“Grandchildren of those who stoned the prophet sometimes gather up the stones to build the prophet’s monument. Always it is easier to pay homage to prophets than to heed the direction of their vision.” ~ Clinton Lee Scott
Floating around the news is a debate between two United Methodist Bishops about a wedding being performed for two men in Birmingham, Alabama. This war of words can be found here as retired Bishop Talbert plans to officiate the same-sex wedding in Bishop Wallace-Padgett’s territory of North Alabama.
Part of the dueling blogs and press releases is Bishop Wallace-Padgett’s press release on September 30th, which contains the following section that I want our readers to consider. You can read her “this statement is for release in its entirety with no redactions” in full here:
As United Methodists we uphold that process as much as we uphold the current result of that process, our 2012 Book of Discipline. Any disregard for that order puts the integrity of our covenant together in jeopardy…
I urged the retired bishop to reconsider as his officiating at this ceremony would be in violation of United Methodist Church law. I am also concerned that it would encourage the public to only define The United Methodist Church in North Alabama by one matter and not by the rich range of ministries of North Alabama local churches such as feeding the hungry, ministry with the poor, offering hope for those in addiction, sharing the gospel with our neighbors and welcoming all people to worship together and celebrate the sacrament of holy communion.
To better understand this press release, I think it is important to start with a blog post by Bishop Wallace-Padgett six months ago.
1963: Non-Violent Resistance
In April, Bishop Wallace-Padgett wrote a blog post celebrating the 50 year anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and affirming that the good Bishop was fully aware of its historical context. I thought that was very interesting because the content and context of that first Letter gives insight into today’s conflict.
The Birmingham Jail Letter was written in response to a group of eight white clergy in the Birmingham area (including two United Methodist Bishops) who wrote a letter calling for MLK to stop the sit-in protests. Here’s a relevant section from that Clergyman letter (the language is antiquated but reposted for historical accuracy)
We agree rather with certain local Negro leadership which has called for honest and open negotiation of racial issues in our area. And we believe this kind of facing of issues can best be accomplished by citizens of our own metropolitan area, white and Negro, meeting with their knowledge and experience of the local situation. All of us need to face that responsibility and find proper channels for its accomplishment.
Just as we formerly pointed out that “hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions,” we also point out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham.
Like the Bishop’s press release of 2013, the Alabama Clergymen of 1963 also disagreed with disregarding the orderly way (the “proper channels”) to address injustice. The process in the civil society should be respected just as the proper process within United Methodism to express grievances should be “upheld.” Likewise, these protests do not contribute to “resolutions of local problems” ie. they are distractions from the agreed-upon civil efforts (or ministry efforts) to address society’s “greater” ills.
Four days after the Clergyman Letter in 1963, MLK wrote his Letter. Yes, it only took him four days to write it! I’d like to draw out a section from that Letter from a Birmingham Jail that directly addresses both of the concerns above and we’ll give him the final word on this section.
You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.
Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation.
2013: Non-Violent Resistance
A very young Bishop Talbert was arrested with Martin Luther King Jr during one of these nonviolent protests. He understands King’s call for a nonviolent tension that is needed for growth.
In today’s conflict of the past 42 years, those opposed to the full inclusion of LGBT persons have not negotiated. Each time a loophole is found in the agreed-upon Discipline, it is closed. Each time the votes gets closer and closer to changing the polity, the way the votes are tallied is changed and the voices of full inclusion are set back again. Even language that states “we are not of one mind” is rejected. Since negotiation has been out of the picture for 42 years, non-violent protests are meant to spark the dialogue that can lead to a just resolution.
But even more importantly, Bishop Talbert also understands that homophobia is one of the sources for all the litany of items that Bishop Wallace-Padgett wrote about that Alabama churches focus on. Gay teenagers are kicked out of their households and are poor and hungry. Some gay teens and young adults deal with being excluded from society by becoming addicted to drugs. LGBT persons reject the gospel being shared because the framework doesn’t address their full humanity. So in reality, dealing with the gay issue IS a contribution to the “local problems” issue by forcing a community to deal with it. The opportunity should be capitalized upon, not silenced and lost.
