Same-sex couple responds to Council of Bishops’ statement on their wedding

Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw married in a civil ceremony in September and now look forward to being married by retired Bishop Melvin G. Talbert in the presence of family and friends on October 26. Photo by Kevin Higgs.

Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw married in a civil ceremony in September and now look forward to being married by retired Bishop Melvin G. Talbert in the presence of family and friends on October 26. Photo by Kevin Higgs.

A same-sex couple who plan to wed Saturday, Oct. 26, are responding to a statement from the executive committee of the United Methodist Council of Bishops asking retired Bishop Melvin Talbert to not perform their wedding.

“Stop writing about us and look at us. Talk to us. See the humanity and faces of two men who are deeply in love with one another and who are seeking to follow God’s calling to join together in marriage so we can go, therefore, and better show the world what God’s love for God’s people looks like,” write Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince.

Talbert agreed to officiate at the couple’s request after their own United Methodist pastor told them she could not marry them in their church, Discovery United Methodist Church, Hoover, Ala.

“Through this whole ordeal, one thing has stood out to us … there have been lots of press releases, but only Bishop (Mary Ann) Swenson has reached out to us,” Openshaw and Prince said.

Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, episcopal leader for the North Alabama Annual Conference, also asked Bishop Talbert to not officiate at the wedding. She responded to the executive committee’s statement by saying the press release focuses on covenant.

“Understanding and living out our covenant is at the heart of the statement,” she said. “This includes our relationships with other bishops and clergy as well as upholding the discernment of the worldwide Church as described by the Book of Discipline.”

Openshaw and Prince’s letter states: “We reached out to Bishop Wallace-Padgett, but not even our own bishop has wished our relationship and life together well.”

Talbert affirmed there will be a wedding in Birmingham this weekend.

“Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince have made the eloquent and appropriate response to the letter from the Council of Bishop’s executive committee. What we do in Birmingham will not be about me and my Council of Bishops. Rather, it will be about Bobby and Joe, two people in love, who will be married.

“Both are loyal members of The United Methodist Church. They invited me to perform their service, A Celebration of Love. I’m proud to be the one to stand with them in the presence of God, and in the company of their families, friends and supporters from across the connection. It will be my honor to shower upon them, and all present, God’s blessing and peace as Joe and Bobby commit themselves to each other for the remainder of their lives.”


* * *


To: The United Methodist Church Council of Bishops and Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett

Dear Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, and other Council bishops,

Our names are Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince. We are faithful members of your church.

We read your statement condemning Bishop Talbert for saying “yes” to us after we shared with him our journey and asked him to officiate our wedding. It saddens us that our own pastor was not able to marry us in our church, like heterosexual couples are able to do—even couples who don’t attend our church. Through this whole ordeal, one thing has stood out to us… there have been lots of press releases, but only Bishop Swenson has reached out to us. We reached out to Bishop Wallace-Padgett, but not even our own bishop has wished our relationship and life together well. That brings us to point out hypocrisy in something you claim to hold dear: the importance of covenant.

The Discipline contains multiple covenants for clergy and bishops. The Discipline also contains unjust laws that force clergy to choose between covenants of the special relationship between each other and the covenant to be in ministry with and for all people, including gay people like us. Scripture contains stories of Jesus healing on the Sabbath because ministry with people is at the heart of the Gospel. Does the “special covenant” between bishops overrule our Wesleyan general rule to “do no harm?” Bishops have also been given the duty to serve as a “prophetic voice for justice in a suffering and conflicted world.” In your response to our wedding and Bishop Talbert, how are you and the Council of Bishops upholding your prophetic voice for justice? We believe that Scripture and the Book of Discipline, and the covenants they speak of, are best fulfilled and lived out when read as a whole, than through selected paragraphs.

In your statement you call on us to wait, saying that we should trust “that God who reconciled the world will enable us and all Christians to strive for peace and justice for all.” We do believe God is actively reconciling right now in the actions of Bishop Talbert. Calling on us to wait reminds us of another time when other Methodist bishops condemned someone who was being faithful in Birmingham. The words Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned 50 years ago in response to them still ring true today:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

In your statement, you refer to us as “United Methodists who experience themselves as excluded because of decisions of the General Conference.” Please do not try to wash your hands of your complicity in our exclusion. We feel excluded by you and your failure to lead our church. If you are serious about not breaking your covenant with your people, and even with your colleagues, you must proclaim God’s reign of justice here now, and not something voted on every four years. You have the power to change this wrong. You too, like Bishop Talbert, can stand on the side of justice.

