Photo Courtesy of Reconciling Ministries Network
Talbert at RMN
Bishop Melvin G. Talbert calls for "biblical obedience" during the 2013 convocation of the Reconciling Ministries Network.
Compiled from news and staff reports
A showdown appears imminent on the United Methodist Council of Bishops over the denomination's stances against clergy officiating at same-gender weddings, which are now legal in 14 states and the District of Columbia.
The Executive Committee of the United Methodist Council of Bishops issued a statement Oct. 23 in response to retired Bishop Melvin G. Talbert’s plans to officiate at the marriage ceremony of Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw on Oct. 26 in Birmingham, Ala. In essence, the statement represents a formal warning from the Council of Bishops to Bishop Talbert that if he proceeds with his plans, he most will likely be brought up on church charges for violating the United Methodist Book of Discipline, the collection of church laws.
Ironically, the statement's signers include at least one bishop who in the past has actively sought to overturn United Methodism's anti-LGBT stances. Retired Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, who now serves as the Council of Bishops' ecumenical officer, was among a group of 15 bishops who scandalized the church in 1996 when they publicly broke silence with their episcopal colleagues to advocate for removing United Methodist anti-LGBT stances. At the time Bishop Swenson was also the host bishop for the 1996 General Conference, which met in Denver, Colo., seat of her episcopal area.
Also signing the bishops' statement is Bishop Warner Brown (San Francisco Area), president-designate of the Council of Bishops. Bishop Brown's area is in the Western Jurisdiction, whose delegates in 2012 supported Bishop Talbert's call to "biblical obedience" of love for others over submission to the Book of Discipline's prohibitions against same-gender marriage. Since that time, more pastors and laypeople have adopted the theme of "biblical obedience" to justify allowing United Methodist clergy to officiate at same-gender marriage ceremonies where such unions are legal.
There are different procedures for trials involving bishops, clergy and laity in The United Methodist Church, according to a 2004 Interpreter magazine article on church trials by the Rev. J. Richard Peck. If a complaint of a "chargeable offense" is directed against a bishop, the Book of Discipline provides that the charge goes to "a jurisdictional or central conference investigation committee made up of seven clergy in full connection, two lay observers and six alternates (five clergy and one lay)" (Church Trials). Alternative forms of conflict resolution are tried first. If the committee finds that the complaint has merit, it would be forwarded for a church trial according to the Discipline procedures for bishops.
If found guilty of a chargeable offense, a bishop could face any number of escalating penalties, up to and including the removal of clergy credentials and loss of monetary benefits.
According to a United Methodist News Service article on the bishops' statement, the Book of Discipline affirms “the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman.” Church law bans United Methodist clergy from performing, and churches from hosting, “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.”
Here is the text of the statement by the bishops' executive committee:
WASHINGTON — “The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.” (BOD – ¶ 120). This is the core of our self-understanding as The United Methodist Church. We are called to be part of God’s mission movement in all places of the world where our congregations happen to be located.
As a church that serves in four continents, in numerous languages and multiple cultures, we live with different opinions in many issues including human sexuality. Yet we seek ways to walk together in obedience to God’s call, united in Christ who heals the brokenness of the world and of the church. We are committed to organizing our life by following the Book of Discipline which is discussed and decided every four years at General Conference. As bishops, we are called to serve “in special covenant with all other bishops” (¶ 422.1) in order to offer “the oversight of the spiritual and temporal affairs of the whole church.”(¶ 422.3)
The bishops of the church are bound together in a covenant and all ordained elders are committed to uphold the Book of Discipline. “Conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies” are chargeable offenses in the United Methodist Church. (¶2702.1.b) The Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops has urged Bishop Melvin Talbert not to perform the same-gender marriage in Birmingham, Alabama. Furthermore, the Resident Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett has requested him not to come to the Birmingham Area for this purpose.
We have taken this action with deep respect for Bishop Talbert’s intention to serve as a pastor for United Methodists who experience themselves as excluded because of decisions of the General Conference. We also know that Bishop Wallace-Padgett is the caring shepherd of all people in the congregations in the North Alabama Conference. We are united in believing in the sacred worth of all people.
We will continue to stay in honest and respectful conversation in the Council of Bishops on how to lead the church to live out the call to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We commit ourselves to live in loving and respectful relationships with one another and with all United Methodists and all people of faith. Through Christ, we are one in the Spirit even though we are not always of one mind. We ask all United Methodists to pray for one another and for the world, trusting that God who reconciled the world will enable us and all Christians to strive for peace and justice for all.
The executive committee includes the following bishops:
President: Rosemarie Wenner of the Germany Area
President designate: Warner H. Brown Jr. of the San Francisco Area
Secretary: Robert E. Hayes Jr. of the Oklahoma Area
Executive secretary: Peter Weaver, retired
Ecumenical officer: Mary Ann Swenson, retired
Immediate past president: Larry M. Goodpaster of the Charlotte (N.C.) Area
Connectional Table chair: Bruce Ough of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area
Leadership team chairs: Sudarshana Devadhar of the Boston Area; Jonathan Holston of the Columbia (S.C.) Area; Janice Huie of the Houston Area; Deborah Lieder Kiesey of the Michigan Area; Paul Leeland of the Alabama-West Florida Area; Mike Lowry of the Fort Worth (Texas) Area; Mike McKee of the Dallas Area; and David Yemba of the Central Congo Area.
Information from United Methodist News Service, Interpreter magazine and United Methodist Insight was used in this report.