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Julia PoleseJuly 3, 2012
The California-Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church met in June to ordain new clergy. Bishop Melvin Talbert, who made a statement on behalf of the pro-GLBTQ “Love Your Neighbor” Coalition at the 2012 General Conference, gave the message at the ordination ceremony in which he urged clergy to join him in acting in disobedience to the Book of Discipline in order to perform same-sex marriages.
Talbert got his start in the Southern California conference and he gave due deference to the opportunities given to him 49 years prior. “The time and the people were different,” he said. “We were all male with four persons of color.” The theme of his message to those being commissioned and ordained was “Do the Right Thing.” He exhorted them to follow the commands in Micah 6:6-8 and Jesus’ First Commandment in Luke 10. He invoked John Wesley – one of the founders of Methodism – and his three simple rules for faith: “Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.” Talbert summed it up this way: “Our goal in life should be to become perfect in becoming perfect.”
Talbert turned to problems facing the United Methodist Church, largely placing blame on the clergy. He lamented the lack of joy and enthusiasm among Methodist laity and their lack of invitations to church. Lest those in attendance think he was too negative, he claimed “If I don’t share this candid assessment of current reality, I fail you by not making clear what is expected of you.”
Talbert then connected the decline in membership to the history of American Methodism in light of the church’s embrace and subsequent rejection of racial segregation and slavery. As part of this narrative, Talbert claimed that the church “experienced another valley in 1972 when the General Conference placed the ‘incompatibility with Christian teaching’ language in our Social Principles regarding gay and lesbian people.” He expressed sadness at the succeeding General Conferences in adding more “derogatory language” that has prevented clergy from presiding over same-sex unions. He linked these decisions with the loss of membership “across all five jurisdictions” in the American United Methodist Church.
“But for many we were devastated that the General Conference, after forty years of continuous struggle, failed to affirm GLBTQ people as full members of the United Methodist Church with all rights and privileges, including being ordained as clergy in our church.” He thought it was absurd, particularly because many partnered gay and lesbian people are ordained and consecrated already within the Methodist church and, yet, cannot live openly. “My sisters and brothers,” he said, “that is wrong.”
He “felt certain” that the denomination was in decline because of its reticence to affirm GLBTQ people in their sexual choices. “I’m convinced that we will never see any significant growth within our denomination until we stop the hypocrisy and do what is right.” He reflected on the “Love Your Neighbor” Coalition at the General Conference and quoted himself denouncing the Conference’s “failure to do the right thing.”
From his statement: “As I stand before you today, I declare that God has already settled this matter. All human beings are created in the image of God. And there are no exceptions or exclusions. We belong to the family of God. At the same time, I declare to you that the derogatory language and restrictive laws in our Book of Discipline are immoral and unjust and no longer deserve our loyalty and obedience. So in light of the action taken at our General Conference, I believe the time has come to call for and invite others to join in what I’m calling ‘an act of biblical obedience’ based on the two-fold commandment of love: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.’ You see those of us who call ourselves progressive, we too, have the Bible on our side.” He then called for the clergy who defy the Discipline and pledge to perform same-sex marriages to continue in that task, calling it “faithful to the Gospel.”
He cited McKendree United Methodist Church in Nashville that once was a willful participant in racial segregation, but now openly serves communion to practicing gay and lesbians within its congregation, as an example of such sanctioned disobedience. To applause, Talbert said that in his new position of Bishop-in-Presence in the church, he intends to marry same-sex couples because he intends to “do the right thing.”
To the candidates for ordination, he said “There will be times you will be forced to choose between God and your church because your church will not always do the right thing.” Bishop Talbert received a standing ovation for his message.
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