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United Methodist bishops affirm church membership open to all

Nov. 3, 2005

By Tim Tanton

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS) - Homosexuality is not a barrier to membership in the United Methodist Church, the denomination's bishops said Nov. 2, two days after the church's top court supported a pastor's refusal to allow a gay man to join.

"While pastors have the responsibility to discern readiness for membership, homosexuality is not a barrier," the bishops said in their pastoral letter to the people of the United Methodist Church.

In a ruling announced Oct. 31, the Judicial Council supported the Rev. Ed Johnson of South Hill (Va.) United Methodist Church in his decision not to allow a gay man to join his congregation. The man was a choir member and had been meeting with Johnson about transferring membership from another denomination.

Johnson was placed on a yearlong involuntary leave of absence by fellow pastors during the clergy session of the Virginia Annual (regional) Conference last June. The Judicial Council upheld Johnson's action, citing the authority given to clergy by the church's Book of Discipline. The court ordered that the pastor be reinstated to his previous status.

The ripple effect of the court's decision was felt immediately in Lake Junaluska, where the Council of Bishops is holding its weeklong fall meeting. The council spent at least four hours in closed session working on a statement responding to the ruling.

"With the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, we affirm ?that God's grace is available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian community,'" the bishops said, quoting from the Social Principles in the Book of Discipline. "?We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.'

"We also affirm our Wesleyan practice that pastors are accountable to the bishop, superintendent and the clergy on matters of ministry and membership," the bishops said.

Bishop Peter D. Weaver Bishop Peter D. Weaver The Council of Bishops unanimously adopted the pastoral letter in closed session.

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