Over the last several days the United Methodist Council of Bishops has been in session at Lake Junaluska, NC. Of the many topics on the agenda this week, none was more significant or more engaging than the discussion that resulted in this statement (posted below).
This statement from the Council of Bishops is a result of discernment, prayer, and deep reflection. It arises out of the recent actions of retired Bishop Melvin Talbert in the residential area of Bishop Debra Wallace-Padget.
Retired and resident bishops of The United Methodist Church throughout the world came to the Council of Bishops with widely different contexts, culturally and theologically, to craft the following points:
1. An acknowledgement of our dependence on God and our need for prayer
2. A recognition that United Methodists are not of one mind on the subject of human sexuality, and that there are deep divisions among Christians who read scripture in different ways and whose consciences move them to opposing convictions.
3. A direct response to the action of Bishop Talbert, which was in violation of the 2012 Book of Discipline by undermining the ministry of another.
4. A commitment to lead honest and respectful conversations around human sexuality, race, and gender in light of our theological convictions for the sake of our mission.
I ask you to note three facets of this development:
1. The General Conference, not the Council of Bishops, speaks for The United Methodist Church.
2. The Council of Bishops does not hold an individual bishop accountable; this practice is given by the General Conference to the (jurisdictional) College of Bishops.
3. The response of the bishops is a reflection on two subjects: a) the violation of the Discipline by a member of the clergy, b) the ongoing struggle of the church with our ministry with gay and lesbian persons.
As the resident bishop of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences, I take seriously the calling to be a shepherd to the clergy and laity of the Nashville Area. I am aware that there are deep divisions among us on this subject. We are in a difficult time as we navigate the changing cultural landscape. We are also an incredibly diverse Church. I covet your prayers for all who are harmed by this action.
Peace and Deep Prayer,
– Bishop William T. “Bill” McAlilly
*For those who follow a number of bishops on these matters, Bishop Ken Carter was the chief architect of the above statement with slight variations for the Nashville Area. I am indebted to Bishop Carter for sharing his willingness to be collaborative. A small group of bishop colleagues collaborate on a number of issues of this nature from time to time.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | Council of Bishops
Contact: Diane Degnan (email)
LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C.: 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.)
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