by Heather Hahn*, Diane Degnan** and Vance Morton***
After much prayer and hours of meetings throughout this past week’s at Lake Junaluska, N.C., the Council of Bishops has “respectfully” requested a formal complaint be filed against retired Bishop Melvin G. Talbert.
The Council requested that Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, president of the Council, and Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett of the North Alabama Conference file a complaint regarding Bishop Talbert’s actions of “undermining the ministry of a colleague and conducting a ceremony to celebrate the marriage of a same gender couple.” The complaint would go before the Western Jurisdiction, from which Bishop Talbert retired.
Church law says that, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” Both the presiding bishop of the North Alabama area where the ceremony took place, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, and the had requested that Bishop Talbert not perform the ceremony.
The Council also stated that when followers of Christ and people of conscience hold conflicting views, honest and respectful conversation and prayer are needed throughout the church, and voted to initiate a task force to lead conversations about human sexuality, race and gender in a global perspective. The goal of this effort is to come to a shared theological understanding amid diverse opinions in the church about these issues.
The bishops acknowledged in their statement that neither they nor the other members of the church they lead are of one mind regarding ministering with gays and lesbians. “Pain exists throughout the connection, including persons who support Bishop Talbert’s actions and persons who object to them. We express our pastoral concern and care for all people.”
Bishop Lowry requested prayers for all involved, expressed his love for all of God’s children and his hopes that all followers of Christ might continue to work together on our great mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. “While I fully support this action by the Council of Bishops, it is vital that we keep our focus on our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Disciples of Jesus Christ by definition are grace-filled and graceful in relationship to this and other tough, trying issues.”
Earlier this week in , Bishop Wenner acknowledged there is diversity of opinion about many issues in the church. “We have to lead together although we are not one minded. We do not need to hide that we are diverse,” she said. In the address, she also noted, “Serious conflicts have to be brought to the tables where leaders are present,” an acknowledgment that supports the plan for further discussion of the issue through a task force.
After today’s statement was read, Bishop Wenner told the council and observers that the bishops “commit ourselves as bishops in the church to be shepherds in our church, pastoral leaders for all people in our denomination.”
“We commit ourselves to invite and engage with our people in the areas to be in prayer so that God may through the Holy Spirit guide us to see Christ’s face in all God’s people and guide us to engage with all God’s people to whom we are sent,” she said.
*Heather is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.
**Diane is the director of Public Relations for United Methodist Communications.
***Vance is the director of communications & IT for the Central Texas Conference.