No Consequences for Talbert’s Defiance

By Walter B. Fenton –

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky announced January 5 that a “just resolution” had been reached regarding a complaint filed against retired Bishop Melvin Talbert. According to the resolution, Talbert will not face a church trial and will suffer no consequences for conducting a ceremony to celebrate the union of a same-gender couple or for undermining the ministry of a colleague.

Talbert blatantly disregarded the will of The United Methodist Church by performing a same-sex service in Birmingham, Alabama, on October 25, 2013. At the direction of the whole Council of Bishops, Bishops Rosemarie Wenner (the president of the council at the time) and Debra Wallace-Padgett (presiding bishop of the Birmingham Area) filed a formal complaint against Talbert in March 2014.

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.

According to the agreement, Talbert was only willing to express “regret for felt harm and unintended consequences that his actions caused some bishops, pastors, and church members.” Furthermore, the statement contends, “Bishop Talbert holds steadfastly to the conviction that his actions were just and right.”

“United Methodists in Alabama, lay and clergy, have stated that Bishop Talbert’s actions harmed their ministry,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News. “Maybe the ministry of United Methodists in that state is of little concern to those in the Western Jurisdiction, as indicated by this so called ‘resolution,’ but it matters to the rest of us. We will wait to hear if their work matters to the other members of the Council of Bishops or if this disrespect for our brothers and sisters in Alabama, cynically termed a ‘just resolution,’ is ignored by other council members.”

Before retiring Talbert served as a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction, the most progressive regional body in the church and the one that has experienced the greatest membership decline over the past 40 years. Since retirement Talbert has aggressively advocated for same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy. In 2012 he encouraged Western Jurisdiction Conference delegates to do ministry as if the church’s opposition to the practice of homosexuality “does not exist.”

Rob Renfroe

Rob Renfroe

“The bishops in the west have had their salaries subsidized by United Methodists in Alabama and in other annual conferences,” said Renfroe. “Surely, faithful United Methodists will begin to question the wisdom of doing so. The resolution of this case is a sham and confirms that those who break the Discipline may do so, while all that the rest of us should do is continue to talk about the issue.”

The agreement largely avoided the specifics of the case. It affirmed a task force that is currently studying human sexuality, encouraged the Council of Bishops to engage in more conversations, and also requested that the council find ways to avoid the “judicial process” when dealing with clergy who break covenant regarding matters pertaining to the homosexuality debate.

Since 1972 the UM Church has clearly stated and often reaffirmed that “all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God,” but that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” As a world-wide denomination, the church has also declared that clergy are not to preside at or celebrate same-sex marriages.

Despite the church’s repeated rulings on the matter, progressives and some church leaders have continually called for further dialogue and conversation. Despite the willingness of moderates and conservatives to engage in dialogue, many progressives have used the time of conversation to subvert the church’s teaching through acts of ecclesiastical disobedience. Talbert’s performing the same-sex service in Birmingham was just one of a number of such acts over the past two years.

Tom Lambrecht

Tom Lambrecht

“Regretfully, the resolution reached in this case demonstrates a profound lack of leadership,” said the Rev. Tom Lambrecht, vice president of Good News. “This agreement will only confirm the church’s lack of trust and confidence in its episcopal leaders and the judicial process. The perception will surely be left that a bishop can violate the church’s teachings with impunity and suffer no consequences whatsoever when it comes to same-sex services. It’s a sad day for the church.”

Increasingly, progressive clergy are presiding at same-sex services throughout the U.S., and particularly in the Western Jurisdiction. Conservatives and moderates in the church believe the agreement reached in the Talbert case will signal to progressive pastors that they can preside at such services and fear no consequences for their actions. The agreement reached in the Talbert case also feeds traditionalists’ suspicions that progressives are attempting to achieve de facto what they have not been able to achieve through the normal legislative process at General Conference.

“This case is now an offense to the entire church,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, chairperson of the Good News Board of Directors. “The will of General Conference has been violated and left undefended. The work of pastors has been undermined. And the people who fund the work of the church have been treated with contempt and disdain. In reality, the resolution in this case has resolved nothing. Since Talbert was not held accountable for clear violations of the Book of Discipline the bitter and acrimonious debate will continue.”

