Despite warnings from fellow colleagues a Tennessee bishop has angered the Council of Bishops by choosing to perform same-sex marriages. Bishop Melvin Talbert was told that he’d be violating the faith’s Book of Discipline by officiating a wedding that was contrary to their doctrine.
Talbert understands tradition but feels strongly that the church cannot continue to fight against change. He has volunteered his services to perform same-sex weddings and is urging his fellow clergy colleagues to do the same. He compares his work to the civil rights movement of times past. This revelation has shattered his stereotypes.
This 79-year-old clergyman does not make that comparison lightly; Talbert has been on the front lines of the civil rights movement. In October 1960, while in Atlanta, he shared a jail cell with the late great Martin Luther King, Jr. after he was arrested for kicking against the system of that day by participating in a lunch counter sit-in.
Forty years ago Talbert had a totally different stance against homosexuality. At that time he felt strongly that Christianity and homosexuality did not mix. This all changed many years later when he attended a colloquium of straight and gay Methodists; this was a weekend event where the people involved could not reveal their sexual preference until the conclusion of the gathering.
United Methodists have debated this issue for years and are still very much against same-sex marriage. In the United States Episcopalians adopted the same-sex marriage custom midyear 2012. The Evangelical Lutheran Church had already begun allowing it in 2009. Many individual dioceses chose not to support it; including the one in Tennessee.
Whether it’s perceived as biblical disobedience or ecclesiastical disloyalty many pastors around the globe have chosen to defy tradition and perform same-sex marriages. Their decisions haven’t landed them in a jail cell but have exposed them to church ridicule and discipline. Some have had to part with their ordinations while others have simply received a harsh tongue lashing.
Talbert, who recently traveled from Tennessee to Alabama to perform a same-sex ceremony, said he doubts he’ll be subjected to disciplinary actions because the church conference that governs him supports same-sex marriage. He has, however, angered his Council of Bishop colleagues; they warned him against officiating the wedding.
Talbert followed his heart and did it anyway.
He went to Birmingham to officiate the wedding of Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw. They had already legally tied the knot in Washington, D.C. back in September but still wanted a normal church wedding. They knew that Talbert had supported Methodist homosexuals for years and asked him to be the officiant.
President of the Council of Bishops, Rosemarie Wenner, issued an email on Tuesday asking that the council requests all United Methodists to adhere to the church discipline and explained the council’s decision to intervene. Wenner’s message stated that every bishop is a part of the Council of Bishops’ covenant; they support each other in prayer and in their efforts to be faithful Christians. They also question one another when they see that a fellow member is not respecting the discipline that was developed by actions of the governing body.
Talbert says he has spoken out publicly against his own church and says whatever they decide to do is not his problem and he’s not losing any sleep over it.
He says he still supports his decision to perform the same-sex ceremony and is without a doubt at peace with his decision. Talbert says he did declare the laws, in times past, that prohibited clergy from marrying homosexuals. Talbert says those laws no longer deserve the church’s loyalty and support. He says it’s now time for them to do the right thing.
Despite warnings from his colleagues Bishop Melvin Talbert has angered the Council of Bishops by choosing to perform same-sex marriages.
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)