation in its programs and ministries, said the Rev. Tom Lambrecht, senior pastor of Faith Community United Methodist Church in Greenville, Wis., and chairman of the Good News board of directors.

“Good News acknowledges differences of opinion about whether it is appropriate to deny church membership to individuals based on pastoral judgments about their sincerity and the state of their repentance or lack of it. However, we do not believe that the Book of Discipline requires pastors to receive unconditionally everyone who presents himself or herself for church membership.”

Johnson may return to an appointment next year if he follows guidelines set by the board of ordained ministry, but Layman declined to discuss what those guidelines are.

“The board of ordained ministry is working with him in providing opportunity to return.  He does have an opportunity to return to an appointment,” he said.

The case will also come before the Judicial Council, the denomination’s nine-member supreme court, which meets Oct. 26-29 in Houston. The council will review Kammerer’s decisions on fair process and pastoral authority under Paragraphs 214 and 225 of the Book of Discipline. The court automatically reviews every bishop’s ruling of law from annual conference sessions.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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