On November 15, 2013, the Council of Bishops released a statement that begins with these words:
On October 26, 2013, retired Bishop Melvin Talbert conducted a ceremony celebrating the marriage of a same-gender couple in Center Point, Alabama.
In the United States, bishops of The United Methodist Church remain bishops unless they resign from the office or are removed from the office by a trial court. Although they are in the retired relationship, retired bishops are still bishops in The United Methodist Church (¶¶ 408, 409).
Under ¶ 20, clergy have the right to “trial by a committee and of an appeal”. Unlike Bishop Wandabula, perhaps Bishop Talbert has already been tried by a committee, the Council of Bishops.
Here is the relevant list of chargeable offenses from the 2012 Discipline, footnotes omitted:
¶ 2702. 1. A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference (¶ 370), local pastor, clergy on honorable or administrative location, or diaconal minister may be tried when charged (subject to the statute of limitations in ¶ 2702.4) with one or more of the following offenses: (a) immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage; (b) practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies; (c) crime; (d) disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church; (e) dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church; (f) relationships and/or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor; (g) child abuse; (h) sexual abuse; (i) sexual misconduct or (j) harassment, including, but not limited to racial and/or sexual harassment; or (k) racial or gender discrimination.
First, the “including but not limited to” language was added by the 2004 General Conference. It might leave one with the impression that only sexual offenses not constituting (h) abuse or (i) misconduct can be charged under immorality, but immorality has been used for specifications involving theft. For example, see Decision 846 (October 1998).
Second, ¶ 2702.1b begins by saying, “practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings.” One might think there are many practices that The United Methodist Church has declared “incompatible with Christian teachings.” One would be wrong. There is only one practice within the legislative body of the Discipline that The United Methodist Church has declared “incompatible with Christian teaching.” This practice is “the practice of homosexuality” (see ¶ 304.3). Anyone who insists that all alleged “affronts to the Church” are incompatible with Christian teaching needs to explain why The United Methodist Church only provides this legal designation to one type of conduct.
The Discipline also says, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches” (¶ 341.6). In the words of the Discipline, Bishop Talbert has allegedly “conducted a ceremony celebrating a homosexual union.” If proven by clear and convincing evidence before a properly constituted trial court, this conduct constitutes a chargeable offense under the current Discipline.
For some reason I find it difficult to describe the alleged violation as “conducting a ceremony celebrating a homosexual union.” Perhaps some of this difficulty stems from the fact that the Discipline does not refer to the ecclesial act of marriage as “conducting a ceremony celebrating a heterosexual union.” Regardless of these personal details, “conducting a ceremony celebrating a homosexual union” is the language of the Discipline, and those sworn to uphold the Discipline should use the language specified in the Discipline. If those sworn to uphold the Discipline find its language awkward, I cannot help them.
Returning to the Statement of November 15, 2013, this paragraph is the entirety of the response to the alleged violation by Bishop Talbert:
We respectfully request that Bishop Wenner, President of the Council of Bishops, and Bishop Wallace-Padgett, Resident Bishop of the North Alabama Conference, address the action of Bishop Talbert and file a complaint under the provisions of Paragraph 413 for undermining the ministry of a colleague (Paragraph 2702.1f) and conducting a ceremony to celebrate the marriage of a same gender couple (Paragraph 2702.1b) within the bounds of the North Alabama Conference.
The above paragraph is “asking” Bishop Wenner and Bishop Wallace-Padgett – voting members of the Council of Bishops – to each file a complaint. Each is to file the complaint with another bishop, the President of the Western Jurisdictional Conference College of Bishops. In its entirety, that is all this paragraph is saying.
It’s strange that the Council of Bishops didn’t name the President of the Western Jurisdictional Conference College of Bishops. (I don’t know who it is.)
It’s also strange that the Council of Bishops has potentially undermined the supervisory response process. Is either Bishop Wenner or Bishop Wallace-Padgett free to seek a just resolution? Similarly, is either Bishop Wenner or Bishop Wallace-Padgett now required to ensure that there is a referral of a Judicial Complaint?
To me, the Statement of November 15, 2013, says many contradictory things. One sentence stands out: “When there are violations of the Book of Discipline, a response is required.” In my next post, I discuss the response required for both bishops.