The irony of a present-day Alabama Bishop opposing non-violent resistance to unjust laws–ecclesial or secular–is hopefully not lost on our readers. But let me be clear: the focus of this blog post is on considerations of non-violent resistance, not on opinions about race or homosexuality. I certainly don’t consider the good Bishop to be anything but loving to people of all races and orientations. All I ask of the good Bishop is to consider how her opposition to non-violent action has some historical resonance that may bring clarity to this situation.
What is it about non-violent resistance (to both secular and ecclesial laws) that it can be so feared and opposed during its active time, but after that which it was opposing has been defeated or brought to a just resolution, it becomes celebrated?
Thanks for your comments and welcome to our new readers!
Julie A. Arms Meeks
Nice timing on your question as the Church and world says goodbye to Evelyn Lowery this morning, wife of Joseph Lowery, another of those clergypersons working for change through non-violent resistance along side MLK, and woman of non-violent resistance for change in her own right.
You are right, we DO stone our prophets in their active time. We seem to fail to have (or recognize) the foresight that they have and punish them in life, only to celebrate them in death.
It’s easy for us to celebrate in hindsight because there is no risk. Following when the movement is occurring causes great uneasiness in the system and in the lives of those who are called to be involved. I also like to point out that not all of the prophets get celebrated later on, even those within the movements that get celebrated. I think of how long people didn’t know who Bayard Rustin was, and how many still don’t know that great role he played. I can remember first discovering his work when I was researching a paper my freshman year of college. I’ve ever since lifted his name up with those we all know from the civil rights movement.
One other thought, as the prophets are celebrated in future times, are their visions and work really celebrated for what they were? Or is some watered down version accepted? I think especially of Dr. King. It’s easy to be behind his vision for an racially integrated society nowadays, but what about his vocal advocacy for workers’ rights, eliminating poverty, anti-war, etc?
Rage Against the Machine’s song “Wake Up” is appropriate:
You know they went after King
When he spoke out on Vietnam
He turned the power to the have-nots
And then came the shot
Good post Jeremy, I particularly like the way you pulled in past and present. I completely support Bishop Talbot, and I hope he raising holy tension, I hope the results will be the same as civil rights in the long run, I think frankly in some ways the church will be harder to change than the US in 1963 as there is more power in the hands of those who want the status quo proportionately than was in the hands of those who wanted segregation, but hopefully I am wrong, and or the Spirit guides us all. I believe change will come, I just hope faster rather than slower!!!
I love your work/writing Jeremy! I believe that all issues of social holiness that call for structural change, whether in society or institutions like the church, go through an evolutionary process. While we are in the midst of challenges for needed change (the prophetic period), people, who by the nature of their position of privilege, need to be very self-aware, so that they don’t react in similar ways to that of Bishop Wallace-Padgett. Otherwise, you end up promoting positions representing the maintenance of the status-qua, forced silence and regionalism. In honor of Mohandas K. Gandhi’s 144th birthday today, I leave you with this quote: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
I’m a little unclear what you are asking the bishop to do.
The white clergymen agreed with MLK’s struggle and his construction of the issue. They disagreed on the means of achieving that goal.
As far as I know, the bishop does not agree that the BOD is perpetrating injustice. So the two things are not analogous in that important way. She is not applauding Bishop Talbert for his goal but arguing about his method.
The comparison with the Birmingham letter is rhetorically powerful, and for those who agree the UMC is perpetrating injustice should sting, but I don’t see how it is an apples-to-apples comparison in this case. Perhaps you know something about the bishop’s mind that I do not.
I think it is apples to apples. The Bishop does want LGBT people to be welcomed into churches and respond to the Gospel. I’m sure she does. The method by which that is achieved–not only non-violent action but the very changes of the Discipline to have LGBT equality–is in dispute.
I’m sure the white Clergymen in 1963 also wanted great race relations. I doubt they wanted the violence and unrest that would come from integration. I would wonder if they all agreed that buses and restaurants were actually discriminating at the time of the letter.
Let’s not forget that the goal (LGBT persons responding to the Gospel) is shared among all reasonable Methodists. The dispute is whether their full humanity is affirmed or not after that point…or even before.
I don’t see any way to work toward common understanding, so I’ll just say, “Thanks for the response.”
