June 18, 2013

United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert Backs Ecclesial Disobedience

Bishop Melvin Talbert and Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree at the 2013 MIND lunch, posing for a photo op with Church of the Village icon Sparkles

(Photo credit:  MIND.)

(Here’s Andrew Harrod’s coverage of this event.)

By Jeffrey Baker of Pleasant Valley UMC in New York

The Methodists In New Directions (M.I.N.D.) Luncheon during the 2013 New York Annual Conference featured a talk by retired United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert.  In addition to speaking at this lunch, Bishop Talbert was also a guest during the Annual Conference Saturday morning Service of Ordination, Commissioning & Recognition.  During the June 7 lunch at Hofstra University a few words were also shared by retired Yale Divinity School Dean and ordained United Methodist Tom Ogletree, who faces charges for violating United Methodism’s prohibition on same-sex unions by marrying his son to another man.

Bishop Talbert spoke at length on the notion of justice and how individuals should respond to laws and rules they feel are unjust.  He used Ogletree as an example: “…[He] is a living example of biblical obedience.”  And he challenged us to consider if we will convict him as a church body using what many feel is an unjust and immoral law. Talbert recalled that while bishop of the California-Nevada Conference he investigated but did not prosecute 68 clergy who together conducted a same sex union in 1999.

Talbert suggested a few ways to think about this issue.  One way would be like John Wesley, who centered his ministry on “do[ing] the right thing.”  Citing Mark 12: 28-32, he said, “Wesley made it [doing the right thing] the focal point of his doctrine of Christian profession.”  Another approach is to refer to Micah 6, which summarizes the theological underpinnings of many issues where God asks us to support justice, mercy and walk humbly.  The final way to think about this that was presented was in the form of three simple rules: 1) Do no harm, 2) Do good and 3) Stay in love with God.

To give us some examples of these ideas, Talbert then presented a brief historical perspective of the world wide scope of today’s United Methodism.  This included what we do as a church in responding to global disasters as “the first to arrive and last to leave,” as well as our VIM (Volunteers in Mission) initiatives.  Some of the, “valley[s]” of past Methodism was also discussed including splits over slavery, segregation, and adding language in our Discipline against the homosexual practice.  Some history that would suggest that, “…particularly in the US, we are not a healthy church.”

Talbert brought the lunch audience to their feet by suggesting that some church rules are “…immoral and unjust and no longer deserve our loyalty and obedience.”  He reiterated that, if asked, he would perform a same sex marriage and feels at peace with himself and with God about it.  And he recounted a conversation he had with his granddaughter, who said the church is talking about her friends, and she feels these discussions do not welcome them. Talbert is concerned the church will loose her generation.

In conclusion, Talbert made three points:

1) Jesus had 12 faithful disciples and he was able to turn the world upside down so we should think about what we all can do as faithful disciples of Christ.

2) We have a dual allegiance at the moment to God and our church and he is hoping we all know how the priorities should be arranged and,

3) Even our church can be saved if it confesses its sin and he left by asking us to, “…do the right thing.”

The luncheon was concluded with a few words from Ogletree, who had “…provided a public witness for justice.”  He thanked the M.I.N.D. community for their support and the hundreds of well-wishers from whom he has heard.  Ogletree echoed Talbert in saying an “unjust law is no law.” Ogletree’s suggestion for moving forward is to get everyone to work together to change unjust rules.

Ogletree noted he is sometimes asked about leaving the United Methodist Church.  He said many people around the globe are shaped by Methodism and that if the church can recognize its disapproval of homosexual behavior as a mistake it will have broad influence on many societies.  He has also heard suggestions of a local option or “states rights” solution.  But he believes that as a global church, United Methodism should want to have a unified global solution.

Ogletree responded to the standing ovation by leading everyone in a verse of, “We Shall Overcome.”


7 Responses to United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert Backs Ecclesial Disobedience

  1. John Abbott says:

    How do we obey God by disobeying God’s word?

  2. […] United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert backs Disobedience; Same sex marriage – The Bible doesn’t say that the wolves will come from the world in the last days.  The wolves will be wearing sheep’s clothing.  Where do you suppose Jesus was warning that the wolves would come from? […]

  3. Norman Lane says:

    Oy vey. Talbert and Ogletree still saying dumb things and getting attention. This is like re-runs from the 1980s, except now they seem even sillier. Aren’t people supposed to get wiser with age?

  4. Tim Vernon says:

    Hmm. I notice a pattern:
    1) Ogletree has a gay son, so he tells Christians they better get pro-gay in a hurry.
    2) Brian McLaren has a gay son, and he’s become very liberal and very anti-evangelical.
    3) Anne Rice has a gay son, and her “conversion” to Christianity morphed into blatant and very public contempt for conservative Christians, whom she describes as an “anti” crowd.
    Conclusion: whatever your precious boy does, God is OK with it.

    When my oldest son was in his teens, he got arrested twice for shoplifting. I still think shoplifting is wrong. My middle son got a DUI. I still think driving while drunk is wrong.
    Am I a bad father, or a bad Christian?

  5. johns79 says:

    So when you think your church is doing wrong you should oppose it and fight back? OK.
    I think it wrong that Methodist Boards and Societies violate the BOD, so I will send my offerings elsewhere.
    I think it is wrong to send checks to those who have sworn to adhere to the BOD yet violate it continously and call upon others to do the same, so I will send my offerings elsewhere. (I’ve no trouble with them trying to change the BOD but until it is changed they need to obey or leave.)
    You get the idea, the list can easily be extended.
    The only input the laity have is money. Their voices and concerns are discounted by the Elders. They are denigrated and marginalized at every turn. I wonder at the courage of these pioneering reformers that they don’t come by their convictions until retired.
    Once the UMC stood for Christ and its social gospel was one of personal action. Now its political advocacy and who is that Christ guy anyway.

  6. So the gospel is now reduced to “do the right thing”? “Right” according to whom? Left-wing bishops?

    I’d love to know how Talbert would interpret “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Never hear a liberal quote that verse, but boy do they LOVE Micah 6:8.

    I agree with Ogletree on one thing: yeah, the UM ought to have a unified global front on the gay issue – let the liberal US contingent unite with the African contingent and support traditional moral standards. I don’t think that’s the kind of unity Ogletree had in mind.

  7. Steve Tippens says:

    Under what circumstances is it appropriate to challenge the rule makers? For example: Pharisees (Jesus); Catholic Church (Martin Luther); Church of England (John Wesley); racial segregation (MLK, Jr., Nelson Mandela, etc.); war (conscientious objectors). Perhaps Bishop Talbert worships a God who can not be contained in any book or set of rules. Understandably, that’s very threatening to those who make the rules or whose points of view are favored by the rules. Perhaps it’s time to move to more important things.

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