Jane and her little sister Amy were always “artistic and bookish.”
Born five years apart, they grew up together in a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania “at the tail end of a large family.” They loved playing with dolls and riding bicycles. In high school, Jane was a majorette and Amy was a cheerleader.
wHAT THe church sAYS
The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, since 1972 has proclaimed the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The book prohibits United Methodist churches from hosting and clergy from performing “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.” The 2012 General Conference, when it met April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Fla., rejected efforts to change that language, including a proposal to say the church was in disagreement about homosexuality. General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly, will next convene in 2016. Officiating at same-sex unions is a chargeable offense under the Book of Discipline. Clergy convicted in a church court can face a loss of clergy credentials or lesser penalties. However, church law does not censure those who disagree with church teaching on this matter — only those who actually take actions that violate church law. The Book of Discipline also states that marriage is between a man and a woman.
They both went away to college. Jane got married and decided to stay home and raise her children. Amy co-founded a film production company and was in a loving, committed relationship with another woman.
Amy died of cancer in 2011, and Jane is certain she is in heaven. Just as certain as she is that a “gay lifestyle” was not what God wanted for her sister.
Jane L. Bonner is president of the Eastern Pennsylvania Evangelical Connection and a strong advocate for The United Methodist Church’s position that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and that God intends marriage to be only between a man and a woman.
Her sister, Amy Lamb, was a professional photographer and filmmaker known in Pittsburgh as a godmother to struggling artists.
“I know my sister is in heaven because she trusted in the sacrifice of Jesus for her salvation,” Bonner said.
Do not condemn
One thing Bonner always wanted her sister to know was that she did not condemn her. “I think that is sort of a myth that people carry around thinking we must condemn if we don’t agree — that is the biggest fallacy in our society today,” she said.
Bonner is in a leadership role in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference and an active member of Bethlehem United Methodist Church. When Bishop Peggy Johnson announced dialogues between groups with differing opinions on human sexuality, Bonner was eager to join in the conversation.
“We need to keep talking, we need to understand we can still love one another without capitulating,” she said.
Eastern Pennsylvania’s conference has been in the spotlight recently for defrocking a pastor who performed a same-sex wedding for his son and because of a high-profile wedding of two men in Philadelphia at Arch Street United Methodist Church, which was officiated by more than 50 United Methodist pastors.
Bonner attended both days of the trial of Frank Schaefer, the pastor who performed his son’s wedding ceremony. She also helped write a letter sent to Johnson calling for her to hold the pastors who officiated at the Arch Street same-sex wedding “accountable to their ordination vows.”
“I am openly engaged in trying to keep our church from making the mistake of changing our position on marriage. And I don’t mean just same-sex marriage, multiple marriage or anything that might come down the pike,” she said.
The two sisters often had long talks, and, at one point, Amy asked Jane if she would support her if she decided to marry her partner.
“I looked at her and said, ‘I will have to pray about it,’” she said. “I never had a chance to find out what my answer to that question would be.”
One of her regrets is that her sister and her partner did not make better preparations about dealing with their estate. Bonner, whose husband is an attorney, is working to see that her sister’s partner gets the house and property she shared with Lamb.
In the last days of her illness, Bonner was able to talk to her sister about a funeral. Lamb wanted Bonner’s daughter, a United Methodist pastor, to officiate, and she wanted her funeral to be in a United Methodist church near her home in Mount Washington.
“I contacted the pastor (in Mount Washington), and she was so phenomenal,” Bonner said. “She made arrangements, came to the hospital and met Amy and her family. It was so evident that God was in all of it.
“Wow! Did we have a celebration,” Bonner said about her sister’s funeral. “I felt really blessed that God honored her commitment to him because she was committed to the Lord.
“Jesus said he brought life abundant. I think there are so many things in this world that can rob us of the many blessings God has for us,” she said.
Bonner believes the church has failed those who identify as homosexual by failing to give them love and options that Jesus offers to all sinners.
“I think of my sister and how rich she was in talent and a big heart, and I love her partner as a sister. I know she meant the world to her and yet I just think that there was maybe a better way for each of them.”
*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615)742-5470 or [email protected].