Since the complainants and the respondent all agreed to the resolution of the case it is now closed and there is no recourse to an appeal.

“Unfortunately,” Renfroe said, “this decision lacks integrity, undermines unity, and therefore brings the church closer to division.”

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and analyst for Good News.

Comments

  1. If the UMC is ever going to split this would be the time. We have now become the Episcopal Church. If there is some event that would trigger a schism that hasn’t occurred yet, I can’t imagine what it would be. If this isn’t the time for action, what would be?

    • I could not agree with you more. I haven’t been to my umc in weeks. I think I’m done.

    • I think I’m done.

      • Larry Hicks says

        When I gave my life to Christ in 1977 I told The Lord that I wanted to serve Him and follow His Word. It is with much pain and sorrow that I have resigned as pastor of my two UMC churches. I cannot in good faith continue my relationship with the UMC. If the UMC can somehow justify what Scripture condemns, what’s next?

  2. These are strange times…one pastor said to me (direct quote) “the bishop would fire me faster if I baptized an adult that had just come to Christ but had already been baptized as an infant, than if I had cheated on my wife by having multiple affairs.” And he was serious. Now others clearly and purposefully violate the discipline and it is swept under the rug. I think the devil has caused the UMC to think that it should accept any theology that is deemed politically correct. If there are no consequences, why not just throw it all to the wind. The discipline is the UM church law. I understand you don’t agree with all of it, I don’t either. If you feel compelled to defy it, I suggest you find another place to preach. I was a Methodist before they were “united”. However, I am also a Christian that studies the scriptures, and there are several things about the UMC with which I have just had it and I don’t want to fight it anymore. There was a time I loved this denomination, but I am now feeling that I should not support it anymore.

    • Amen. I was actually thinking at one time of joining the Orthodox Church. It’s ancient, and not the church on 7 hills. Homosexuality is not even up for debate there.

  3. Those signing this “just resolution” are traitors. They have taken a deliberate step to harm the church. They have renounced their vows. They have abdicated their duty. And, they have used deception and convoluted rhetoric in an attempt to hide their ugly deed.

    Main question here: why did the Alabama Bishop sign this resolution? Was she bullied into accepting this?

  4. Because of situations such as this and the fact that our general superintendent and several high ranking members of the bishop’s staff are progressives (they endorsed Adam Hamilton’s “A Way Forward for the UMC),” I no longer contribute directly to the UMC church hat I attend regularly. I don’t want my contributions through apportionments to provide financial support for the aforementioned and other progressives like Bishop Talbert. I have and will continue to provide occasional financial support to the church for special projects that are not tied to apportionments.

  5. I am an elder in the Southeastern Jurisdiction. There is no longer any way to pretend that we are “United.” Those who believe in the authority of Scripture as transmitted through 2000 years of Christian tradition must prepare for an amicable separation at General Conference 2016. Carefully consider who you choose as lay and clergy delegates when you vote this year at Annual Conference. I am already working on a revised Book of Discipline for churches who form a new Methodist Connection that believes in transformation of sinners through the grace of God’s Holy Spirit. We no longer should support the Western, North Central, and Northeastern jurisdictions. The Book of Discipline must be emended so that bishops salaries are raised in the individual jurisdictions. Let the bishops who hold the view live on the reduced salaries!!!

  6. Ian McDonald says

    2 Timothy 4:3

    3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

    Enough said.

  7. Charles Dillman says

    First, we will lose the contest of words if we continue to call the liberals “PROGRESSIVES” and speak of one jurisdiction as “the most progressive…” To over 90% of readers, “progressive” is a Good Thing. That is precisely how these people want to be perceived, and how they see themselves: the good guys.
    I understand the history of the term, growing during the Victorian era, well before 1900, and the corrosive “progressivism” of Teddy Roosevelt and especially Woodrow Wilson, and its encroachment into the various strands of our church. But it is not progress to abandon trust in the authority of the Scriptures (the first and most essential step in selling this corrosive program. If we must use the term, we need to say “so-called progressive.”
    Second, we need clear-cut steps for the UMC to divide without OUR being the ones to leave.

