October 30, 2013

Talbert Becomes First UMC Bishop to Bless a Same-Sex Union, in Open Defiance of Church Law

With much public fanfare, and cheered by well-funded liberal caucus groups, retired United Methodist Bishop Mel Talbert performed a same-sex union service in the Birmingham, Alabama area for a self-described “gay activist” and his male partner last weekend. Bishops and all others who make the choice to serve as UMC clergy vow to God and the church that they will follow the UMC Discipline, which forbids any clergy from “conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions.” Talbert used the ceremony as an occasion to publicly denounce as “wrong, evil, [and] immoral” the official, biblically grounded UMC stance that sex is gift only for “the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.”

IRD/UMAction’s press release on the event can be found here.

Before the October 26 publicity stunt, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett of North Alabama commendably urged him to not do this. Bishops Bill McAlilly of Nashville and Paul Leeland of Alabama-West Florida issued separate statements supporting Bishop Wallace-Padgett and the Discipline. The executive committee of the UMC Council of Bishops, which includes several liberal bishops, had even publicly expressed a collective commitment to “following the Book of Discipline” and called on Talbert to abandon his plans.

Now that Talbert has so arrogantly disregarded their clearly expressed wishes, the leadership of the Council of Bishops doubtless realizes that if they do not work to ensure meaningful, lasting consequences for him, Talbert’s defiance will effectively parade them before our entire denomination as even more weak and ineffective than how Talbert is already making them look in the eyes of many.

Many of our bishops understand that Talbert’s actions violate not only the Discipline and his own ordination vows, but jettison clear Scriptural teaching, reject 2,000 years of extremely consistent Christian tradition, alienate him from the overwhelming majority of global Christianity, and do very real pastoral harm to the misguided two men he was supposedly serving. Even many of our more theologically liberal bishops understand that a connectional denominational community in which there is no effective, communally determined covenant of conduct, in which members do not treat each other according to the Golden Rule, and in which vows or guarantees from leaders cannot be trusted as having honesty or integrity is not really much of a “community” at all.

Meanwhile, retired bishop Mary Ann Swenson, who our active bishops recently elected to serve as the UMC’s Ecumenical Officer, issued a lonely public dissent from the executive committee, supporting Talbert’s covenant-breaking invasion into Alabama, denouncing the UMC’s biblical standards for sexual self-control as “antiquated and unjust,” and, almost laughably, lamenting that United Methodism was not more like the Episcopalians.

Talbert represents the fading liberal old guard of United Methodism, having not pastored a congregation for decades. As bishop of the California-Nevada Conference, he was known for his bullying persecution of California-Nevada ministers who supported biblical, United Methodist teaching. As noted earlier, the timid hesitance of his fellow bishops to hold him accountable over the years has only emboldened Talbert to become increasingly brazen in disregarding his ordination vows.

Aside from all the rumblings elsewhere in our denomination, it seems rather revealing how this conflict now prominently features a clash between two retired bishops from the radicalized, rapidly dying Western Jurisdiction (whose disproportionally outsized voice in the UMC is subsidized by apportionments from churches in the rest of the USA) against three much younger bishops from the increasingly resurgent, orthodox-leaning Southeast (two of whom were just elected as bishops a year ago), with the latter group being the one supported by the leadership of the Council of Bishops. In the short run, people like Talbert, Swenson, and other church-killing beneficiaries of the last several decades of disastrous liberal dominance of the UMC hierarchy can be expected to become increasingly shrill and divisive in their immature protest antics as they panic over seeing the emergence of a newer generation of faithful denominational leaders with the courage to say “no!” to our unsustainable status quo, and watch the centers of denominational authority finally starting to draw the line against blatant unfaithfulness.

Such noisy protests of biblical sexual boundaries cause a stir, but they do NOT reflect the official teachings of the United Methodist Church, the views of the majority of United Methodists, or any sort of growing momentum for liberalization within the denomination. In fact, just the opposite is the case. The liberal side is demonstrably losing ground in its decades-long campaign to change our denominational covenant through our established democratic processes, and many liberals are now openly despairing of prevailing later. It is precisely because of the growing conservatism of United Methodism that some members of the liberal minority are in desperation resorting to such extreme, divisive tactics as ministers sacrificing their own personal integrity, bizarrely bragging about having no regard for the sacred promises they themselves chose to make to God and to the church community they chose to be a part of.

But when any liberal clergy, from the most remote licensed local pastors to the most self-important bishops, callously disregard core United Methodist doctrine, refuse to extend basic Golden-Rule respect towards other United Methodists, shamelessly admit that their own word to United Methodists is fundamentally untrustworthy (even when that word was given in one of the most sacred covenants a Christian can make to Christ and to His church), and pridefully act as if they are accountable to no one beyond their individual selves, they raise very serious questions about the extent to which they are still a part of “United” Methodism.


