Monday, April 25, 2016

Thank God for Bishop Talbert!

The Rev. Val Rosenquist, at left, and retired Bishop Melvin Talbert
co-officiate at the wedding of Jim Wilborne and John Romano,
at First United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C
Reconciling Ministries photo
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8

On Saturday, April 23, 2016, John Romano and Jim Wilborne were married at the First United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Someday (soon) there will be nothing remarkable about that sentence.

But this is not yet someday, and right now it is quite remarkable. It is part of a long history of events in the life of the Christian Church that the Book of Acts describes as “signs and wonders.” 

It was the first (reported) same sex wedding at a United Methodist Church in North Carolina. And let’s just pause for a minute to think about what has put North Carolina in the national news over the past few weeks, and realize how wonderful it is to hear good news from that corner of the world.

In spite of the prohibition against same sex weddings in United Methodist Churches, there have been many. Most have been in sections of the country which have fostered a more open atmosphere for such celebrations. They have taken place in congregations that have declared themselves to be “Reconciling Churches,” openly affirming the full inclusion of their LGBTQ parishioners. And most have been quiet events for friends and family that took place with little public notice.

First UMC in Charlotte is a Reconciling Church, but they are in North Carolina, in a Conference in which the Presiding Bishop has been clear about his opposition. So this is a special case.

When I think about a recent list of things "worthy of praise," this is near the top of my list. 

Rev. Val Rosenquist, who has been the Senior Pastor since last July said that she believes the exclusionary language in the Book of Discipline to be “institutionalized oppression and discrimination.” Last August, she said, the church had voted for a policy that would allow any member of the church to be married in the church sanctuary, regardless of the Disciplinary prohibitions.

“These folks are our brothers and sisters,” she said of the church’s LBGTQ members. “It’s just a matter of obeying our covenant with one another throughout the church, that we are to minister to all and to treat all the same. I’m just following what I was ordained to do, what I was baptized to do.”

Rev. Rosenquist officiated at the wedding with Bishop Melvin Talbert, an 81 year-old retired United Methodist now living in Nashville. This is the second time that Bishop Talbert has lent his considerable stature to the cause of LGBTQ rights by marrying a same sex United Methodist couple, and the first time the service has been in a United Methodist Church sanctuary.

Bishop Talbert has a long history of working for Civil Rights, dating back to the 1960’s, when he was a leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and once spent three days and nights in a jail cell with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Like Dr. King, he was jailed for his civil disobedience.

Bishop Talbert believes that what he was doing on Saturday should not be called “civil disobedience” or even "ecclesial disobedience." He calls it “Biblical Obedience.” “I believe the derogatory language and punitive laws [in the Book of Discipline] are immoral, evil and unjust,” he said. “There are times when one’s commitment to God takes priority over what the church says.”

The Book of Discipline can never be our first loyalty.

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