Retired Bishop to perform same-sex union

Dr. Bruce Robbins (left) with Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert at an event at the 2012 General Conference, UMNS.

Dr. Bruce Robbins (left) with Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert at an event at the 2012 General Conference, UMNS.



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. The ceremony is scheduled for October 26 in Birmingham, Alabama.

It is also 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.

Talbert plans to conduct the ceremony despite being asked not to by Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett of the North Alabama Annual Conference. “I talked to her, she listened, thought about it and called me back requesting that I not do it. I had to tell her respectfully I could not agree to her request,” Talbert told UM News Service.

“I urged the retired bishop to reconsider as his officiating at this ceremony would be in violation of United Methodist Church law,” Wallace-Padgett said in a press release. “The General Conference of The United Methodist Church, not a retired bishop, represents The United Methodist Church around this and other social issues.”

“For a bishop or any ordained or licensed minister to disregard a law of the church creates a breach of the covenant they made at their consecration, ordination or licensing,” her statement concluded.

Talbert was the episcopal leader of 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 the practice of homosexuality (Paragraph 161F) “does not exist.” That paragraph outlines the church’s position that the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

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

The United Methodist Church does not permit same-sex unions to be conducted by its clergy or on its properties. 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.

“As a retired bishop, assured of his pension, Bishop Talbert has little to lose by taking this action,” observed the Rev. Thomas A. Lambrecht, vice president of Good News. “Unfortunately, his words and actions are already causing great harm to our church, and if he follows through on his plans, the resulting consequences could be devastating to the unity and mission of The United Methodist Church.

“I applaud the courageous and faithful statement that Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett has made,” Lambrecht continued. “She was entirely right to ask Bishop Talbert not to violate the Discipline and not to disrupt her annual conference in doing so. Bishop Talbert’s desire to promote and normalize the practice of homosexuality has now reached the point that he is unwilling to show a modicum of respect for an episcopal colleague and her request not to fracture the unity of her annual conference.”

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 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 in July 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 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.

“We thank God for Bishop Wallace-Padgett and her principled stance of the church’s position,” said Renfroe. “May her number increase.”

Good News Media Service

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