(RNS) The United Methodist Church’s division over homosexuality grew heated Friday (Nov. 15), as the denomination’s Council of Bishops called for charging retired Bishop Melvin Talbert with presiding at the Oct. 26 wedding of two men, which the church forbids.

Bishop Melvin Talbert joined 13 other United Methodist bishops at a gathering on May 4 outside the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida, where they showed their support for clergy in the denomination who choose to officiate at religious weddings of same-sex couples. Doing so is a violation of church rules, but Talbert said he preferred Biblical obedience even if it meant ecclesiasical disobedience. Photo by Paul Jeffrey/courteys UMNS

Bishop Melvin Talbert joined 13 other United Methodist bishops at a gathering on May 4 outside the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida, where they showed their support for clergy in the denomination who choose to officiate at religious weddings of same-sex couples. Doing so is a violation of church rules, but Talbert said he preferred Biblical obedience even if it meant ecclesiasical disobedience. Photo by Paul Jeffrey/courteys UMNS


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The council asked its president, Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, and Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett of the North Alabama Conference, to file a complaint accusing Talbert of undermining the ministry of a colleague and conducting a ceremony to celebrate the wedding of a same-gender couple at Covenant Community United Church of Christ in Center Point, Ala.

Talbert, who served as bishop of the San Francisco area, ignored a request not to perform the ceremony. He has said in the past that the church’s position on homosexuality “is wrong and evil … it no longer calls for our obedience.”

The retired bishop did not respond to calls Friday.

The council’s statement, made after a weeklong series of meetings in North Carolina, comes as the church’s disagreement over ministry to gays and lesbians grows divisive and vocal.

Next week, the Rev. Frank Schaefer of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference faces a church trial in Spring City, Pa., for performing a same-sex wedding for his son in 2007.

To show support for Schaefer, 36 Methodist clergy and nine clergy from other faith traditions presided at a Nov. 9 same-sex ceremony in Philadelphia.

Three other Methodist clergy in New York face formal complaints for violating the denomination’s policies on homosexuality.

Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church in Cambridge, Mass., announced in October that its church building is available for same-sex weddings, and the congregation said it would support its pastor if he performs services there. Church law forbids same-sex marriages in United Methodist churches.

It’s unclear if Talbert, who is the only United Methodist bishop known to have publicly presided at a same-sex wedding, will actually be charged. The Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops would receive the complaint and have authority for processing it. That jurisdiction, which stretches from Colorado to Hawaii and from Alaska to Arizona, overwhelmingly passed a resolution in July 2012 that says the church “is in error” on homosexuality and will operate as if the teaching does not exist.

In its statement, the Council of Bishops acknowledged the denomination is “not of one mind in matters of human sexuality.” The council also called for a task force to lead “honest and respectful conversations regarding human sexuality, race and gender in a worldwide perspective.”

John Lomperis, Methodist program director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, praised the Council of Bishops for urging action against Talbert.

“When individuals choose to accept election as bishop, they choose to make a covenant with God and the rest of the church to uphold our code of conduct,” he said in an email. “And if our bishops cannot be trusted to not lie to God and the church, we have no basis left for unity as a denomination.”

Matt Berryman, executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, which affirms gays, said the council is attempting to silence Talbert.

“The Council of Bishops has showed a lack of leadership by saying the only way forward is by putting on trial those clergy who can no longer follow discriminatory, unjust laws that limit their ministry with specific members of our church because of their sexual orientation,” Berryman said in a statement.

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43 Comments

    • I am very glad to see the Methodist Church keeping wolves from teaching false doctrine and warning others not to promote the nastiness of same sex relations.God will not bless a pastor who walks in disobedience, who dares to speak perverse things out of their mouth, leading the entire flock to hell.

  1. Don’t want to be harsh about things, but sometimes a little excommunication can go a long way. Time for Talbert, Schaefer (and Harvard-Epworth too) to say goodbye. Send ‘em packing and ask who’s next.

  2. Earold Gunter

    People who start off with the words “I don’t want to be harsh” really do want to be harsh, and aren’t honest enough to just be harsh without lying about it first. Sometime honesty can go a long way.

  3. Earold Gunter

    Doc, I’ve asked two other people whose comments make it apparent they have right of center political views a question and would like to ask you the same one. Do you think anyone can have liberal views, and still get to your heaven?

    • Depends on what you mean by “liberal.” I can remember when even liberalism had its limits. Now it’s gone off the deep end, as openly demonstrated by Talbert.

