Bishop Talbert Defies the Discipline

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Those who follow United Methodist news will be well aware that on Saturday, October 26th, retired Bishop Melvin Talbert defied the Discipline of the United Methodist Church, the Scriptures, and the pleading of the resident Bishop of Alabama, Debbie Wallace-Padgett, and performed a same sex marriage between Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw near Birmingham, Alabama. Bishop Talbert has broken covenant not only with the Bishop of the North Alabama Conference, but with all United Methodist ordained clergy who have promised to uphold the Discipline in our ordination vows. I have been asked repeatedly in the last week what my thoughts are about Talbert’s actions and the silence from the Council of Bishops.

First, I think the editorial by Good News President Rob Renfroe entitled “Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett Deserves Better, and So Do We” found in the November/December 2013 issue of Good News magazine sums up my feelings quite well. The silence (as of the posting of this blog) of the Council of Bishops is almost as stunning as the act of defiance by Talbert. There are hundreds of men and women who have been called into the ministry who are contemplating whether or not to give their lives in service to the United Methodist Church who are waiting to hear what the Council says.

Second, this whole ordeal is part of what earlier Christians called “sloth.” Sloth is one of the Seven Deadly Sins in Roman Catholicism and refers to the state of spiritual apathy. It is to confuse our devotion to Christ with devotion to an institution. It is to cry “peace, peace” when there is no peace. It is the inability to distinguish between the searing truth of God’s Word and the bland pabulum of compromised clergy. We all know the routine: Someone defies the Scriptures and shatters the unity of the church. This is followed by the deafening silence of the leadership, followed by seemingly endless institutional deliberations, finally resulting in some lame statement using murky phrases, all in a desperate attempt to find a way to “make everyone happy.” These are the sure hallmarks and signposts of the Kingdom of Sloth. It beckons all of us in a thousand ways.

My favorite summary of this is from Karl Barth who in his chapter on The Sloth of Man (Dogmatics, vol. 4, 2, p. 413) describes the “man of Sloth” this way:

“He is asleep when he should be awake, and awake when he should be asleep. He is silent when he should speak, and he speaks when it is better to be silent. He laughs when he should weep, and he weeps when he should be comforted and laugh. He always makes an exception when the rule should be kept, and subjects himself to a law when he should choose in freedom. He always toils when he should pray, and prays when only work is of any avail. He always devotes himself to historical and psychological investigation when decisions are demanded, and rushes into decisions when historical and psychological investigation is really required. He is always contentious where it is unnecessary and harmful, and he speaks of love and peace where he may confidently attack. He is always speaking of faith and the Gospel where what is needed is a little sound common sense, and he reasons where he can and should commit himself and others quietly into the hands of God.”

Well said, Dr. Barth! The Kingdom of Sloth advances by masquerading as the Kingdom of God. May God grant us wisdom and discernment to know the difference.


  • Al Gwinn says:

    The Council of Bishops cannot speak until they meet on November 10-15. However, the Executive Committee has spoken clearly on behalf of the full Council until it could meet. The Executive Committee released a statement on October 23 urging Bishop Talbert not to do what he said he planned to do and reminded him he would be committing two chargeable offenses. They have strongly condemned his intent.

  • marc says:

    Well let us hope the learned bishops will point out the sheer nonsense of gay marriage – let alone the unbiblical basis of such a masquerade performed by Bishop Talbert.

  • Mark says:

    The real question is, when the Council speaks will they condemn the defiance in the strongest possible terms? Of course! Will he be charged and tried? Of course not! Dr Tennet is spot on, and I prefer the word acedia.

  • Holly says:

    The Council of Bishops has several infractions they may choose from. Will they choose to file charges because Talbert officiated at a same-sex wedding and/or infringing the resident bishop’s authority?

    Sadly, because any charges that may be filed will lead to a trial in the Western Jurisdiction, it is doubtful that any significant penalty will ensue.

