Open Letter to Bishop Talbert: Lets Unite in Peace By Separating in Love
|From: United Methodist Church of Los Banos firstname.lastname@example.org
Sent: Friday, April 16, 1999 11:05 AM
Subject: Open Letter to Bishop Melvin Talbert
Dear Bishop Talbert,
Please accept my thanks for pursuing what must be a difficult path considering your personal views regarding the "holy union" of Ellie Charlton and Jeanne Barnett on Jan. 16th of this year with the Rev. Don Fado and others officiating. I do not know Ms. Charlton but am acquainted with Jeanne and have found her to be the person you described in your statement of March 23, 1999.
Regarding the act of "ecclesiastical disobedience" I have been reluctant to share my views with you partly out of respect for your need to grieve over the death of your wife and partly from my need to weigh the matter prayerfully and thoughtfully for a time. Events over the past few weeks have prompted me to put my thoughts on paper. I will be referring to portions of your statement on March 23rd.
Let me begin by stating categorically that it is my view that unless the Book of Discipline is modified to permit United Methodist clergy to officiate at "holy unions" the practice of ministry for those of a more liberal persuasion, theologically, will be intolerable. I can appreciate the integrity of the Rev. Don Fado and the other co-officiants in sincerely opposing the teaching of the Bible regarding homosexuality and choosing to disobey the rules of our denomination in that regard. These clergy, and those supporting their views, will work unceasingly to change what has become unconscionable for them in our Book of Discipline.
It has also become clear to me that if the Book of Discipline is modified to allow UM clergy to officiate at these "unions" the practice of ministry for those of more conservative views, theologically, will become intolerable. It is my hope and prayer that you can appreciate the integrity of those of us who do support the traditional teaching of the Bible and who choose to support the rules of our Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality and clergy participation in "holy unions". We will oppose with every fiber in our being any effort to legitimize what we consider to be an unholy act.
The chasm that has developed between the two points of view is so deep and wide that I have concluded that theological pluralism or tolerance in the United Methodist Church is dead and buried. We have long passed that point where we could "agree to disagree" on the issue of homosexuality and perhaps other issues as well. I don't know of any compromise that would not challenge the integrity of honorable people with passionate views on both sides.
The chasm is not new. It has been in the making for decades. Theological conservatives in the clergy of our Conference have been in the minority for a long time and we have endured the burden of "theological discrimination" for more years than I have been in ministry. That discrimination is the root cause of our painful struggle today.
I don't know of any administrative area in our Conference where conservatives are adequately represented or where Conference sponsored programs reflect the needs of the theological minority. I have felt the animosity and heard the derision from colleagues during B.O.O.M. meetings (prior to my resignation) and during Annual Conference. Only those who have been in the minority can know the pain and humiliation of discrimination. The fires of discontent have been smoldering and now an inferno has erupted.
You have said, "I can appreciate acts of conscience and acts of civil disobedience" because of your experiences in the civil rights movement. Bishop, we have been pushed to the back of the bus for years and it was inevitable that something would occur to invest us with the courage to stand up for what we believe to be doctrinally and Biblically true. The homosexual controversy has become the vehicle over which a theological and political battle is being fought.
It is various "acts of conscience" that have driven many in the theological minority to oppose in different venues the "acts of conscience" demonstrated by many in the majority. In the same way "acts of disobedience" by the conservative minority are an inevitable response to the "acts of disobedience" of the majority and the battle intensifies. It is likely that there will be no winners in this battle and the cost for the United Methodist Church will be high.
The California/Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and the whole denomination is standing before that proverbial crossroad. As people within the UMC and out watch the battle unfold it is not just a handful of clergy who are on trial, the whole denomination is being judged. To avoid further "bloodshed" and pain on both sides would it be more "Christ-like" to look for a peaceful means of an equitable separation?
The creation of an "evangelical" conference in the Western Jurisdiction at the next General Conference with conservative leadership has been proposed. It would require an incredible amount of courage and leadership for you to suggest that such a step be taken. It would be the first step toward the eventual but logical creation of an independent Methodist denomination in the future. I wonder what it would be like to actually be excited about going to Annual Conference again? To enthusiastically support a new conference program because it was reflective of my/your theological and social views? Where my/your leadership is valued and trusted?
Instead of the United Methodist Church losing part of its vitality one church or clergy member at a time, instead of slowly bleeding to death as the wounds of battle are inflicted, I am hopeful that we can resolve to become "united" in our desire to find a peaceful and more loving means of separation. I am now convinced it will happen one way or another and many people, both clergy and lay, on both sides of the conflict agree.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
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