25 Responses to Talbert Becomes First UMC Bishop to Bless a Same-Sex Union, in Open Defiance of Church Law

  1. Daniel says:

    I think that Talbert and other UMC folks who support him (think RMN) have adopted Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” for their tactics going forward. It has worked well for the Obama administration so why not use it for the UMC. If these folks can change the “facts on the ground” to say that the Book of Discipline no longer reflects what is happening and what the majority of UMC folks believe, then they will be well on the way to stopping any return to orthodox belief in the UMC.

    As for the Southeast Jurisdiction, most of the young clergy I know in places like Virginia and Western Carolina are thoroughly liberal and revisionist in their beliefs, having had their heads stuffed with the same at Duke or Wesley Seminary in D.C. They are the ones getting the choice assignments and serving on conference committees while the orthodox young clergy get sent to multi-point charges in the boondocks.

    It will be most interesting to see how things develop, particularly if any meaningful discipline is meted out and then upheld by the Judicial Council.

  2. gary says:

    I think your last paragraph is important John. I just don’t see the council of bishops having the guts to stand up to the vocal outcry from the libs if they come down hard – so they won’t come down hard rather it will be an assignment for Melvin to write a paper about dissension in the ranks (much like that pastor was charged with a few years ago).

    • Jeff Allen says:

      I sent an email to Bishop Coyner last night, and in his reply he said: “One thing you might need to know: by our Discipline the group which must deal with a complaint against any bishop is their Jurisdictional College of Bishops (in this case the Western Jurisdiction).”

      Of course, if it’s up to the Western Jurisdiction, we know that nothing will be done. So sad.

      • John Lomperis says:

        We’ll see. If they choose to do nothing, which would be essentially declaring that they are no longer in covenant with the rest of United Methodists, they shouldn’t expect the subsidy the rest of us pay for their over-supply of bishops to continue.

  3. G Dunphy says:

    It seems we have to answer the question ‘ Do gay people choose to be gay, or were they born that way ?’
    If we try to come to grips with this riddle, we will have come a long way

    • John Lomperis says:

      Whether or not there is a genetic predisposition towards being more attracted towards certain behaviors is ultimately irrelevant to whether or not they are sinful.

      • Jeff Allen says:

        And the blind man in John 9 was “born that way.” So, not matter what we need to point people to the redemptive message of transformation. NOBODY is beyond the grace and power of our Savior Jesus.

    • gary says:

      My father was an alcoholic and a womanizer as was my grandfather so maybe I am genetically inclined this way as well. But I have chosen not to do these things. We are all genetically prone to sin but we are not supposed to follow our “natural” inclinations. So I agree with John Lomperis – it doesn’t matter if being gay is “natural” or not it is a sin.

      • Judy says:

        Amen to that Gary and very well stated. Simply put, sin is sin and the good Lord knows how much all of us need prayers for healing and strength to break free from the bondage of sin.

  4. Tom Barnard says:

    Genetics, pre-disposition, “whatever”, might be the current argument for this behavior makes no matter. We conference every four years and spend a inordinate amount of time on this issue of human sexuality. In 2004 it was estimated we spent 23% of the entire General Conference time on this one issue. That means that many very important issues go without discussion because of the cultural worldview being brought into the forum of the religious worldview. Regardless – the Discipline stands until changed and we as ordained elders, no matter what the administrative post we hold, give our vows to uphold the order. If we do not follow the rules the rules should be enforced against the offending elder(s). The bishop absolutely did wrong and should suffer the consequences. If he is not punished for his actions what is to keep the rest of us from picking our own “pet” “unfair” article in the Discipline and going against our vows. In the human sexuality area that might mean a married elder could disregard fidelity in marriage because that’s the way they feel they are being called. The rules are the rules and must be enforced.

  5. Glen Miller says:

    I have known for two decades that the counsel of Bishops has no guts to discipline another Bishop.
    The Bible is having pages torn from it, to allow many to choose only the parts that don’t require a change in their life style. John Wesley would have removed this kind of defiance of his ordination vowels. Make’s me ashamed that the Methodist have move so little to remove Talbert and others like him.
    Wake up Methodist God will hold us responsible. It is better the full church knows what kind of Bishops and Pastor some are. And remove them or separate our self’s from the United Methodist. And become true Methodist that we once where, Bible believing Christians teaching Gods Word. May God for give us for allowing this to even be allowed.

  6. Ray Worsham says:

    I pray that God protect the UMC from the well funded, well organized assault sin is making on it. May the Holy Spirit fill all UMC believers and their churches with the fire of revival and holiness. Praise God, we are his people, let us seek to do his will.

  7. Marco Bell says:

    I agree with you, that if “the (Methodist) Book of Discipline”, and the sacred vows made by these Pastors states that they not perform ceremonies, then they should be punished by excommunication.
    Then those Pastors can form the “New Methodist” Church, where all are welcome!
    I have to acknowledge the assessment by
    Mary Ann Swenson, that the “Book of Discipline” is antiquated and unjust in its treatment of individuals. But that just makes my argument for secession even more imperative.
    Schisms happen in living organisms and organizations….you’ve heard of mitosis?
    Rather than lament the ‘loss’ of these members, perhaps the amicable severance can be an example of healthy development in an ever changing universe?

