In the book, Bishop Johnson writes about the “controversy around same-gender marriage, sexual orientation, gender identity and what it means to keep in a convenantal relation with fellow United Methodists of differing opinions” by sharing her own story as a bishop of the church, wife of a transgender woman, and mother of a gay son.
“It is a testimony to the grace of God that led me through many personal and theological challenges,” Bishop Johnson said. “Prior to my election as a bishop, I served an all-Deaf congregation and experienced first-hand the life of the gay Deaf community. It was there that I first wrestled with the question of homosexuality and sin. As I got to know these gifted and lively people, I began to see things differently than I was taught growing up.”
Bishop Johnson, who retired in 2021, currently serves the New England Conference. She was elected to the episcopacy in 2008, and from then until her retirement served the Philadelphia Area of The United Methodist Church, which included the Eastern Pennsylvania and the Peninsula-Delaware annual conferences. Read more about her here.
Bishop Johnson writes about many of the people she’s encountered who left a lasting impression on her and her views, including Walter, the “Best Deaf Drag Queen Ever,” who, she writes, “taught me much about his world and sealed in my heart the belief that LGBTQIA+ people are children of God like all people.”
The book, published by acta Publications, does not shy away from the painful moments, including her decision to bring Rev. Frank Shaefer to trial in 2012 for conducting the marriage of his gay son.
“… I elected to uphold [the United Methodist Book of Discipline] and allow a pastor to go to a church trial for performing a gay wedding,” Bishop Johnson said. “This was the worst decision I ever made, but perhaps the good that came from it was there had not been a trial like that since. For me it was a turning point that helped me see the futility of legislating the hearts of people around this justice concern.”
Through the lens of her journey with her spouse, Mary, and her transition, Bishop Johnson explores “the raging theological wars that ensued around human sexuality in the annual conferences where I presided and during painful General and Jurisdictional conferences.”
Of the annual conferences in 2016, during which 50 people were killed in a shooting at The Pulse, a gay nightclub in Florida, she writes:
“It seemed as if the whole world was reeling with injustice, oppression and violence. Human history has been one long saga of people hating one another because of who they are, what they have or what they believe. Power and gold seem to be the gods of this planet. The overt oppression of homosexual and transgender people in the church was part of it all. Could not the church be better than the world and offer hope and acceptance to oppressed people? But that is difficult to accomplish when people use the Bible to justify oppression and rules in the denominational law book that institutionalize the exclusion.”
Proceeds from the book will be donated to the Christ Deaf UMC in Baltimore, MD, where Bishop Johnson served as pastor for 20 years.
“I hope the reader will understand the real-life people that I describe on this journey and will be able to see how God’s Spirit continues to open doors wider and wider for inclusion and a theology of grace,” Bishop Johnson said. “I also hope it can be a source for the future church to remember what it was like during this era of disaffiliation and struggle and learn from this journey. May we recognize the footsteps of the Eternal one who loves and embraces all who are left out.”
Get the book
The Ever-Expansive Spirit of God: For All Who Feel Left Out
By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson
2023, acta Publications
Get the book through the publisher’s website
Available from booksellers beginning in July 2023