      I don’t know about the heaven issue, for that’s between Talbert and God (and I wouldn’t want to be in Talbert’s shoes). But right here on earth, this guy is declaring war against his own Methodist Church. So it’s time for the Methodist leaders to set aside their fears, and do the nuclear option already.

      • Earold Gunter

        Doc,
        The same thing can be said of “conservatism”, which is being demonstrated by those who affiliate themselves with the “Tea Party”. It’s sad our political system has been reduced to such extremes from both sides.
        As for you comments about not wanting to be in Talbert’s shoes, I’ll take that to mean you think it is at least “sketchy” that his actions will allow him into your heaven. Somehow I don’t think he will mind not being in a heaven for all eternity where those that believe like you would be.
        Although Talbert is retired, and like Duane he has lived long as well. His longevity seems to have given him a more loving all inclusive perspective from the supposed words of Jesus, not a focus on exclusivity like some glean from them.
        I find your use of terms like “wage war”, and “nuclear option”, interesting, and even perhaps revealing. Are you military, ex-military?

        • Nope, not military. But it is still true that Talbert is waging war on his own Methodist Church.

          “No one forced Talbert to become a bishop. But when individuals choose to accept election as bishop, they choose to make a covenant with God and the rest of the church to uphold our code of conduct. If our bishops cannot be trusted to keep their word to God and the church, we have no basis left for unity as a denomination.”

          “The Old and New Testaments plus 2,000 years of consistent Christian teaching could hardly be clearer on how sex is a gift to only be expressed within certain boundaries.”

          – John Lomperis, United Methodist director, Institute on Religion and Democracy

        • Earold, perhaps you can explain how the Tea Party is “extreme.” What is extreme about demanding that we live within our means and that we obey the worlds the Constitution? “Moderates,” Earold, are liberals who do not like that name. They continue to vote for the expansion of government and for the ignoring of the words and spirit of the Constitution.

          I will grant you this, though: We saw in the GWB administration, especially when the GOP had complete control of Capitol Hill, that the Republican party is also infested with liberalism. For two years around 2006 it couldn’t even be called “liberal lite.” That, I suggest to you, is the reason why there’s a rebellion within the GOP itself.

          A party that is conservative at least would offer to voters a real choice. Liberalism vs lib-lite is not a choice. Perhaps you’ve noted that the voters are dissatisfied with every election and with the succeeding government. We vote liberal, dislike what happens, throw out the libs and elect libs-lite, and get more of the same, sometimes not even at a slower pace (Bush’s Congress).

          We’ll not know the likability fo conservatism among the voters until they’ve had the chance to experience it. They haven’t so far, not in our lifetimes.

          On another note, I’m still puzzled how so many people equate “equality” with marriage and gay unions. They are substantially different. Apples and oranges are not the same, not “equal,” whatever “equal” could possibly mean in these discussions.

      • You couldn’t have said it any better Doc!!! People get so wrapped in with the ways of the world they forget the WORD and true purpose of the Bible. Talbert needs to do what is right by God, and not be worried with what the rest of the world may or may not think. Point blank period!

  4. Mr. Gunter, I’m butting in. You refer to having liberal views and being able to get into heaven. I’d suggest, having lived long enough, that liberalism has fundamentally changed over the past 4 or 5 decades. Time was when liberalism pretty much accepted notions of metaphysical principles regarding values and perspectives and notions of personal responsibility. No longer. Liberalism today is grounded in the “me.” “I” decide what’s appropriate, good and evil, and where responsibility belongs when things go wrong–and it is not with me. On the political level it is grounded in the power of the expanding state, but it cannot even find success in most of what it has expounded in these decades, aside from civil rights issues.

    Indeed, discrimination must be abolished and people must learn to be tolerant the important differences that mark people in various segments of our society. We all have our limitations. I cannot hold an important place where hearing is paramount. I never had the motor skills important in most athletic activity. Others do not have the capacity, for whatever reason, to enter into a marriage.

    In my estimation, Berryman is spewing claptrap. He represents a group that does not like the eons-old and universal concept of marriage which always assumes both genders and uses his own invented moral system to judge those not agreeing with him to be bigots and unjust.

    Mr. Gunter, Berryman’s remark is a good example of the contemporary liberal whose value system has no grounding deeper than his own emotions. That does no justice to gays nor to anyone else..