Bishops Wenner, Brown, Hayes, Weaver, Goodpaster, other executive Council members, and Wallace-Padgett… we have one request of you. Stop writing about us and look at us. Talk to us. See the humanity and faces of two men who are deeply in love with one another and who are seeking to follow God’s calling to join together in marriage so we can go, therefore, and better show the world what God’s love for God’s people looks like.

Because once you see us, and our love for one another, we believe it will be impossible not to be by our side on our wedding day.


With the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince



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  1. Jeanne Rozman

    The spirit of Christ is inclusive love, not judgmental love. The bottom line is that people are born gay. Sexual identification is not a choice, not a lifestyle. Marriage equality does not,threaten the institution of marriage. Why should two people of,the same sex not be allowed to marry? Why was this statement of intolerance put in the UMC Book of Discipline? It causes ministers who are gay to remain in the closet. And those who marry committed same-sex couples are put on trial. How do we know that God favors this? The message of Christ reached out to all people in “Biblical obedience”. It embraces a love that frees and not love that excludes.

    1. hollyboardman

      ALL sexual behavior is a choice. Orientation is not the issue. Biblical obedience requires Christians to control their sexual behavior. Love often (in fact USUALLY) means that we resist acting on our sexual inclinations. God’s grace empowers us to stay within God’s limitations.

      1. Jay

        Biblical belief (at least believing in the literal words of the Bible) requires Christians to instruct women to be silent in Church. Love means that women should accept that limitation because we are so instructed by God. Oh, you don’t believe that? Well, then, you are not following the Bible.

        1. J. Sharp

          I would be very careful with such narrow interpretation of Scripture, as in your case, the Corinthian church was plagued with disruptions by certain women. Also, such open talk was considered immodest at best, at worst a sign of pagan worship connected to temple prostitutes. In the very same book where Paul instructs women to be silent (in a given circumstance) he also gives instructions for the proper means of women prophesying (preaching) which completely separates them from the pagan worship of the day. Did Paul contradict himself? Only when you chose to read him so, but these were two different circumstances. All are permitted to speak in service properly, none are allowed to disrupt service. You cannot atomistically separate the command from the totality of Scripture (nor from the same book!). — There is NO WHERE in Scripture where sexual immorality is acceptable. So your comparison is apples and oranges, distracting from the conversation at hand. — We can disagree about sexual orientation being learned or genetic, it would not matter to the point. We do not excuse sinful behavior because it is more tempting to those that are genetically predisposed to it. And before you go off on “God created homosexuals that way” you need to remember the second part of the Christian narrative “Creation, FALL, redemption, consummation.” We have all fallen, EQUALLY fallen, but in particular ways we express a fallen nature. God did not create us as fallen, sinful creatures, but by grace He can redeem us from that and transform us.

        2. hollyboardman

          Jay, as a woman who has been called to preach, I am exceedingly weary this lame argument. I suspect the Bishop of Alabama is in the same position as I am. Neither of is is a literalist, and neither of us are narrow-minded fundamentalists. We are both well-educated solid United Methodist Christians. Please respect us as we deserve to be respected. You are obviously discontent in this church and should move on to where you fit more comfortably.

        3. Jay

          Yes, Holly Boardman, as a woman who has been called to preach you don’t believe the literal meaning of the passage in Corinthians that instruct women to be silent. But you can bet that passage was cited over and over again by those who did not want the UMC to permit the ordination of women. Just as people like you are happy to cite the clobber passages about homosexuality and argue that they must be enforced. Why them? Why not the passages about slavery? Or the passages about women? As far as my discontent with the Church, you also seem very discontent with the Church. Why don’t you move on instead of agitating for kicking out a true prophet like Bishop Talbert?

