From Protest to Provocation

Bishop Melvin Talbert, UMNS

Bishop Melvin Talbert, UMNS

By Walter Fenton

It will come as no surprise to many United Methodists that retired Bishop Melvin Talbert has once again flagrantly defied the church by presiding at his second same-sex wedding. Talbert joined the Rev. Val Rosenquist as a co-presider at the wedding of John Wilborne and Jim Romano. The service was held at First United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Saturday, April 23.

What is somewhat surprising, and certainly regrettable, is the spurious reason Talbert has given for presiding at the service. “Doing it now will lay this issue squarely before [the General Conference delegates] in a way that hasn’t happened before,” Talbert told BuzzFeed reporter Dominic Holden.

Surely, Talbert knows “this issue” was already “squarely” before the General Conference delegates. There was absolutely no need, just seventeen days before the delegates gather in Portland, for him to do this. Instead of protest, he is now needlessly engaging in provocation.

Talbert’s presiding at this service also borders on grandstanding, especially when he says, “Only [services] that get publicity, like mine in Alabama, get the book thrown at them.”

He is of course referring to the same-sex service he presided at in Birmingham, Alabama, in October of 2013. He most certainly did not have “the book thrown at [him]” then, and he knows it is very unlikely he will have “the book thrown at [him]” now.

Here is what happened to him after he presided at the ceremony in Alabama. It wasn’t until March of the following year that two bishops, Rosemarie Wenner and Debra Wallace-Padgett actually got around to filing a complaint against him. And it took over nine months for the supervisory team of Bishops Elaine J. W. Stanovsky and Robert Hoshibata (plus one lay member) to negotiate a so-called “just resolution” in the case.

The terms of the resolution – conveniently and quietly announced on December 30, 2014 – came nowhere close to “throwing the book” at him. It contained no punitive measures – no church trial, no losing of his credentials. He did not even have to acknowledge that he had broken covenant with the UM Church, his episcopal colleagues, or the Order of Elders. The closest he came to showing any remorse was expressing “regret for felt harm and unintended consequences that his actions caused some bishops, pastors, and church members.”

Of course, the resolution also expressed regret “over harm to gay and lesbian sisters and brothers, and all those involved, through the complaint process.”

The so-called “just resolution” further tarnished the reputation of the entire Council of Bishops. Two major consulting firms had recently reported that rank-and-file United Methodists exhibited a gaping lack of trust in its denominational leaders, but no U.S. members of the council were prepared to call the “resolution” what it actually was – a farce that threatened to undermine the council’s credibility.

It is also sad that Talbert would give any credence to the claim that he has put at risk his ministerial credentials and his episcopal office by presiding at the service in Charlotte. He told BuzzFeed, “The ultimate action would be removal of my order[s], [and] I would no longer be a bishop.”

If a complaint is filed against Talbert it will be handled, like the previous complaint, by a supervisory response team composed of two bishops from the UM Church’s Western Jurisdiction. Bishops in that jurisdiction have no intention of proceeding to a trial against a fellow bishop. He would only face a trial if he asked for one.

The bishops in the Western Jurisdiction have already made it clear that there will be one standard for rank-and-file clergy who violate United Methodist standards and a different, more privileged standard for Bishop Talbert.

The irony here is that Talbert is aware of UM pastors who actually have put their ministerial credentials at stake. In 1998, after 67 UM clergy members in the progressive California-Nevada Annual Conference jointly presided at a same-sex wedding, six conservative pastors encouraged their congregants to withhold apportionments from the conference, which was currently led by Talbert. In response, he used his episcopal power of appointment to drive the six from the denomination.

It was clear to many at the time that Talbert had no intention of extending the six conservatives the kind of cushy just-resolution he has received, and is likely to receive again. It was also clear that when it came to a threatened annual conference funding stream, Talbert was not so keen on clergy and laity who pointed, as he does for his defiance, to “biblical obedience” as one of the reasons for their withholding apportionments.

General Conference delegates did not need Talbert’s latest turn at grandstanding to put this issue “squarely” before them. But perhaps the Council of Bishops did. As part of the “just resolution” Talbert reached with Wenner and Wallace-Padgett, he agreed to “live according to the Book of Discipline.” He has now violated that agreement, again. Should U.S. bishops fail to denounce his latest infraction and publicly censure him, they threaten to further undermine their credibility and stoke the tensions at a General Conference that already seems to be spinning out of control before it even begins.

