Bishop Melvin Talbert speaks to Coalition during General Conference

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Bishop Melvin Talbert’s remarks
Love Your Neighbor Coalition
May 4, 2012
Tampa, Florida

I. Greetings

  1. Sisters and brothers, I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ.
  2. I am pleased to stand before you this day to share a few words of reflection in the midst of our contemporary reality regarding the role and place of LGBTQ persons in our UMC.
  3. I want to acknowledge the presence of some of my episcopal colleagues who have come to be present with me as I share what I hope may be words of hope and challenge as we chart the course for the future. Also, I want to acknowledge the presence of my friend Dr. Bruce Robbins who, with other present here, represents more than 1,100 clergy who signed the pledge to perform same-sex marriages in the course of their normal pastoral duties in their congregations.
  4. I want to be very clear. I am not speaking for any of my colleagues. Nor am I speaking for the Council of Bishops. I am speaking only for myself.

II. The Situation

  1. As you know, our Love Your Neighbor Coalition came to this General Conference with the hope that, after 40 years, our church would finally open its doors to all persons, especially GLBTQ people. But that was not to be. When Moses confronted Pharaoh with God’s word saying, “Let my people go,” Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. In this General Conference, our church has hardened its heart toward GLBTQ people. So, for the next four years, we shall have the derogatory, hurtful and discriminatory language regarding GLBTQ persons remains in our Book of Discipline.
  2. Hoping to be proven wrong, I came to this General Conference not expecting any movement toward full inclusion of GLBTQ people in our church. Unfortunately, I was right.
  3. So, I come before you today with a heavy heart, weighing what steps or actions I would take to let this church and larger community know where I stand on this matter.

III. The Gospel Imperative

  1. As I stand before you today, I declare that God has already settled this matter. All human being are created in the image of God. There are no exceptions or exclusions. We belong to the family of God.
  2. At the same time, I declare to you that the derogatory language and restrictive laws in our Book of Discipline are immoral and unjust and no longer deserve our loyalty and obedience.
  3. Thus, I think the time has come for those of us who are faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ to do what is required of us. You know the story. A young lawyer approached Jesus and asked: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Rather than answering the question, Jesus turned the table by asking him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The young lawyer said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart; with all your mind; with all your soul; and with all your strength. This is the first and greatest commandment, and the second is like unto it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” To which Jesus said, “Do this and you will live.”
  4. My sisters and brothers, I declare that same gospel imperative to us gathered here today. “Do this and you will live.”

IV. The Challenge Before Us

  1. As always, the challenge is, “What shall we do?”
  2. I arrived at General Conference thinking that the time had come for us to call for ecclesial disobedience. But, in consultation with many, I have come to the conclusion that I needed to reframe my thinking.
  3. So, in the light of actions taken at this General Conference, I believe the time has come to call for and invite others to join in what I am calling “An Act of Biblical Obedience” based on the two-fold commandment of Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart; with all your mind; with all your soul and with all your strength. This is the first and greatest commandment and the second is like unto it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself!”
  4.  What does this mean? I call on the more than 1,100 clergy who have signed the pledge to stand firm in their resolve to perform marriages between same-sex couples in the normal course of their pastoral duties, thus defying our church laws that prohibit them from doing so. Plus, I encourage you to invite your congregations to support and help you in your efforts to be faithful to the gospel by taking actions to support you in using local church facilities for such marriages.
  5. Also, I call on bishops, district superintendents, boards of ordained ministry and investigating committees to be pastoral in implementing any complaints against clergy who perform same-sex marriages.
  6. In 1960, I made the commitment to non-violence and chose to disobey the unjust laws of racial segregation and discrimination. That was a serious act which resulted in many of us going to jail. Thus, I know the seriousness of what I am suggesting.

V. Conclusion

  1. My sisters and brothers, the time for talking is over. It is time for us to act in defiance of unjust and immoral and derogatory words of discrimination and laws that are doing harm to our GLBTQ sisters and brothers.
  2. May God bless each of us as we seek to “do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.”(Micah 6:8)

Amen

Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, Retired
The United Methodist Church

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