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Good News calls for accountability following same-sex union

October 29, 2013

Calling retired Bishop Melvin Talbert’s officiation of a same-sex wedding Oct. 26 “an egregious act of defiance” of United Methodist law, the Good News group has urged the church’s Council of Bishops to hold Talbert accountable.

Good News is an unofficial United Methodist group that advocates maintaining the denomination’s current definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. The organization issued a statement Oct. 28 calling on the Council of Bishops to hold Talbert accountable for performing a ceremony uniting two men, Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince in Birmingham, Ala.

The executive committee of the Council of Bishops and Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, leader of the North Alabama Annual (regional) Conference, asked Talbert not to preside over the service.

The committee said, “The bishops of the church are bound together in a covenant and all ordained elders are committed to uphold the Book of Discipline. “Conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies” are chargeable offenses in the United Methodist Church. (¶2702.1.b)”

The Book of Discipline states that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman, and it forbids United Methodist clergy from performing same-sex ceremonies. It also bars such services from being performed in United Methodist sanctuaries. The Birmingham service was performed in a United Church of Christ sanctuary.

After the wedding, Wallace-Padgett said, “My heart and prayers are with all of us as God leads us through this difficult time.”

Good News said Talbert “flagrantly violated the covenant that binds United Methodists together by officiating” at the service. “We understand the emotional and sensitive nature of the sexuality debate within The United Methodist Church,” the group said. “At the same time, same-sex marriage is not legal in the state of Alabama, nor is it permitted by the United Methodist Discipline.  Not only did Bishop Talbert defy church law, he ignored the urging of both Bishop Wallace-Padgett, bishop of Northern Alabama, and of the executive committee of the Council of Bishops not to preside over the service.”

In an interview with United Methodist News Service before the wedding, Talbert said, “I just believe deep in my heart that this (church policy) is wrong and someone needs to speak out. I am fully aware of the role of bishops in The United Methodist Church, but I am reminded that the role of a bishop is not only to do certain things for the church, it has the responsibility to do some things to the church.

“We have allowed ourselves to be subsumed to the law of the church no matter what it is, even when we know in our heart of hearts it is wrong. We have decided our loyalty is to obey the Book of Discipline rather than speak to the church about this wrong.”

In calling upon the council to exercise discipline, Good News said that “failure to hold accountable Bishop Talbert and other clergy who are flaunting our church’s policies will result in the unraveling of our church’s covenant and order.  Formal separation may not be far behind.”

Good News’ full statement follows:

Good News Responds to Same-Sex Union Performed by Bishop Talbert

In an egregious act of defiance, Bishop Melvin Talbert has publicly and flagrantly violated the covenant that binds United Methodists together by officiating at a service of holy union between two men in Birmingham, Alabama.  We understand the emotional and sensitive nature of the sexuality debate within The United Methodist Church.  At the same time, same-sex marriage is not legal in the state of Alabama, nor is it permitted by the United Methodist Discipline.  Not only did Bishop Talbert defy church law, he ignored the urging of both Bishop Wallace-Padgett, bishop of Northern Alabama, and of the executive committee of the Council of Bishops not to preside over the service.  Elected and sworn to an office of unity, Bishop Talbert has instead chosen to use his position to foment greater division within the UM Church.

As Bishop Michael Coyner has recently stated, “A bishop of the church, whether active or retired, has a special responsibility to teach the faith, to guard the church, and to order the administration and discipline of the church… I don’t think we can be ‘church’ together without a commitment to such order.”

Good News calls upon the Council of Bishops to exercise discipline and hold Bishop Talbert accountable, as they have publicly promised to do on several occasions.  A failure to hold accountable Bishop Talbert and other clergy who are flaunting our church’s policies will result in the unraveling of our church’s covenant and order.  Formal separation may not be far behind.