John, you are wise. To affirm “full humanity” simply means the church’s decision to celebrate sinful behavior. John Wesley believed that we ALL have a “bent to sinning”. I have no question that we do. All of us have this inclination, and ALL human beings (even Jesus) are tempted to act on that inclination. I have no question about that either. However to affirm sinful behavior is indeed contrary to Jesus’ personal witness, the Gospel, and Christian teaching. “Affirming full humanity” sounds wonderful; but those who use the phrase deny the reality that through Christ, we have the CHOICE to live holy lives despite our inclination to behave sinfully. As a mature, heterosexual, single clergywoman, I KNOW that celibacy is a possible, and commendable lifestyle. I am “fully human” and I can commend celibacy to others who want to live faithful, holy lives. I think it is rather sad that celibacy is not often commended in our church (despite what scripture says.)
Not all who are single are automatically called to celibacy. Some who are not called to celibacy are not single by choice. To impose celibacy upon a person who is not called to that vocation is oppressive, not to mention unpastoral and vocationally incorrect. Celibacy is a discerned calling and those who are called to it choose it freely.
The crux of the problem is…
Definition of CRUX
1: a puzzling or difficult problem : an unsolved question
2: an essential point requiring resolution or resolving an outcome
3: a main or central feature (as of an argument)
Examples of CRUX
Origin of CRUX, Latin cruc-, crux cross, torture, First Known Use: 1718
We forget, or some never knew, that crux is Latin for cross and torture.
The crux of the matter in this instance is found in these three sentences in Bishop Wallace Padgett’s letter.
“Our United Methodist 2012 Book of Discipline affirms that all persons are of sacred worth and that God’s grace is available to all. Every person is welcome in our churches. The Discipline of our denomination also states that we consider the practice of homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teaching.”
A cross (+) is composed of two lines or structures that intersect each other at right angles. Our doctrine is such a cross. One line of the cross is this: “all persons are of sacred worth; God’s grace is available to all; every person is welcome. In opposition to this line and intersecting at a right angle (or perhaps wrong angle) is the other line of the cross: “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
That Bishop Wallace-Padgett chose to nestle those three sentences, and in my mind contradictory sentences, up against each other gets to the heart of the problem. Our doctrine is contradictory and conflicting.
And then there the whole “you lost me at process” issue.
The moment someone begins a sentence in a letter of this magnitude and scope and hope of influence with the word “process” and then, finally, at the very end of this letter, kind of like a dangling appendix, finally gets around to stating the mission of the church, well for me, you have already lost any hope of your rhetoric having any potential to influence my perspective to move me toward agreement with yours.
I wonder how the letter would have been written if she started out by stating the mission of the church and then determined her position based on the mission as the true north – the immutable, unchangeable standard, rather than “process” as the “norma normans sed non normata” – the norm that rules all other norms?
I have no doubt that Bishop Wallace-Padgett has within her that holy place within which resides all that is the source of her impassioned faith and her emboldened ministry.
All of us can learn from her letter that at the moment we choose process over mission we put at extreme risk our prophetic power if we trade it in for bureaucratic protectionism.
Our hope is found in what I believe is this truth: upon this cross of contradiction lays Jesus Christ, absorbing our suffering into a heart of eternal and unlimited grace and wisdom. From that heart, I pray, to flow the strength and wisdom and love of Christ to somehow, someday, wrench what is now a cross into a single line. And may that line no longer separate us, but instead point all of humanity to The Way, The Truth, and The Life of peace and the place where all will reside in the house of the Lord forever.
And forever is a long, long, long time.
May it be so…
“All of us can learn from her letter that at the moment we choose process over mission we put at extreme risk our prophetic power if we trade it in for bureaucratic protectionism.”
Out of the ballpark, Mark. Thanks.
Jeremy, I really do hope and pray there will be a day we hear the bell tolling the death of rhetoric – any rhetoric.
Be at peace,
PS: Keep writing, Jeremy. Today is not the day for rhetoric to die. Your articulate rhetoric is important.
Amen, Mark. Might that line be the arc the moral universe that is long but bending toward justice? Folks like Bishop Talbert are reaching overhead, grabbing hold of it, and using what weight they have to get it to bend a little bit closer over the horizon.
