Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Keeping the Covenant

First I would like to express my thanks for all of those who have been faithful to what they believe, during this difficult time of the church trial.

Keeping the covenant is very important; and when we don’t it weakens the unity of the church. But the covenant is not always kept; and it causes pain to those who feel betrayed.  The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church says that every United Methodist Church shall have a chartered fellowship of United Methodist Men (Paragraph 256.6).  Some pastors and laypersons believe that they can break the covenant and not follow this part of the Discipline.  They feel strongly that they should be free to break the covenant for the sake of their understanding of their local church’s call to ministry.  This action weakens the work of the United Methodist Men and, some believe, also the future of the United Methodist Church.

We also break our covenant when we give lip service to open itinerancy, but then a church refuses to receive their next pastor, who happens to be a woman or someone from a different racial ethnicity or someone who speaks English as a second language.  We break the covenant when we don’t make accommodations for persons with disabilities, who need accessible accommodation in order to participate in the life of the church.  We United Methodists, through our General Conference, say that we are a church that will offer Holy Communion in our worship at least weekly, and every week a person seeking this means of grace should be able to find it at our worship service.  But too often local-church tradition trumps the desires of the General Conference. 

The Bible reminds us that the law kills, but the Spirit gives life. The course we are traveling where we pick and choose those parts of the Discipline we want to keep is problematic. People often get into trouble when they break church law. It is why Martin Luther was excommunicated, John Wesley was shut out of pulpits and Martin Boehm was dismissed from his church for shaking hands with Phillip William Otterbein.  Diversity of opinion is never easy, but no matter what we personally believe, and I hope you believe passionately in what God has revealed to you, we are called to behave like the children of God.  We should not call fire down from heaven on those with whom we disagree.  We are to love the people with whom we disagree because we are on the same journey and that journey is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

We are a divided church, but Christ calls us to unity.  It was his last prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and he knew the power of a united front as the church was born in the world.  We need to get quiet before our God and listen and learn how to love each other like Christians in the face of our diversity.  I am sorry that our United Methodist system of church trials forces us to harm each other and break one of the oldest tenets of our tradition: “Do no harm.”  May we find ways of solving our differences in peace.  May we keep the whole covenant, and the heart of that covenant is Love.


  1. With respect, a church may not have a UMM because it doesn't have people to have one. A pastor makes a decision whether or not to defy the Discipline on their own. Or, in the case of Rev. Schaefer whether he can promise to go forth and sin no more (or at least try).

  2. Don't you think there is a big difference between breaking covenant out of ignorance, or even laziness or apathy, and breaking it out of defiance or rebellion? And don't you think there are ways in which breaking covenant in one way is a BIGGER issue than others? For example, my marriage covenant. I am breaking my covenant with her when my selfishness causes me to not be fully attentive to her at all times. Should she be equally upset with me over that as she would be with adultery?

  3. Bishop Johnson,

    It appears to me that the examples of breaking covenant you bring up, pale in comparison to the willful violation of the will of General Conference that has been established and reinforced for over 40 years of holy conferencing. It is hard to "feel the love" when there is a disregard of Covenant among our Order. I believe that refusing to hold accountable those who violate our Orders is "doing harm" to our connection.
    I do wish you well in your ministry in E. PA. and pray that God will use you to bring faithfulness to our beloved church.

  4. I have been an active member of the United Methodist Church most of my 64 years - my grandfather and my oldest brother were UM ministers - I have served as Lay Leader for 2 years and been active in Council and lots of other areas - I have done sermons as a Layperson - in other words, I'm not educated in the "official church", but have lived it.
    I understand that the Bishops stand for and officiate over the "official and corporate" UM Church and you are prayerfully trying to do what you feel is best for all. But in the process I think that you also have to remember that the Discipline is a man-made book, not God-made, and so will not always be without need of change. Remember the first female who became an official minister - what were the "official" rules in the Discipline before that? What are you thoughts on the rightness and wrongness of other Denominations who vow that God has decreed that women should not step in back of the pulpit, or the Catholic view that in addition to no women priests that those male priests are decreed unable to marry???
    I don't understand the feelings of the gays of the world - but I have known enough to realize they are not perverted and sick - they really are different than I but no less loving, no less cared for by God - so I cannot judge, I cannot tell them they cannot or should not do what they have passionately prayed about and live. The Discipline is man-made,even like the partial verses that people pick apart and preach literal points from a Bible that has been translated and altered over and over again by mere people. I guess now I'm just starting to ramble as a mere laylady - but the Bishops need to remember that they themselves and the Discipline may be God inspired, but all are still human, not divine. Thank you

  5. The Bishop should take to heart her own blogs about discrimination such as June 19, 2013, "50 Years Later".

    "Were you alive in 1963? Do you remember how things were back then in your neighborhoods, in your churches? Have things changed?

    "In many ways the Civil Rights movement has made great strides in the United States. But in many ways we still have a long way to go. Prejudice, discrimination, and racist attitudes are still a big part of our world and even among the Body of Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

    "Spend some time this summer pondering what that means for you and your life. Take time to read about the life of the courageous people who led the Civil Rights movement. How can you continue what has been started in your life and in your church?"

  6. Thank you Bishop fir the example you give to us all.