    • Earold Gunter

      Duane,
      I have views that are probably liberal to you, but I actually think I am just slightly left of center, but everyone’s personal perception is not usually the perspective of others.
      I think you have a point that those who have liberal views no longer look to religious dogma to inform them what is moral, ethical, and good an evil. Many have figured out that belief in an iron age God, is unnecessary to know these things. They have also read about this God in the bible, and have found it devoid of the things they believe are right.
      I too have lived have lived long enough to see the changes in the last 4-5 decades, as so many others have as well, like Bishop Melvin Talbert. Not all of us sees these changes as negative as others though.
      I fail to see the analogy of your physical limitations in context of entering into marriage. I see it as but yet another civil rights issue, like slavery, and women’s rights. Those who love each other should be allowed to be partners in the eyes of the law. Being accepted in a Christian religion, or any other religion as “married in the eyes of God” is not necessary as far as I’m concerned, and wouldn’t concern myself with that if I were in their position. I do applaud those that seek to find the message of acceptance and love in religious text, instead of intolerance and condemnation, regardless of the circumstance though.
      As for Mr. Berryman, I am not in his shoes trying to accomplish what he is trying to accomplish. I would agree that he is using extreme language and ideas. However, as I said, I don’t know what he is up against, and sometimes it is necessary to be as extreme as those that oppose in order to fight against them. Unfortunately, such is the tactics of both extreme sides these days.

      • If we can’t learn from history, where can we learn? We have watched other societies go down in flames whenever the moral code is bridged. The Bible is very clean about homosexuality. It is condemned. Of course, I hold to the saying, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Therefore, I condemn any church from performing gay weddings or blessing gay unions. I especially do not condone the UMC Bishop in this instance. If church policy is incorrect, then work to change it. Otherwise, one is going against a covenant to uphold church policy. If you can not uphold the policy, resign for you no longer are a representative of the UMC.
        I love my church. It is where I am free to work out my relationship with God and man. However, I want to the Council of Bishops to expel anyone who goes counter to this long standing moral code. After 64 years in the UMC, I will leave the church if this code is overturned. Do I love gays? Yes, I do. I have a gay nephew, and he is a great young man. I know his partner and acknowledge their relationship, but it is not a marriage. Laws can protect the relationship, but church law against his marrying protects and defines my marriage. Many will leave the UMC, if this is not condemned in the strongest language possible. The Bishop who did this is now only a Bishop in his own mind.

        • “We have watched other societies go down in flames whenever the moral code is bridged. ”

          No we haven’t.

          We have people pretending such things so they can try to fight the tide of modernity. People who mistake adherence to their faith and social position more important than general notions of humanity.

          The Bible is very unclear on homosexuality. The idea of consensual adult relations is not even a big part of the Bible. It is very clear about forcible acts. It is very clear of copulation as a pagan temple rite. It is abundantly clear about how people are supposed to deal with others in order to follow in Christ’s footsteps. (Hint: it does not involve ostracizing others, seeking religious sanction in government or acting in judgment of others)

          Lets be honest here, “love the sinner, hate the sin” in practice comes out to hate the sinner and deceive yourself you are doing otherwise. Its an oft-used phrase which is completely mendacious. You want to say you hate gays but also are afraid of the social sanction such outright displays of bigotry would incur.

          Obviously the ministers are working to change the church rules and doctrine by doing something demonstrative. Bold actions rather than polite words. Obviously church policy is more important to some that following the dictates of one’s personal belief and conscience.

      • Earold,

        Thanks for the reply. Perhaps I address some of your points in my reply moments ago to your remarks of 18 November in the morning.

        I would add this about “looking to religious dogma” for positions regarding moral issues: If we begin with the Decalog, and all Christians and Jews have this as their starting point, perhaps the Muslims as well, we find a series of prescriptions and proscriptions that are common to virtually all societies. In philosophy (metaphysics) we speak of Natural Law. In short, the Decalog is NOT so much the dogma of a specific creed as it is the formulation, based on widespread observance, of natural law.

        Thus, marriage between heteros is natural, gay unions are not, according to natural law. HOWEVER, we do not know enough about the root explanations for homosexuality to dismiss or condemn gays. We do not “choose” our orientation. Thus, it is only fair that society and even churches find means to accommodate gays somehow. The state, then, should find a way, perhaps, to codify gay unions. This does not call for, however, the redefining of marriage. We see too much redefining: abortion has become a “women’s health issue,” people illegally in the country are not “illegals,” they are “undocumented.” I could go on and on about the liberal proclivity to avoid any term that smacks of value judgments–except when liberals shout “BIGOT!”