Nathan, it has to be, it must be, the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.
But it must also be the path that we all must walk and whereupon have the courage in inspire others to follow us. MLK and others led the way before us. We walk in their dust. May we add our dust to theirs that others may follow.
Walking humbly, doing justice, loving mercy. And the best part is doing it with great pastors and laity who also happen to be good friends.
Bravo, Jeremy. I would also add that Bishop Wallace-Padgett is creating a false dichotomy here: I am very involved in all sorts of ministries to the marginalized, not just ministry to the marginalized LGBT community in our own denomination. So to say that Bishop Talbert, who has been committed to ministries to all sorts of marginalized folks– not just LGBT folk– undermines ministry to the poor, the hungry, and others, mischaracterizes the rich history of his ministry to others. For Bishop Wallace-Padgett to characterize our movement as one that undermines the ministry of others is a poor argument on her part. Too many Bishops are turning to this excuse as an excuse for not offering ministry to all.
Jeni Markham Clewell
Our human instincts and ego program us to want to win. And the voices in our heads from our childhood and youth most often program the views and beliefs that we hold and uphold. So when the non-violent tension is created with non-violent resistance, we fight to win. The “rub” is, you have no power against non-violence. When the issue is resolved in some fashion, then there’s no more incentive to win. So winning takes the form of celebration. Jesus, Gandhi, King were all extraordinarily good non-violent resisters. Go and do likewise!
Thank you Jeremy!
A well-written piece on this issue. The comments for the original article at the UMCConnections website were extremely ignorant. It really is about LGBTQ youth thrown out of their homes, denied membership in the UMC, and being told they are less-than, and even evil by the church. It’s about giving time, tithe, and talents to God through the UMC, but the church responding “You’re still second-class, less than.” It’s about being called to ordination, and the UMC playing God, responding “you can serve, just not here”. Bishop Wallace-Padgett does not get to determine what is oppression, and is wrong to speak against Ret. Bishop Talbert’s actions. There can be no dialog: LGBTQ-affirming voices are continually silenced in the UMC… We’re told to change the BoD, but not allowed to discuss it without supporters of the change being brought up on charges or forced to leave candidacy in the UMC, where God’s called them. Bishop Talbert’s actions is the only way left.
Well, come on, obviously Bishop Wallace-Padgett is well within right, and good sense, to speak to Bishop Talbert’s words/actions any way she wishes. Not only is it her Episcopal area but she’s a member of the Council. If you give up on dialogue and dub yourself “silenced,” then that’s on you, but there’s obviously a lot of room for voices in our conferencing, and I think always will be.
The oppressor does not get to determine when the oppressed/minority is being silenced. It’s not that I’ve given up on dialog, it’s that, as Jeremy states above, every time a vote gets close to changing the hateful language in the BoD, every time a move is made to seek reconciliation, conservatives thwart it through any means necessary, including their own tricks and loopholes in the BoD (see Mary Ann Kaiser Barclay’s case– the bishop refused to rule due to a technicality), if you publicly speak out against the hate in the BoD, you’re labeled as disobedient to the BoD, and the UMC, even LGBTQ clergy who do not “self avow” are placed under so much pressure that it’s nearly impossible to sustain. There’s simply no dialog as long as conservatives have the upper hand of intimidation and their interpretation of the conflictory BoD.
Bishop Talbert is RETIRED, he doesn’t have an episcopal area, therefore on this particular count, Bishop Wallace-Padgett is in error to protest.
The UMC is losing its left wing by forcing people out, and it takes two wings to fly– it’s the opposite of what’s happened to TEC. You can’t understand this, as you aren’t being marginalized by the UMC and treated as a second-class member (for those UMCs that even allow LGBTQ members…)
You’ve misread me, and you got incoherent to follow there. I didn’t say you had been silenced, you did. My point was that you haven’t been silenced, dialogue isn’t over, and you’re being dtamatic. Just because connectional conferencing hasn’t gone your way yet, that doesn’t mean you’ve been “silenced” Much, much, much air-time has been given to full inclusion in the UMC.
