By Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, Retired
The United Methodist Church
Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince will be married in Birmingham, Ala., on Oct. 26, 2013. It will be a joyous occasion and celebration. It will be my honor and privilege to officiate at their Holy Ceremony. Why am I doing this wedding? Simply put, I was invited to do it by Bobby and Joe. Of course, there is a long story that led to this moment in time.
For more than 40 years, our church—The United Methodist Church—has struggled over the rights and privileges of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) persons in its witness and ministries. Our Book of Discipline (covenant book of laws) has many positive affirmations of ministries to and with LGBTQ persons. However, our church has chosen to enshrine some derogatory and restrictive language that declares the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching, forbids its clergy from performing or celebrating same-sex marriages or holy unions, and forbids the use of church facilities to host such ceremonies. In our Book of Worship we have liturgies designed to bless animals in the context of our worship services. Are our LGBTQ sisters and brothers less than animals?
When our 2012 General Conference failed to do the right thing by removing such derogatory and hurtful language from our Book of Discipline, I was moved by the Spirit to speak a word of hope to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers at every level of the life of our church and society. Drawing from my consistent stands for justice, going back to my days of student sit-ins and my commitment to non-violence, I felt compelled as a bishop to declare that the derogatory language and restrictive laws in our Book of Discipline are wrong, immoral and unjust, and no longer deserve our loyalty and support. Thus, I chose to call for an “Act of Biblical Obedience” (Micah 6:6-8; Mark 12:28-31) in defiance of the stance of our church regarding LGBTQ persons in our churches. Plus, I stated publically that if the opportunity presented itself, I would officiate a same-sex marriage or holy union.
Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw have fulfilled all the requirements for marriage by our church, with the exception that they happen to be two gay men in love. So, I shall keep my promise and perform the wedding ceremony for Joe and Bobby, who desire the blessings of our church in the presence of family, friends and clergy as they openly declare who they are as part of the family of God.
Please pray for Joe and Bobby and all of us who will gather for a joyous occasion Oct. 26 in Birmingham.