August 14, 1998
SAN FRANCISCO (UMNS) United Methodist Bishop Melvin G. Talbert acknowledged he was "deeply saddened" by the Aug. 11 decision of the denomination's Judicial Council making the celebration of a same-gender marriage a chargeable offense for United Methodist clergy, but said he would abide by the Book of Discipline and the council's decision.
Earlier this year, the California-Nevada bishop said he did not consider performance of a holy union cause for bringing clergy to trial-unless "otherwise instructed by the Judicial Council." The Social Principles, where the ban on holy unions was inserted by the 1996 General Conference, are not binding as law, he argued.
Now the Judicial Council has ruled otherwise, saying that clergy who perform such unions can be charged with disobeying the order and discipline of the church, taken to a church trial, and risk having their ministerial credentials revoked. Talbert told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter that no disciplinary actions would be taken against pastors who have performed same-sex ceremonies in the past. "Now that the law has been clarified," he said, "we have to hold people accountable."
In March, at least 40 California-Nevada clergy said they will perform holy unions. That declaration of conscience is signed nationally by more than 240 clergy. Talbert said he would not entertain charges against pastors for publicly announcing their views in favor of same-gender ceremonies. The church law does not pertain to the signing of statements, but about performing a specific act, he noted. The Judicial Council decision is about church law, not a restriction of conscience, he said.
This is not the first time, Talbert added, that he has disagreed with an official church position but he emphasized that as a bishop, he would uphold the Discipline of the church.
*Lerrigo is editor of the California Nevada United Methodist Review newspaper.