And, yes, even a RETIRED bishop has accountability to ANY fellow bishop. Talbert does to Wallace-Padgett even more so because the same-sex service is connected to HER Episcopal area. Read more carefully.
You know good and well that one doesn’t have to be themselves marginalized to understand, empathize, and stand with those who are. Stop spouting nonsense.
¶ 164 F) Civil Obedience and Civil Disobedience
Therefore, we recognize the right of individuals to dissent when acting under the constraint of conscience and, after having exhausted all legal recourse, to resist or disobey laws that they deem to be unjust or that are discriminately enforced.
We offer our prayers for those in rightful authority who serve the public, and we support their efforts to afford justice and equal opportunity for all people. We assert the duty of churches to support those who suffer because of their stands of conscience represented by nonviolent beliefs or acts.
* * * * * * * *
We in the UMC discriminate against LGBT people because of our church law, yet we also support the people who are discriminated against (and their allies) when they stand up for themselves (and others) in their efforts to change the very church law that discriminates against them. At some point unjust laws will crumble and disintegrate. Why not spare the pain of crumbling and disintegration and simply change the offending, discriminatory law?
My problem in all of this would be that the UMC is stuck with – and completely acceptable with – a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” approach to the issue. That has never worked yet. And it is far less than should be acceptable for a group that wants to be something even more than authentic.
Bishop Talbert is kinown throughout the whole church, not just the UMC, for his consistent stand for justice for all, and charity towards all. Most of us have learned a lot from him, and know that there is still more to learn!
I see what you mean, but for me (like John) it’s also a little apples to oranges. It just think it’s a stretch to paint our UM connection/covenant community as akin to oppressive Southern segregation laws. Ultimately, like Wallace-Padgett indicated, the UM connection is one we join voluntarily –one where a part of the covenant is to challenge the process/system/Discipline so that it might continually grow more just and righteous, but another part is to be challenged by the conferencing community and submit ourselves to one another in it. To me, the covenant between fellow clergy in the connection is certainly a far stronger bond/commitment than the one between a citizen and his/her government’s laws. So I feel a difference: MLK was resisting unjust Southern laws; clergy who actively break the connectional covenant are essentially resisting their fellow clergy, who are not tyrants but simply other Methodists who have diligently conferenced together.
Your paragraph that begins, “In today’s conflict of the past 42 years…” seems uses language that’s harsh enough to be inaccurate to me. General Conference for the past 42 years has been chock-full of (maybe I wouldn’t use the language of “negotiation” but) conversation and discernment over full inclusion. Delegates have come and gone who have experienced massive growth and even total transformation in stance on either side of the dialogue. If “loopholes” exist that run contrary to the clear intention of the will of the General Conference then they do indeed close those loopholes, as a body. The way that votes are tallied is determined by proportional representation which has only grown MORE inclusive in recent years with an increasingly equal voice for United Methodists outside of the U.S. If there is support in the body to reject even a statement like, “We are not of one mind,” then it’s where the body has arrived through it’s conferencing.
Without sounding too insulting I hope, your line of thinking here reminds me of House Republicans right now who, though due and diligent legislative work was done to pass the Affordable Care Act, insist that they should still have things the way they want. By all means let us all keep challenging one another, and dialoguing and debating and conferencing, but, having done so, honor our covenant to one another. And we’ll see where the connection takes us. I think that is the heart of what we vow to do in our ordinations.
Josh thanks for your comment. To your first paragraph, I don’t recall that we involuntarily have to live somewhere in America. Those blacks who were being oppressed in the South could have easily moved and left town. Why didn’t they just leave the South? So yes, just as people voluntarily choose a church and choose where they live, they have a responsibility to challenge the structures around them wherever they voluntarily live or affiliate. I still see it as apples and apples.
I think your second paragraph is a more charitable understanding of the past 42 years than I wrote. I appreciate it, and you are correct that radical change has taken place for some individuals and even whole regions over this topic. Thanks for reframing my paragraph from another perspective, although I would claim that my paragraph is a more accurate perception from those who have been left out from the church during those 42 years. Clearly the voting perception becoming “more inclusive” isn’t helpful to those conferences that are truly in the mission fields of the country with falling affiliation rates. Why give those places that perhaps need Jesus the most, why give them fewer voices at the table? You don’t need to answer, but it is the perception of being excluded from the table.