    “…the official, biblically grounded UMC stance that sex is gift only for “the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.”

    The fight for ‘same sex marriage’ isn’t for SEX, it is for social and cultural equality. Sex is not the issue. Sex is just sex!

    Peace be upon you.
    Marco Bell

    • John says:

      Marco,

      The “fight” for “social and cultural equality” is also taking place with NAMBLA, polygamists, and, yes, people who have sex with farm animals. Surely you want the same rights and equality for these groups as well, correct? When discarding God’s word who are we to then set restrictions on what is acceptable and what is not? If someone wants their particular sin to be endorsed by the culture must we all joyfully discard God’s word and endorse their sin? Or do we get to pick and choose based on our whims of the day?

      May God’s grace and forgiveness be with you,
      John

    • Judy says:

      Marco,
      Sex isn’t just sex. What about the children who are abused by ‘sex’ every day in our world? Sex destroys families and marriages when used out of God’s order and blessing. No, sex isn’t just sex…it can cause pain and leave scars that never heal.
      May God not only open doors, hearts and minds but may He open our eyes to His Holy Word and the meaning and purpose for our lives as His children.

  8. Steve McIntyre, PTLP says:

    Once again i stand amazed at what an individual can and will do. A retired UM Bishop who supposedly believes in the Holy Bible, who himself apparently agreed to support the position of the UMC, chooses to go against God and the official stance of the church which is in concert with God’s word.

    As a PTLP in a small rural community, and a lifelong Methodist I am sadly disappointed. Cannot the Council of Bishops do something to relieve this man of his credentials? Most of the world will only see “UM Bishop”, not “RETIRED UM BISHOP”. The world around us will assume the UMC has turned its back on God, his word, and our own policies if we do not do something.

    At the very least the UMC needs to take a very public stand and condemn this action so the world will know what we believe and where we stand. I will probably spend the rest of the year having to defend the UMC now. I pray God will forgive RETIRED Bishop Talbert for his actions.

    Maybe the Book of Discipline does need some upgrades, but nothing that would make it incompatible with God’s Holy Word should be acceptable to any Methodist Christian.

  9. Tom Hower says:

    My prayer is that the Western Jurisdiction, despite the liberal leanings of its leaders, will uphold the Discipline. If they do not, what recourse is available for the Denomination?

  10. Pudentiana says:

    What can possibly support the acts and proclamations of the very Retired Bishop Talbert? Pride. Only Pride would cause a member of the College of Bishops to perform the insult to another Bishop (a gracious female Bishop) and kick the teeth of his fellow heirs with Christ who are defenseless against his bully pulpit. Pride, sir, is the driiving force. To continue to call these acts “prophetic” only emphasizes the scripture references which do not speak well of “false prophets” of which the very retired Bishop Talbert is. Mr. Lomperis, keep the wise insights coming. We all need Truth. It is a salve and even a balm.

  11. Wesley putnam says:

    And WHEN the western jurisdiction ignores this action by Talbert, and WHEN the NE jurisdiction does the same with upcoming “trials” by imposing meaningless “verdicts”, what then? I hope someone is preparing a plan for separation. That’s where this train is headed.

  12. Marco Bell says:

    Separation would be the best thing for the denomination at this time. Open doors, open hearts, open minds!
    I say, HALELUJAH!!!

  13. Mike says:

    Mr. Putnam makes a good point. The NE Jurisdiction and the Western Jurisdiction won’t do anything, which is why the cowards performing these ceremonies feel secure. We are already separate in beliefs. Let us separate organizationally as well.

  14. Judy says:

    Mike,
    “IF” our Bishops do not take serious action against this Bishop and others in the future then it is time to part ways. “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3). I have not been happy with decisions that have allowed this disagreement about our Discipline to continue for 40 years. I really do care about people and their souls but I do not like being forced to go along with what goes against my belief in the Word of God. It seems to be clear that we are ‘split’ over the wording of our Discipline and therefore, after 40 years (if the Bishops cannot reprimand those who are defiant by defrocking) I believe it is time to make the split “official” and move on in separate churches. I really believe the leadership will be shocked at the number who are in favor of our Discipline on this issue.

  15. Marco Bell says:

    Mike and Judy have stated what I believe to be the best way to make your denomination whole…separate,…cleave,
    make your own way. This will vividly demonstrate the displeasure with those that have dishonored the denomination.
    Respectfully ,
    Marco

  16. John C. Edwards says:

    I agree that separation, or even the threat thereof, is the answer. We may call ourselves the United Methodists, but we are anything but united. It is time for those who thumb their nose at the Discipline to be cut off. Just as the Civil War produced a schism between Methodists favoring slavery and those opposing, the schism was ultimately healed after one side nearly died from being cutoff (namely the Southern Methodist Episcopals). They were reabsorbed and then everything flourished until the 1960’s. The same pattern is likely to happen to Methodists of liberal bent if they are cut off, so I say kick them out. Our hearts, minds, and doors are open to them, but not on their terms.

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