My problem with retired United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert is not about breaking vows.
Don’t misunderstand. Vow breaking is sin. Sometimes it might be unavoidable sin, but it is still sin to promise one thing to God and to do another. I do not condone vow breaking. I just have come to realize that I was missing the real point in the past when I made that my primary concern.
My fundamental problem with Talbert and those who share his cause is not that some of them are breaking their vows of ordination. Frankly, I’ve learned that clergy bend and break such vows all the time for various reasons without much of a peep or qualm. Bishops and clergy turn a blind eye to the preaching and teaching and practicing of doctrines contrary to our Book of Discipline often enough that it should not be considered exceptional that it happens.
No, my problem with Talbert’s argument and actions runs deeper than that. My problem has to do with what people do with the bodies God has given them. My problem is that there are certain combinations of human sex organs and other body parts that Talbert deems blessed and I cannot. I’ve tried to get where Talbert wants me to go. Because I cannot get there, he calls me a perpetrator of injustice and evil. These are things I do not wish to be. I’d like to be able to cry “peace, peace.” But I have no peace. I cannot arrive at any conviction other than the one that says sodomy is a sin.
My problem is not that he is breaking vows. It is that he is encouraging sin. He is applauding as men and women leap into the pit.
Of course, he disagrees with me on this point — perhaps on many levels. But his disapproval and the disapproval of many other men and women I respect cannot change the conviction I have when I try to work through this matter. My conscience is captive to what I understand the Word of God to teach.
I may be wrong. I may one day be deemed unfit for ministry in the United Methodist Church because of this. I know I will disqualify myself from serving in many of our pulpits by writing this. And I know I strain my relationships with people I like and respect.
But I cannot applaud when a member of the clergy encourages sin. And my conscience will not let me name these forms of sex as anything else.
I do not share any of this with glee or relish writing about it, but it appears to me that events will require that we examine our own consciences. I’d like to find a soft, middle ground where I can stand without offending or upsetting anyone. But more and more, it seems such a place does not exist. And so, this is where I stand. God help me.
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