Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert has announced he will officiate at a wedding for two men on Oct. 26 in Birmingham, Ala.
Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, episcopal leader for the North Alabama Annual (regional) Conference issued a statement Sept. 30 asking Talbert not to officiate at the wedding for the men, who are United Methodist.
“The anticipated media coverage of this event will test our capacity to remain focused on our vision, mission and priorities that have emerged over the past year,” Wallace-Padgett said.
“For a bishop or any ordained or licensed minister to disregard a law of the church creates a breach of the covenant they made at their consecration, ordination or licensing,” she said in her statement.
Talbert said he talked to Wallace-Padgett before agreeing to do the ceremony.
“I told them (the couple) I would do it, but I would need time to speak to my colleague bishop there first,” Talbert said. “I talked to her, she listened, thought about it and called me back requesting that I not do it. I had to tell her respectfully I could not agree to her request. I am really grateful for the graceful way she has handled this.”
“I do appreciate Bishop Talbert giving me a courtesy call in advance of this being made public notifying me of his plan of action,” Wallace-Padgett said.
Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw, members of Discovery United Methodist Church, Birmingham, Ala., were legally married in Washington earlier this year but said in a blog “a holy wedding in the presence of family and friends will make the celebration, and our lives, complete.”
Talbert has been outspoken in his support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. He adheres to “Gospel Obedience,” which calls on clergy and church members to act as if the statements forbidding same-sex unions in the denomination’s law book did not exist.
Most conferences in the Western Jurisdiction, of which Talbert is a member, renewed their support of the “Statement of Gospel Obedience,” at their annual meetings this summer. The Western Jurisdiction includes eight regional conferences ranging from Colorado to the islands of Hawaii, Guam and Saipan and from Alaska to Arizona.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline since 1972 has stated that all people are of sacred worth but “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Church law says that marriage is to be between a man and a woman and bans United Methodist clergy from performing and churches from hosting “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.”
Talbert offered a special blessing for the union of same-sex couples at the 2013 Reconciling Ministries Network Churchquake Convocation on Sept. 1. Reconciling Ministries Network is an unofficial caucus that advocates for the denomination’s greater inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals.
Talbert said some people may have complaints about his actions. However, at the same conference he announced the College of Bishops of the Western Jurisdiction had unanimously supported his position for full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church.
The denomination has had several trials for pastors accused of officiating at same sex unions. This is the first time a retired bishop publicly has pledged to officiate.
“As bishop of The United Methodist Church, I took a vow to abide by and uphold the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church,” Wallace-Padgett said.
“I am also committed to continuing to focus those I lead on our mission, which is broader than any one issue. The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I appreciate prayers for all involved in this difficult and painful situation.”
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.