United Methodists drop case against retired bishop who performed same-sex ‘wedding’

John Lomperis from the Institute on Religion and Democracy says the outcome 'is sad but not surprising,' and 'shows our bishops cannot generally be trusted to hold each other accountable.'
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Kirsten Andersen By Kirsten Andersen

Kirsten Andersen By Kirsten Andersen

The United Methodist Church has settled a case against a retired bishop who officiated an illegal same-sex “wedding” ceremony in Alabama in 2013.

Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert, a noted homosexual activist within the UMC, announced he would perform a “holy wedding ceremony” for Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince after their Birmingham church refused.  Openshaw and Prince had previously obtained a civil marriage in Washington D.C., where same-sex “marriage” is legal (their “marriage” is not recognized in Alabama).

When North Alabama Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett heard of Talbert’s plans, she begged him to reconsider, saying that his actions were a violation of church law and a source of public scandal.  When Talbert refused to comply, she filed a complaint with the UMC hierarchy at their request, accusing him of “undermining the ministry of a colleague” and “conducting a ceremony to celebrate the marriage of a same gender couple.”

On Monday, church officials settled the case, saying they had come to a “just resolution” which spares Talbert any penalty for his violations of church law.  Under UMC bylaws, a just resolution "focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all the parties.”

Talbert admitted no wrongdoing, but promised “to live according to the Book of Discipline.”  However, he said that promise would not prevent him from performing additional same-sex “wedding” ceremonies in the future if he desires to do so.  “I cannot say I will not do it, but I have no plans to do so at this time," Talbert told Fox News from his home in Tennessee.

John Lomperis, United Methodist Action Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy said he was disappointed with the settlement.

"This result is sad but not surprising,” Lomperis said.  “This failure shows our bishops cannot generally be trusted to hold each other accountable. We need to reform our processes to give others that responsibility."

"I welcome the resolution's acknowledging the pain on all sides. But such professed concern rings hollow when coupled with such a weak, moral equivalency-touting response that will provoke even further conflict and pain,” said Lomperis.  “The resolution promotes endless 'dialogue' without saying a word about Scripture or the great pastoral harm done to the two gay men Talbert showcased for an unbiblical political act.”

“People ordained in our denomination vow to commit to upholding our denomination's doctrine and rules,” continued Lomperis. “But a vocally disruptive minority basically choose to dissemble their way through ordination. Future church historians will note how so much of United Methodism's destructive turmoil today was driven not just by the lack of integrity of radicals like Talbert, but also by other bishops' failure to stand up to them in a sustained way.”

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