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


  1. Yes, the problem is that he didn’t “have the book thrown at him.” It’s time to start throwing the book! If you do not wish to abide by the disciplines of the faith you affirmed yourself in, you need to leave that faith. It IS just that simple. You knew the rules when you joined. Period. Plenty of other faiths are happy to ignore scripture as Talbert does. Like-thinkers need to leave the UMC and join one of those faiths. “Stealing” (yes, stealing!) the UMC by forcing (yes, forcing!) those who believe in the Book of Discipline to see things your way and change the UMC to your liking is the very definition of bullying. People like this are termites – determined to destroy a good foundation and watch a long-standing, good institution crumble.

    • Flo Hutchings Doss says

      yes, he knew the rules it is time for the UMC to take a firm stand with these ministers who deliberately choose to break them.

    • Dee Dowdy says

      While I am upset by Bishop Talbert’s decision to violate the Just Resolution, I expected it to happen as he is bent on focring the issue. The person listed as “Dee” in the above statement is not the Dee from the N.A.C.

  2. gary bebop says

    The anger we express is understandable, but what recourse is there beyond this? Defiance of church law by bishops seems to have no real remedy. And we are on the cusp of a General Conference about to be overtaken by bully forces. Again, traditional processes and agents seem helpless and disinclined to act. Good News has patiently argued for legislative remedies, but those remedies will be vitiated by the same bishops who now refuse to uphold the law in substance. Legislative remedies will be hollowed out and mocked by bishops in several jurisdictions. The intimidation factor is now in play.

  3. Rodney Tyler says

    This thing is real simple. 70% of the lay people support the current discipline which is basically One Man, One Woman. 70% of UMC leaders support Same Sex Marriage. Let’s see if 30% lay people can support the salaries and infrastructure of the UMC. Someone needs to organize a campaign called, “HOLD the TITHE, ENFORCE the DISCIPLINE”.

    • Ronald sandritter says

      His credentials should be revoked. Period. Otherwise the book of discipline has no discipline or authority.

  4. Defiance is a mark of desperation. Rev. Talberrt wants to be seen as a heroic figure leading a group to an unfulfilled conclusion. Their “cause” per Biblical standards is not just.. He and others are simply saying “no” to God. We must remember our forefathers, those who spoke the word of God to us; consider their outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Leadership is always about seeing that righteous things are accomplished.

  5. My hope is that this action will awaken the General Conference delegates to the fractured UMC, thus ending the pretentious, and they will vote decisive action so that those of us in the pews, those funding this tragedy, can finally make a decision as to our future affiliation with this denomination.

  6. If nothing happens this time around, our denomination is screwed and it’s time to shop around for a new one.

  7. Licensed Local Pastor says

    Bishop Talbert does it again, he goes into another bishops jurisdiction and violates the vows he took and the “just resolution” he agreed to. Bishop Talbert is disingenuous and cannot be trusted. He is a bully and fulfils Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 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. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. We have been warned about people like Bishop Talbert y Peter as well in 2 Peter chapter 2.
    The Bishops of the United Methodist Church have an opportunity to show leadership and faithfulness to the scriptures and the Book of Discipline or they can cave into this bully. What the leadership of the UMC needs to realize is,
    Any Aberrant Behavior that is

    quoted from, Marlin Newburn M.A. LLP

    We are seeing all of the above statement being played out in the UMC because the Bishops will not stand up and deal with people like Bishop Talbert and others. The current Bishops are actually guilty of increasing this type of disobedience.

  8. gary bebop says

    GC2016 is very unlikely to impose arbitrary punishments or severe rules to curb defiance by bishops. I’m certain that Good News has already “priced in” the possibility that GC2016 will become a shambles. This is not a situation where revoking someone’s credentials will accomplish anything. Don’t focus on Bishop Talbert as though he is at the epicenter. This program of overthrowing tradition has advocates in every annual conference and at high levels. Don’t be fooled into thinking this contagion can be cured by an evangelical backlash. If so, there would already have been melioration.

  9. Brian Taylor says

    Our bishops are acting like our politicians. It is time to delete their life appointments and have term limits imposed, as they should be on congress. If the protectors and leaders of our denomination can no longer protect and lead the flock, they should leave! I know that if no action is taken to keep the current discipline, I will take my own by no longer associating with the United (????) Methodist Church and will seek my relationship with my Lord and Savior outside the church.

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