Finally, it took 100 years for laity to obtain a vote at Annual Conference. It took 140 years for women to obtain ordination–and some were ordained outside the official processes. Certainly we don’t see the people who pushed for these changes to be the Tea Party now. And by pointing to history, I don’t think the actions of Bishop Talbert will look like the Tea Party; they’ll look like MLK. But only time will tell.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
For the first paragraph, anything like the idea that “African-Americans should’ve just left the South” is not in the same universe as my meaning. The intended takeaway is there in the last sentence: “clergy who actively break the connectional covenant are essentially resisting their fellow clergy, who are not tyrants but simply other Methodists who have diligently conferenced together.”
I’m familiar with what you’re getting at with GC delegate representation, and that’s always been absurd to me. In a practical way I just can’t wrap my head around the logic. But my paragraph two was more about questioning the accuracy of the narrative you’re painting in your “42 years” paragraph. Your description is a little grandiose — almost like some devious yet mysterious niche of delegates (we’ll call them “Cobra”) has spent four decades thwarting the advances of full inclusion at every turn. As if, just when the cry went out in 2004, “Hey, the voting is close, we’ll have full inclusion in another 4 years…” a hand-wringing villain arose to say, “Henceforth we will vote differently. Come, voices from beyond the U.S., and trounce this righteous movement!” See how grandiosity gets silly?
In reality, many proponents of full inclusion seemed to be largely jubilant over the growing representation of Central Conferences when it appeared in tandem with the possibility that the UMC would become a loose Anglican-like communion in which each region could hone its own expressions of the Discipline. Only after it was clear that the denomination would uphold its polity of connection rather than loose communion did Central Conference representation become a less than appealing prospect.
You’re oversimplifying the story of the connection and holy conferencing, to make a stronger analogy between MLK’s non-violent direct action and Bishop Talbert’s behavior. I know as little as you about how this will all look in 100 years, but Bishop Wallace-Padgett has every right to draw distinction between Talbert’s choices today and MLK’s work then. It’s extreme, and awfully presumptive, to describe her as “stoning prophets.”
If covenant-breaking becomes “normal” for United Methodist bishops, the schism will have arrived in all its hideous, vain-glorious burlesque.
I’m afraid the silence of the Council Of Bishops regarding Bishop Talbert’s action is a sad attempt to hold on to the “unity” of The United Methodist Church. We HAVE broken already. Schism is here, and The UNITED Methodist Church is no more. Our polity (which is based on a democratic structure similar to the United States government) has brought us to this point. We are as dysfunctional as the government is right now during the shut-down. I hope Wesleyan Christians will find a way to uphold the Christian faith even if our bishops do not.
You’re right about the functional schism that we are all “tolerating” for the moment, but perhaps sooner than we think the FIDUCIARY issues will manifest themselves. So far, radicals rocking the boat are eating cake, assuming their antics “do no harm” to the church. This is a “delusive dream,” of course.
Thank you for posting this. As one of the grooms, and as one who grew up in Birmingham during the 1960’s, it fits. And the local pastors who are participating recognize the comparison as well.
It’s too bad and sad that the United Methodists officially can’t get over this and that some of their leaders just lack political courage. I wonder if it is hard for God to be a mensch for those whose polity can’t make allowances for equality.
Can a Bishop be a prophet?
I am wondering about the function of different roles in Christianity, and I am wondering about the specific roles of Bishop and Prophet. I just don’t know if they are “compatible” (humor intended)
Paul Anthony Preussler
I myself am a network engineer and kernel developer, although I would not presume to call myself a ‘hacker’, which denotes both participation in the hacker subculture as defined by Eric S. Raymond and others, and recognition by a known hacker as a peer; I am also a baptized United Methodist. Thus in theory, as a Methodist technologist, involved in open source software development, and working with hackers, if for reasons of modesty and cultural values not himself one, I should be agreeing with this article, and denouncing the mean spirited traditionalists who want to oppress gay people.
