(Lake Junaluska, N.C/UMNS) Following the action of a retired bishop to conduct a same-gender ceremony in violation of church law, the United Methodist Council of Bishops took a series of actions to address the issue during their annual meeting this week in Lake Junaluska, N.C.
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 Melvin Talbert’s action, for “undermining the ministry of a colleague and conducting a ceremony to celebrate the marriage of a same gender couple.”
“When there are violations of the Book of Discipline, a response is required,” the bishops said in a statement.
The Council also 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.
These actions followed days of prayerful discernment and conversation about the action it would take after retired Bishop Melvin Talbert conducted a ceremony on Oct. 26 celebrating the marriage of a same-gender couple in Center Point, Ala. – a chargeable offense for United Methodist clergy.
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 Executive Committee of the Council had requested that Bishop Talbert not perform the ceremony.
Under church law, the College of Bishops – which is constituted of the bishops in a jurisdictional or central conference – has authority and accountability for processing complaints against a bishop who serves (or served) in that area, which would be the Western Jurisdiction in this instance.
Earlier this week in the President’s Address, 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.
In a statement, the Council said that when followers of Christ and people of conscience hold conflicting views, honest and respectful conversation and prayer are needed throughout the church. The Council expressed pastoral care and concern for all people. (Read the full statement online.)