        4. mrskbw

          Titus 3:10-11.You do not have to answer your accuser. All will answer to ONE. He is the only righteous judge. He judges the thoughts and intents of the heart. Bless you Holly for your stand. If you are forced to leave by evil ungodly men – God will provide for you! He promised!

  2. Jeanne Rozman

    How do you know what God’s limitations are? Bishop is obeying Biblical obedience which says that in the spirit of Christ we honor the love of ALL persons. People do not choose to be gay. God does not require gay people to be celibate. Gay couples are parents, raise children, are doctors, lawyers, responsible citizens, scientists, athletes, and in all areas of society. Let people do their research, please. Homosexuality is not a psychological category and is not a sin.

  3. hollyboardman

    Love is surely to be honored in the church. We are ALL called to love one another and even to love our enemies. Loving our brothers and sisters in Christ and loving our enemies does not mean that we engage in sexual relationships with them. St. Paul said that celibacy is a good thing (a quite revolutionary idea), but sexual expression within marriage between one man and one woman is acceptable for Christians. Homosexual BEHAVIOR is a sin, and heterosexual acts outside of marriage are sinful as well. Jesus himself calls us to live by a higher standard than the Hebrew law requires. Thinking lustful thoughts is sinful as well.

    1. mrskbw

      The UMC will turn its head. The council of bishops are in agreement! Hence the “Call to Action” they tried so hard to sell the GC. If the Bishops – Call to Action would have be adopted – the wedding would have been in the UM Church not UCC. Sadly,the people in the pews are either in agreement, fast asleep, or being lied to be their pastor for the fear of losing another member and their jobs.

      1. Fred

        Much truth here. The pastors must at some level participate in keeping their congregations blind and ignorant. The sad point is the pastors, the faithful ones at least, in the trenches are doing their best and working so hard to reach the world for Christ and all the while these dysfunctional bureaucrats like the Council of Bishops and the Board of Church and Society are throwing boulders down on their heads as they toil at their work. The pastors must throw a rug over these nuts who have a death wish for The UMC. If they let the masses know about the insanity going on in the seminaries, the COB, the BOCS, etc. the masses would rise up, quit giving (even though only a small portion of their giving goes down a rat hole) and then most likely leave to go to a denomination that is faithful, is not at war with itself and holds to historic Christianity. So they are the ultimate victims in a sense of a denomination that failed and is quickly fading. Can you imagine the madness that will take place at the 2016 Gen. Conf.? By then all the masks and deceit about what people really want may have come off. The phoney war may have ended with it’s code words and cliches and the real one may have started where people say what they really mean. What a refreshing wind that would be.

        1. mrskbw

          My family and i are among those that left.Saddened by what I saw at the GC in Tampa. This did not happen over night! When God made me fully aware of the idolatry and the twisting of the scriptures – I could do no other. Many gift and talents are being wasted fighting a battle that should have never been allowed to become an issue. Paul warns the churches of such false teaches. In fact some deeds are not even supposed to be mentioned and yet the UMC has spent decades in “holy conversations”. Nothing holy about this conversation. As I sat through the delegation meetings I was witness to the blank look on pastors faces too afraid to speak up for fear of losing their pension or position. I knew the battle was over. When the shepherds sell out to the world – only judgement is left. I was sad!!!! But, I had a hard decision to make. GC 2012 made that decision very easy! I have friends still in the battle.The Holy Spirit will tell you when it is time to gather your children and wipe your feet at the door. My prayers are with you!

        2. Jeanne Rozman

          I don’t know where you live or your age, not that it matters; I doubt you live in Mississippi like I do however. I have never been to a GC. I know my dad did years ago as a pastor and DS. I am quite progressive and strongly believe in marriage equality. I subscribe to the blog or newsletters of Bishop John Shelby Spong who came way down here once. I hope the UMC GC changes but I doubt there will be a change in 2016. It is sad. I wish people would speak out and come into the 21st century. I really enjoyed Church Quake in Checpvy Chase as it was so great meeting all the progressive people. I have a gay son who lives in Manhattan. I used to be in the UCC but there is only one UCC church in Mississippi. Keep on speaking out for what is right for all. Marriage should be between two people who love each other, period.

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