Retired UM Bishop Talbert to perform same-sex union

Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert will be the first publicly known United Methodist bishop to perform a same-sex wedding, according to a September 25 press release from the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). The ceremony will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, on October 26, 2013.

Talbert was elected bishop in 1980 by the Western Jurisdiction and was assigned to the Seattle Area and the San Francisco Area before his retirement in 2000. At Talbert’s urging in 2012, the episcopal leaders of the Western Jurisdiction launched a so-called “Biblical Obedience” movement to encourage United Methodists to act as if the Book of Discipline’s stance on homosexuality (Paragraph 161F) “does not exist.” That paragraph outlines the church’s position that the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Talbert will perform the wedding ceremony for Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw, members of Discovery United Methodist Church, located near Birmingham.

“We were married in a civil ceremony in Washington, D.C. in September,” Prince and Openshaw reported in a blog on the RMN website. “This marriage, while granting certain legal rights and benefits, is not recognized in our home state of Alabama, nor by the church that we serve. … Our union was blessed, along with many other couples, by Bishop Talbert at Reconciling Ministries Network’s convocation. A few days later our civil marriage took place.”

This will be the first known case of a retired bishop entering the episcopal area of an active bishop in order to perform a ceremony that is explicitly prohibited by The United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist Church does not permit same-sex unions to be conducted by its clergy or in its sanctuaries. The issue of the practice of homosexuality has been thoroughly debated and studied over the last 40 years. It has been a perpetual hot-button issue of controversy at every General Conference over the last four decades.

Bishop Talbert (Photo courtesy: UMNS)

Bishop Talber (Photo courtesy: UMNS)

Long an opponent of the United Methodist traditional stance on human sexuality and marriage, Talbert has been on a crusade for the last several years to encourage United Methodist clergy to defy the denomination and perform same-sex weddings as a manifestation of ecclesiastical disobedience.

“The time for talking is over,” Talbert said at a May 4 rally at the conclusion of the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Florida. “It’s time for us to act in defiance of unjust words of immoral and derogatory discrimination and laws that are doing harm to our GLBT sisters and brothers.”

In June, the following month, Talbert used the ordination service at the California-Pacific Annual Conference to reissue his call for schismatic action by United Methodist clergy. “The derogatory rules and restrictions in the Book of Discipline are immoral and unjust and no longer deserve our loyalty and obedience.” He encouraged the newly ordained clergy to perform same-sex weddings, “thus defying the laws that prohibit them from doing so.”

In response to Talbert’s outspoken activism, more than 70 prominent United Methodist clergy and lay people in the United States wrote an open letter on July 19, 2012, to the Council of Bishops asking that Talbert be censured for “encouraging dissension, disunity, and disobedience.”

Fully eight months later, Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, President of the Council of Bishops, responded to the letter writers and assured them that the bishops had “initiated serious deliberations about the meaning of accountability for bishops, fair accountability process within the authority that the Discipline gives us, and what are the appropriate actions for the Council to take in holding bishops accountable.”

Wenner also restated that the Council affirmed “once again our commitment to be faithful to this covenant we have made. As the Council of Bishops we will uphold the Book of Discipline as established by the General Conference.” Wenner stated: “This affirmation stands. It is an important foundation for developing our accountability process.”

To United Methodist pastors and lay persons who support the denomination’s stance on marriage and sexuality, however, the Council’s promise of accountability appears to be an empty promise ever since Talbert’s declaration in Tampa.

“To date, nothing public has been done regarding Bishop Talbert’s divisive actions,” stated the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president and publisher of Good News. “And we now wait to see if the Council will fulfill its promise in light of this upcoming act of disobedience. Our lay people find it incomprehensible that those entrusted with the leadership, unity and the doctrine of the church are regularly silent and reactive rather than clear, vocal and proactive when our life together is threatened by the actions of those who would leave our church divided and broken. ”

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  1. […] Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert, who retired in 2000 from the San Francisco region, is scheduled to perform the wedding in Birmingham, Alabama. […]

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