    • Charles, I’ll go to your second point first. I agree with you, but this will not be easy to do. We who want to follow the word of God have allowed too many people into leadership who don’t. However I still think we should work and pray for a separation that will be as peaceful as possible, while still working and praying for a way to hold those defying the covenant accountable and get back on the right course. And I do think it is those who are going against the Discipline who should have to leave, not those who are following it.

      Now to your first point. Yes, we are giving way too much ground in the contest of words. The term I now use for so-called “progressives” in the church reflects what they do: Biblical revisionists. If you want to know how I came to this, and why I refuse to call them progressives, see my blog post:

      https://compassionofthechrist.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/its-time-to-call-progressives-what-they-are/

  8. And now, as the “end game” draws near and we finally arrive at the place of indisputable separation, I have two questions. One is institutional and the other is personal:
    1) How will Good News navigate this schism? The leaders of this movement would likely want to preserve some connection to the UMC hierarchy, to continue to have some influence and to inform traditional Methodists of critical information. However, the GN folks must ask how can they defend traditional Wesleyan tenants, while holding close relationships with those who tear those same tenants apart. At some juncture, there will need to be a clear separation of pathways. If we must establish a new scripture-based Wesleyan church, it cannot be accomplished while courting favor with the current UMC bishops and leadership.
    2) How will UM ministers and other church officials address their pensions, retirement accounts and sphere of influence? Many churchmen and women work long, hard hours and look forward to some form of viable retirement opportunity. Divided resources and assets will result in a devaluation of our minister’s retirement funds. Moreover, if there appears no conciliatory settlement between the traditionalists and the progressives, would the tradition clergy be prepared to walk away and form a new church…or would they choose to persevere, rather than risk loosing their pensions?

    I do not raise these questions in a glib or thoughtless manner; rather, as a child of a former EUB minister, I can recall that same choice that faced ministers who could not subscribe to that merger. Some went to various denominations; some assisted in founding new churches; some, such as my father, complained for years about the EUB/Methodist merger. But despite his lack of agreement, he felt the obligation to his family to guard his pension. I understand that this may be perceived as lacking faith or not trusting the Lord’s provision. However, I was not in his shoes and would not choose to judge. I am willing to venture that a great many UM clergy will soon be facing the same choices that my father wrestled with so many years ago. I pray that God’s grace and wisdom will sustain you.

  9. Wayne Jones says

    Sadly, The Good News Cone Heads all wanted to have Bishop Talbert’s head on a metaphorical tray, or if not that, at least his defrocking. Lotsa luck on getting that outcome in the Western Jurisdiction! So now they want to pass legislation in 2016 to make any charges of episcopal offenses amenable to a committee of the GC. All in the name of sharpening their legalistic axe and whacking away at the basic UM structure to protect their shrinking minority ‘turf.’ Lotsa luck on getting that past the JC. The good news is that Maxie and his boys will soon pass from this life into the next, where they can try to flog the same old dead horse.

  10. I see Wayne is up on everything good news is doing. He must have a guilty conscience .

  11. I grew up in a church in the Oregon-Idaho Conference. I went to Sunday School, and youth group all through my formative years. I didn’t understand the importance of accepting of Christ until I attended a Baptist church when I was in college. When I came back from college I actually helped out with the youth group for 6 years before finally leaving to find another church. It was upsetting because I know everyone in the congregation. Five years ago I returned to the church and currently sing in a praise band. One of the band members grew up in this church just like me. I hope and pray that a break up in the church happens, but mostly I hope that if it does…. that the current membership will want to stay with the UMC that follows the current discipline. I rarely go to church now. I only go when I need to sing. I was told that the minister stated that there was no hell last week?? What??!! Then what is this all for????? Why even go to church?? What is the point of Jesus dying on the cross??!! It makes no sense to me at all. My prayer is that if a break happens…. I pray that my church can get a real pastor that believes in the Scriptures. Otherwise….. I will be looking for another church.

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