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Many weigh in as church sees escalating struggle over homosexuality

October 25, 2013

The United Methodist Church’s long controversy over homosexuality has intensified of late, because of a retired bishop’s decision to perform a same-sex wedding; a pastor’simminent church trial for having performed such a ceremony and a planned protestfrom clergy colleagues sympathetic to that pastor; and the General Council on Finance and Administration’s decision to extend benefits to same-sex spouses and domestic partners who work for general church agencies.

With news of these developments have come statements and commentary from across the church, reflecting a range of views.

Bishop Melvin Talbert’s decision to go against church law by performing a same-sex wedding in Birmingham, Ala., this Saturday, Oct. 26, prompted the most reaction.

Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, of the North Alabama Annual (regional) Conference, issued a statement, explaining her request to Talbert that he not follow through. The Council of Bishops executive committee issued its own statement asking that Talbert refrain.

But retired Bishop Mary Ann Swenson dissented and offered strong support for Talbert through a letter posted on the web site of Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial caucus that works to change church law on homosexuality.

The men Talbert is to marry in Birmingham, Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw, issuedtheir own response to the Council of Bishops executive committee’s statement, as did the Methodist Federation for Social Action.

The Rev. Rob Renfro, president of Good News, an unofficial caucus that supports church law in this regard, wrote in support of Wallace-Padgett and criticized the Council of Bishops for not speaking out. His piece was posted before the Council of Bishops executive committee issued its statement.

Bishop Bill McAlilly of the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences offered support for the executive committee’s statement and Bishop Mike Coyner of the Indiana Conferencecommented on both the Talbert controversy and the decision by the General Council of Finance Administration (of which he’s president) to extend benefits to same-sex spouses or domestic partners employed by general church agencies.

The Rev. John Meunier used his blog for a post titled Why I Cannot Applaud Bishop Talbert, and the Rev. Tim McClendon, a district superintendent in the South Carolina Conference, posted that the Talbert episode raises questions that the United Methodist Church must answer if it’s to hold together.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Bruce Robbins expressed appreciation for Talbert, and the Rev. Jeremy Smith looked to civil rights history for context in assessing the controversy.