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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.
Talbert at RMN
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.