Grace and Peace to all children of God and the People called United Methodist in the Iowa Annual Conference.
Prior to the gathering of the Council of United Methodist Bishops in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina I was asked to respond to retired Bishop Melvin Talbert's decision to preside at a same-gender Celebration of Marriage for two men in Birmingham, Alabama in October. The two men had previously legally married in another state and requested an celebration of their marriage in a religious ceremony presided over by Bishop Talbert. Bishop Talbert made a public decision to violate church law and practice (what he called "biblical obedience") at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Florida. He considered his action in Birmingham keeping faith with his promise.
I have no reason to question another Bishop's passion for justice or the love of God and the church. The Bishops of North Alabama and Iowa also have a love for God and a passion for justice. I believe the action of the Council of Bishops (after nearly a week of prayerful discussion, reflection and discernment) resulted in the appropriate response. It was an attempt to be faithful to the call, to be pastoral in our role, and to uphold the Discipline of the church. Bishop Talbert ignored the request not to go to the North Alabama Conference and undermine the leadership of an active Bishop by promoting disobedience to the Discipline of the United Methodist Church.
I pray daily for wisdom and grace to lead in ways that be most helpful to the whole church. More important than my personal opinions and my authority to make decisions as a Bishop is my sincere belief that unity in the church is not predicated on any law other than the law of love as experienced through salvation in Jesus Christ.
As a Bishop of the church, I believe we would be well served to acknowledge that we are not of one mind. This, for me, means that I understand that all clergy and laity do not agree that the wording in the Book of Discipline, as it relates to homosexuality and pastoral prohibition regarding same gender ceremonies, is helpful. The wording in Paragraph 161.F is a paradox at best. Some have argued it is contradictory in nature.
As Bishop of the Iowa Annual Conference I want to share with you the following reflections:
- I grieve with those in pain because decisions of our church. I know that people, with differing opinions, love Jesus and seek to do no harm.
- I believe the church would have served better by modifying in the Book of Discipline as proposed by Pastors Mike Slaughter and Adam Hamilton at the last General Conference - to recognize, "all Christians do not agree on this matter....."
- The General Conference voted to retain the language in Paragraphs 161 and 2702. No clergy member or local should be unclear about the prohibition to perform same-gender ceremonies or use of the United Methodist churches.