Slow Justice in Bishop Melvin Talbert Case

By Walter B. Fenton –

“This is the kind of situation that fosters dismay and cynicism throughout the United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Robert Renfroe, president of Good News, about the apparent lack of any significant progress regarding the complaint filed against retired Bishop Melvin Talbert.

Nearly one year ago, Talbert presided at a same sex service for two men in Birmingham, Alabama. Even though Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, leader of the North-Alabama Annual Conference, and the Council of Bishops’ Executive Committee asked Talbert not to participate, he rebuffed their requests and led the service anyway on October 25, 2013.

Three weeks later, the Council of Bishops directed Bishops Rosemarie Wenner, then president of the council, and Wallace-Padgett to file a complaint against Talbert. A number of bishops were clearly disturbed that Talbert not only violated the UM Church’s well known prohibition against presiding at same-sex services, but that he also refused to heed the request of his colleagues. The Book of Discipline clearly states that clergy and bishops are not to undermine the work of their colleagues.

Bishop Talber (Photo courtesy: UMNS)

Bishop Melvin Talbert (Photo courtesy: UMNS)

The incident, in combination with others, has roiled the denomination and led many to wonder if it can remain united when even a bishop defies the church’s teachings. Talbert has long railed against the church’s teachings on sexuality. He added his voice to a 2012 Western Jurisdiction statement claiming the jurisdiction would carry out ministry as if the church’s teachings on the practice of homosexuality and same-sex marriage were not in the Discipline. Shortly after presiding at the same-sex service last year, Talbert said those teachings are “wrong, evil, immoral.”

Despite Talbert’s clear breech of the Discipline, it took nearly four months before the church learned that Bishops Wenner and Wallace-Padgett had actually filed a complaint against him. The complaint was filed with the College of Bishops in the church’s Western Jurisdiction of which Talbert is a member. Little or nothing officially has been heard about the case since the complaint was filed.

“The perception being left with clergy and laity is that the College of Bishops in the Western Jurisdiction is slow walking the case against Talbert,” said Renfroe. “No organization would take this long to resolve such a high profile transgression by one of its executive leaders. When bishops receive word of a pastor clearly failing to live by the vows of our covenant, he or she is often swiftly placed on a leave of absence and justice is carried out, and rightfully so. All of us understand the importance of due process, but I cannot imagine why, in this case, it would take a year to find that Bishop Talbert knowingly and willfully violated church teachings and deliver a just verdict. Our leadership is in danger of giving the impression that bishops get to live by another standard.”

In the mean time, Talbert has made no effort to disavow his actions or to apologize to Bishop Wallace-Padgett and his colleagues for the disruption he has created in the life of the church. And embarrassingly, the Connectional Table’s Human Sexuality Task Force has invited him to serve as a panelist during a live, web-streaming event set for November 1, 2014 to discuss the church’s teachings on the practice of homosexuality and same-sex services.

The Rev. Walter B. Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and Good News staff member.


  1. I thank God for the leadership and courageous actions of Bishop Talbert.

    • What is so courageous about bowing to political correctness and the whims of culture instead of obeying God and His word? Bishop Talbert is taking the easy way out. It isn’t courageous, and it is wrong. And he is not leading he is misleading.

      Duane, why are you thanking God that Bishop Talbert has sinned against God and against us, breaking covenant with God and his fellow United Methodists? God had nothing to do with it.

  2. Jane L. Bonner says

    We have a plague in the United Methodist Church which is as deadly as ebola and we have not found the cure: Bishops who do not truly honor the Word of God or expect to be held accountable for their actions by peers, charges, or their own Creator. What is the cure? I wish I knew.

  3. Sonja LeVan says

    Many in our District would like to bring a complaint against Bishop Peggy Johnson….she openly supports the LGBTQ and does not let the majority of Methodists in this District have a voice!!!…How do we go about bringing a complaint??

  4. The Judicial Council meets later this month, with a number of items on the docket, which can be found at

    But I believe the most critical item on the docket is the one listed first, as it directly relates to the matter of the defiant disobedience of Bishop Melvin Talbert.

    Apparently, since the complaint against Talbert was finally filed, the only action taken has been to ask for a ruling from the Judicial Council on some apparent conflict in the Book of Discipline concerning complaints filed against bishops.

    This is the test case that I believe will tell the future of our denomination.

    If the bishops (and now the Judicial Council) will exercise appropriate Biblical church discipline (Mt 18:15-18) against Talbert, then it is likely that the denomination will follow their lead and there might be hope for us. But if they choose to protect one of their own at all costs, we will all pay a heavy price, probably in the form of a bitter and costly schism; or worse, in the form of a denomination that goes for unity at any price, and becomes as Wesley feared a form of “godliness” that denies the power and the authority of God.

    Truly we need to pray for a ruling from the Judicial Council that will not only enable but urge our bishops to do their job and discipline (and I mean really discipline) their fellow bishop who has broken covenant with them and with all of us.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.