Lasting damage to the mission and ministry of the United Methodist Church continues from the recently announced joke of a “just resolution.” This effectively acquits retired Bishop Melvin Talbert for disruptively invading a newly elected active bishop’s territory to conduct a “sin blessing” service.
It is striking to consider the glaring hypocrisies we find when comparing the resolution statement with Talbert’s actual track record when he was the active bishop of the San Francisco area.
The resolution statement has lots of high-sounding rhetoric about United Methodists of diverse beliefs in practices somehow being in this together. But too often in our denominational leadership circles, “unity in diversity” (to use the unjust resolution’s phrase) has meant that bullying radicals like Talbert do whatever they want, while the rest of us are somehow morally obligated to respond with nothing but wimpy appeasement. No matter how much the Talberts betray of our denomination’s doctrinal standards or their own ordination vows, they seem to act as if they have a confidence that their more theologically moderate and conservative fellow bishops will ultimately do little more than fall over themselves to appease them.
As an active bishop, Talbert basically admitted that the fact that, in one reporter’s words, “not one evangelical has been appointed to a conference leadership position” was deliberate on his part. In his retirement, Talbert has used his prominent status in our denomination to promote his apparent belief that Christians should not evangelize Muslims, and has been outspoken in very broadly attacking the characters of more orthodox United Methodists. For Talbert and his supporters, “unity in diversity” generally seems to means that United Methodists who actually believe in historic, biblical, Christian teaching must go out of our way to accommodate people who do not, so that such revisionists may ascend to the highest denominational leadership positions. But wherever the “progressive United Methodist” faction is allowed to build itself up to a point of clear dominance, more theologically orthodox believers are harshly excluded.
Talbert and company seek “diversity” and “tolerance” to claim benefits for themselves while denying them to others.
Allen Morris of Concerned Methodists has done a good job of compiling this detailed, eye-opening account of the heavy-handed, money-seizing mistreatment of a lonely evangelical congregation by the California-Nevada Conference, under Talbert’s leadership.
The recent “UNjust resolution” for Mr. Talbert also gives the retired bishop a prominent victory by calling on United Methodist bishops to “consider options in addition to the complaint process to address our differences that reflect our Wesleyan heritage.” Anyone who is paying attention understands that this part of the resolution is speaking directly to the “disobedience” movement Talbert has so prominently promoted, in which liberal United Methodist clergy threaten to brazenly violate our church’s doctrinal standards and their own ordination vows by officiating at same-sex union ceremonies, and then try to pressure bishops and other relevant church leaders to refrain from holding them accountable in any meaningful, deterrent way (which in our denominational structure can only be done through the complaint process).
Yet as an active bishop, Talbert was not one to seek creative alternatives to our denomination’s formal complaint process when it came to cracking down on pastors in his conference whose theology was more in line with our denomination’s own doctrinal standards – in other words, those outside of Talbert’s own liberal faction.
While Talbert supported liberal clergy who jointly officiated at a publicity-stunt same-sex union getting off scot-free, he chose to file punitive complaints against six evangelical pastors. This action apparently succeeded in driving four of these orthodox pastors out of our denomination, joining the ranks of several other biblically grounded, evangelical California-Nevada clergy, along with some entire congregations, pressured out of United Methodism under Talbert’s leadership (for a balanced account from United Methodist News Service, see here).
The six had signed a letter calling on people to re-direct their payments of denominational apportionments to an escrow fund until some concrete steps were taken to restore integrity and justice to our often broken and selectively enforced denominational covenant.
It is said that what people choose to fight for shows what they most value. So what does it say about Mr. Talbert and his cheering enablers that they are all for promoting alternatives to our denomination’s complaint process when all that is at stake is faithfulness to core United Methodist doctrine, the clear teachings of Scripture, our denomination remaining within the bounds of 2,000 years of consistent global Christian teaching, and our missional obligation to be in genuinely compassionate ministry with same-sex attracted individuals – but when money and/or property (mammon) is at stake, punitive complaints are absolutely the way to go, with no talk of seeking non-judicial alternatives?
It is worth stressing that, according to UMNS, these evangelical pastors were NOT completely disregarding their covenantal obligations to lead their congregations in paying apportionments at all, or calling for people to simply “withhold” apportionments and keep the money in their own pockets or to spend on their own congregations. Rather, their idea, as summarized by UMNS, was to set the money owed for apportionments aside and temporarily refrain from sending it on to Talbert’s conference officials until certain clear actions were taken to restore trust and covenant integrity. Yet Talbert still chose to subject them to a retributive complaint process.
Interestingly, nowadays the aggregate statistics indicate that it is more liberal United Methodists who are given more of a free pass in essentially withholding apportionments, a far more dramatic step than holding the funds in escrow. And the annual conference which is lagging the most in paying its assigned fair share of apportionments is none other than Talbert’s former California-Nevada Conference.
What ironies abound!