Study commission to follow Bishop’s forum  on religious freedom, LGBTQ rights, church unity

By John W. Coleman

Bishop Peggy Johnson convened on May 20 a forum in response to the *Religious Freedom Resolution (#2016-18) “committed” to her by the 2016 Annual Conference in lieu of legislative action. The resolution asked the Conference to formally denounce attempts to pass laws that would “limit LGBT citizens’ freedom from discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodation based on any individual’s, company’s or organization’s supposed right to ‘religious freedom…’”

The motion to commit included a request that the bishop “convene a process, parallel to that recently entrusted to the Council of Bishops for the General Church, to discern a path by which we in the EPA can maintain our unity.”

After more discussion, the motion was amended to require a study commission that is “inclusive of the full diversity of the Eastern PA Conference,” and to ask that the bishop report back to the Annual Conference by November of 2017.

Thus, the resolution advocated against the rights of individuals and businesses who serve the general public to practice discrimination, due to their religious conscience, by refusing to serve certain people engaged in certain practices they find objectionable—such as same-sex weddings.

But the approved study commission was asked to “discern a path by which we in the EPA can maintain our unity.” The May 20 Religious Freedom Forum attempted to address both issues in the four papers delivered and in the group discussions that ensued.

About 30 people attended the forum, held in the Fellowship Center of Asbury UMC Allentown. Presenting papers were: the Rev. Dr. Christopher Fisher (whose paper was read, in his absence, by the Rev. Tim Kriebel); Jim Palmquist (shown right with Bishop Johnson); the Rev. Joseph DiPaolo (shown above speaking in a small group); and Bud Droke (above, standing at the podium with Kriebel).

Read the four papers, available on our website:

Attendees asked questions and then divided into small groups to hear and discuss their views and concerns. Two of the presented papers and much of the discussion addressed LGBTQ rights in the church versus United Methodist laws banning them from ordained ministry and marriage in the church.

Recently, Bishop Johnson announced to the Conference her subsequent intention to convene a formal commission, as requested, “to discern a path by which the Eastern PA conference can maintain their unity, amid deep and abiding disagreements over sexuality and marriage.”

As required, the commission will be “inclusive of the full diversity of the Eastern PA conference, specifically including LGBTQI persons, and will report back to the Annual Conference by November 2017.”

Bishop Johnson will choose members of the commission. However, she announced, “anyone, clergy or laity, in the Eastern PA Conference may self-nominate for this commission by sending their name, phone number and email address to:  EPAcommission@gmail.com.  A follow-up email will be sent to all who self-nominate in order to ensure full inclusivity.  Ten individuals will be selected by Bishop Johnson and will be notified by August 23, 2017.  The first meeting will be September 23, 2017, at the Conference Office, time TBA.

*Read RESOLUTION #2016–18, Resolution on Religious Freedom, and the amended motion to commit it to the Bishop.

 John Coleman photos