However, I find myself unable to follow the trail that this blog has apparently blazed specifically with people like me in mind, for these reasons. Firstly, the current canon law of the United Methodist Church, defined via a conciliar process at the General Conference, prohibits gay marriage, and defines the practice of homosexuality as incompatible with the Christian faith as we have received it, while at the same time recognizing homosexuals as being individuals of sacred worth, who should not be persecuted or hated by Christians, but rather loved, following the example set for us by our Lord. Regardless as to how one feels about the morality of this doctrine, Bishop Talbert is violating canon law and his holy orders by engaging in an act of ecclesiastical disobedience, failing to respect the authority of the church hierarchy and its law, which is neither Biblical nor in keeping with the traditions of the Christian church since the first century.
Beyond that, however, I find myself feeling not unlike Thomas More, as he was compelled on moral and theological grounds to reject the marriage of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, in that I am unable to accept that homosexuality is compatible either with Biblical teaching or with twenty centuries of Church tradition. The Apostle Paul in Romans 1:27 unambiguously denounces homosexuality, furthermore the Mosaic Law, which according to orthodox Christian tradition, was a divine revelation of God. The Church Fathers themselves, from Clement to Irenaeus to John Chrysostom, unambigously maintain this doctrine. Even Marcion appears to have maintained this doctrine, and the Nazarenes and other Hebrew Christians who rejected the Pauline epistles certainly maintained it, due to their continued adherence to the Torah. The only possible way out of it in early Christianity would be through some of the more extreme Gnostic sects, yet even then, I have never come across an example of homosexual marriage. Finally, within Methodism, the founder of this denomination, John Wesley, was himself a devoted Anglican, and indeed remained so until his death; he did not engage in schism; in appointing Thomas Coke as a ‘superintendent’ to the Methodist communion in the United States, an act he engaged in in extreme reluctance, he was merely providing for the former Anglican parishioners in the US who were effectively expelled from the Church of England after the Revolutionary War (and indeed the Episcopal Church, USA, was forced to have its first bishop ordained by the Episcopal Church of Scotland, hence the Scottish influence on the historic American Episcopal liturgy). The Church of England never censured Wesley for this act, and he died as a faithful member of this church. Even now, the Church of England does not permit homosexual marriage, and there can be no doubt that this doctrine was in even greater force within the 18th century.
Now, that said, for homosexuals who desire some relationship to Christianity without changing their lifestyle, there are three options that can be entertained without recourse to illicit marriage in the United Methodist Church. Firstly, many Protestant denominations have allowed homosexual marriage, in spite of the theological objections I outlined above; surely a practicing homosexual would feel more welcome in one of these denominations, such as the United Church of Christ. A second option presents itself in the form of new denominations that are unrelated to traditional Christianity, such as the Ecclesia Gnostica, and the Metropolitan Community Church, which have permitted homosexuality from the outset on the basis of a clean theological slate, provided by the formation of a new confession. Finally, there is the option of Unitarian Universalism, which affords participation in a syncretic religion, allowing its members to relate to those aspects of Christianity they feel comfortable with, while also integrating elements of other faiths, and avoiding those aspects they might find offensive. I would propose this is ultimately the best theological option in this regard, short of simply embracing atheism or another religion altogether, such as neopaganism, in that ultimately the Christian faith, if adhered to honestly and without respect to contemporary sociopolitical opinion, both in scripture (in the Old and New Testaments) and according to ecclesiastical tradition, only provides for two modes of sexuality, that being lifelong heterosexual, monogamous matrimony, and lifelong celibacy. It should be noted furthermore that among the Apostles and Church Fathers, a clear preference for the latter exists, but the need for matrimony is accepted and recognized, and furthermore, matrimony is used Biblically as a metaphor to explain the relationship between Christ and the Church. The only theological way around this is to discard both the Old Testament and the Pauline Epistles, as well as the entire body of orthodox Patristics. The truth can hurt, but as we assured by our Lord in John 8:32, also sets us free; we are also guaranteed freedom of religion in the United States, and thus one should not feel compelled to remain in the Christian faith if one cannot accept its essential doctrine.
Thanks for the important history lesson. Bishop Talbert is a prophetic voice and I hope he will be heard. I admire the loving couple he will join in Christian marriage for their resilience. I cannot imagine remaining in a church in which they receive so little respect from their Bishop and many fellow churchmembers.