By The Rev. Thomas A. Lambrecht
As a church, we are wrestling with the difficult issues around how God is calling us to engage in ministry with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons. Black Methodists for Church Renewal offers an important perspective to the discussion.
I affirm the historic work of Black Methodists for Church Renewal and Retired Bishop Melvin G. Talbert on behalf of racial justice in our church and the larger society.
Let’s be very clear that every one of the signers to the open letter is fully supportive of civil rights and racial equality. We wholeheartedly endorse Martin Luther King’s vision that people should be judged by their character and not the color of their skin. However, our stance on the practice of homosexuality is not a civil rights issue. We are addressing a behavior that is incompatible with Christian teaching. Additionally, United Methodism has repeatedly affirmed the biblical teaching that God’s design for marriage is only between one man and one woman.
Sadly, BMCR has chosen to distort the meaning of our letter and question the motives of the people who signed the letter in good faith, including at least one African-American clergy person. As Good News President Rob Renfroe stated in a recent editorial, there is no quicker way to shut down a conversation than to impugn the motives of the people with whom you disagree and to distort their position. BMCR’s approach does not advance the “just dialog” that BMCR is advocating.
The signers of the open letter to the bishops are not advocating censure of Bishop Talbert for his views on homosexuality, although we disagree with those views. We affirm the value of dialog on issues of disagreement. I and others are willing to go anywhere and talk with anyone about our views on this issue — and have in the past, including meetings with the progressive interest groups that make up the Common Witness Coalition and the Council of Bishops Unity Task Force.
Instead, the signers of the open letter are asking the Council of Bishops and individual bishops to follow through on their commitment to uphold the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, a commitment they made in a public statement last November. When a bishop of the church advocates disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church, he or she has stepped over the line from dialog to defiance. It is that defiance that threatens the fabric of unity of our church, a unity that all bishops have sworn to foster.
We ask that Bishop Talbert rescind his call for pastors to break our covenant, and if he is unwilling to do so, we ask that he be censured and held accountable because he is advocating disobedience to our United Methodist covenant and undermining the ministry of all of us who seek to minister within the boundaries of that covenant. His call for defiance affects not only United Methodists in the United States, but our brothers and sisters in the Philippines and Europe, and the 3 million United Methodists in Africa, many of them operating in an Islamic environment hostile to Christianity. No one in the church is above being accountable for actions that undermine our covenantal unity and common mission, and that includes Bishop Talbert.
As a signer, I am seeking to uphold the church’s faithfulness to Scripture and our unity in submission to the covenant we have all — laity and clergy — voluntarily promised to abide by. I am deeply hurt by the implication that I have anything to gain personally from joining in this call for accountability that is shared broadly by the grassroots membership of our church. We who signed the letter are attempting to speak for untold thousands of United Methodists who feel that they have no voice in the leadership councils of our church. We are asking the bishops to respect our voice and to respond appropriately for the sake of the future of our church.
Lambrecht, of The Woodlands, Texas, is vice president and general manager of Good News, an unofficial caucus of The United Methodist Church.