        Liberals have moral values, but they are based solely on an individual’s perspective. No system of law or behavior can have such a basis, not for a society to be able to function. From this personal perspective, one could also conclude that liberals are against any government because government makes laws that do not begin with the individual perspective. This is not a stretch, then, to suggest that liberals are anarchists but haven’t yet understood the logical conclusions of the perspective they choose.

        Ultimately, though, liberals have chosen to redefine “Freedom,” and refuse to look to our Constitution as the basis for any understanding of the place of government in the United States. We see what they did in giving us Obamacare: a refusal to consider ANY amendment or modification by opponents to the law they wrote AND DID NOT READ BEFORE PASSING IT. Earold, this is hardly any different from Soviet style “government.”

  5. Its clear that evil influencers and instigators are trying to destroy Gods perfect plan for sexuality and marriage. Whether an exorcism will have any effect is doubtful however.

  6. I believe God is looking down now and smiling on Bishop Talbert. Thank you Bishop Talbert for following your heart and not being closed minded like the society we live in. God bless you in your continued work.

  7. One thing that automatically comes to mind when I read this article was, which law comes first? In New York it is permissible by state law for same sex couples to be married, however in “church law” it is not. So which one holds higher authority? In Islam, the law of the land holds precedence, because violating the law of the land would bring about dissent among the people, and thus God’s dissent as well. But again, it then comes down to how religious or spiritual one is.

    Also, if the bishop is retired, does he still have to follow the church’s laws? Why is that? I thought retired meant giving up/not working anymore.

  8. If these Methodists believe that the denomination is wrong then why stay? If this was so important to the Bishop why keep cashing his Methodist retirement checks and move out of the Methodist retirement home. If these clergy are so drought with convictiion then resign and go practice your new religion…move out of your free Methodist housing, decline your tax exempt housing and auto allowances and your paychecks…man up. Principle demands hardship especially if you have chosen secular compassion over Biblical principle. Just like the President & Congress on healthcare: do as I say not as I do.

    This is the issue: hypocrisy not orthodoxy.

  9. Sounds like he’s be fit as a Bishop in The Episcopal Church… He should call up the Presiding Bishop there, if she’s not too busy suing congregations, clergy, and vestry members…

  10. I do want to be harsh.
    Defrock Talbert and Schaefer. Padlock churches that allow gay weddings.
    Play by the rules or we have no covenant and no connection.
    We all play by the same rules or we have schism. Take your choice.
    There are plenty of gay churches to provide services to gays.
    The UMC does not need to be one of them. It takes more courage to follow the Bible than to bend the knee to the Baal of pop culture.

  11. I do mean to be harsh.
    Defrock Talbert and Schaefer. Padlock rebel churches.
    Play by the same rules for all or we have no connection and no covenant.
    We will have discipline or schism; take your pick.
    There are plenty of gay churches already available; the UMC does not need to be one of them. It takes more courage to follow the Bible than to bend the knee to the Baal of pop culture. Is that harsh enough for you?

  12. I am currently reading the Bible straight through and I am nearing the end of 2 Samuel. Based on what I’ve read, the Biblical interpretation of marriage includes 1 man, multiple wives, and some concubines thrown in for good measure. So for all of you who like to point to the timelessness of our current understanding of marriage, you should update your understanding to realize that our current “accepted” view of marriage was at one time a modernization.

    Anyone can find something in the Bible to agree with their preconceived ideas; it’s a big book written over a long period of time. I base my understanding of God and what it means to be a Christian on the Gospels, the actual life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Guess what: there’s no mention of the meaning of marriage. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind and with all your soul” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I find it challenging enough to align my life consistently with these, much less to figure out the meaning of contradictory and brutal violence that is presented in the Bible as a testament to humanities’ evolving understanding and relationship to God and to each other.

  13. It simply does not matter what anyone thinks….what God thinks is clear and it states it in the Bible. Stop trying to change God to conform to your idea of Him. Homosexuality is an abomination and any Bishop who proclaims otherwise is a wolf in sheep’s clothing!! I wouldn’t want to stand before God on judgment day if I had deliberately violated (and challanged) His word.

  14. I always thought the United Methodist Church was very open minded. It was one of the first main line churchs to have women ministers and women bishops. Now two women Bishops are going to crucify a fellow Bishop who is on the right side of history. I have heard this story before but there was only one official supervising the crucifiction.

  15. Evidence trolling at its most blatant.

    Do you find it hard to believe that others do not share views such as your own?

    If you went to the site, you would have gotten the source. Its PRRI, one of the regular sources on this site.
    http://publicreligion.org/research/2013/10/2013-american-values-survey/

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