  • Jay says:

    This is the first I have heard about this. I read about it in Tim Tennent’s blog and have followed his link to this article and am shocked and appalled that this would go on. As a youth minister that is expected to hold to the Methodist doctrine of the church that I serve, I am sad and actually just plain ANGRY that this has gone on and yet again, spineless “Christians” in leadership and in layperson positions continue to look the other way and not stand up for Biblical truth and Methodist doctrine. And we wonder why the church is shrinking and “dying” and becoming less and less effective. God will NOT bless that which he is not the center of. He will not bless and guard those that pick and choose His laws and further blemish His Bride. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE stand up and be counted, do not be silent and do not let the enemy win by further degrading the faith and principles that John Wesley and so many others have given their lives for. Be godly…be willing to stand up and take a stand for Christ!! This is NOT a civil rights issue to the church!! That is a lie that is being promoted as truth and it just is flat untruthful and deceiving! The BIBLE IS VERY CLEAR, do not believe those who twist the truth to self serve their agenda, the devil has been doing THAT for thousands of years, heck he even tried to convince Jesus with twisted truth in his temptations, but Christ didn’t fall for it, neither should we!! Be willing to do the hard thing! If we do not, I fear for our church and the world around us, because God will NOT be mocked! Strength, blessings, wisdom and peace to those who pursue God and are willing to be His voice of truth in our church and world, especially on this issue. And THANK YOU to Rob Renfroe and Tim Tennent and men like them that ARE standing up and speaking truth and not hiding these atrocities. Thank you and God Bless YOU!

    • Judy says:

      I am praying that the Bishops will be convicted by God of their weakness in acknowledging His Holy Word. In doing nothing of a serious nature to the defiant ones, they have let the membership down and it has suffered greatly in loss of the faithful. Those who have broken their vows to God and the Church need to be held accountable. We have an order in place to do this, so let it be done.

  • Jus Tsayin says:

    Much ado about nothing…

  • Meanwhile, wars continue to be fought and people continue to starve. And we are protesting people who love each other. Hmmm… What would Jesus do?

    • WadeH says:

      @justice – Jesus did say that the poor will always be among us.

    • Ralph says:

      dear justice for all: I’m sorry, but who’s “protesting people who love each other?” Certainly not Dr. Tennent. He’s merely speaking the truth in love. If you see this as him protesting people who love each other instead of working for world peace, you fall victim to a false dichotomy of your own creation. Certainly one can work for peace in the world and comment on other relevant issues at the same time, can’t they? Please don’t make this an “either – or” issue when it fact it is not. Dr. Tennent does much to foster peace and provision for the poor, etc. I for one am happy that he also finds the time to offer wise, biblical counsel on other relevant issues such as the one in question here.

  • The Council of Bishops cannot comment officially until they meet next week. However, individual bishops are free to comment whenever they like. Their silence is disheartening to say the least! If this were a surprise move by Talbert, I would understand. However, it was a premeditated, widely publicized threat that they knew he was likely to follow through. Bishops are supposed to LEAD us in obedience to Christ and in the covenant relationship of all elders, lay pastors and laity. Silence in the face of such brazen severing of that covenant is a failure to lead and a dereliction of duties in my opinion!

    • Kim Reisman says:

      @Chris – not all bishops have been silent. Some, like my own are working very hard to maintain communication about what is going on & to remind us about the meaning of covenant. Most importantly, they have asked for our prayers. Let’s not withhold that at this important time when so much hangs in the balance.

  • Richard says:

    Justice for all: the smear that liberals and progressives use against those who disagree with homosexuality is clear: we obviously do not care about anything or anyone else. What you fail to see here is that we do care about the poor and the hungry. We support and encourage those ministries in our churches. But because we disagree with progressives here, it is obviously because we do not care about them. Hogwash. Please take your smears elsewhere.

    • Bishop Talbert’s action begs the question, “when, if ever, should conscience override law, church or other?” I am part of a church that exists in large part because of violations of civil and religious law by its role-model. The Luthers and Wesleys of this world likewise bucked religious systems they believed had lost sight of their essential purpose. Some may see Bishop Talbert’s actions as condoning or approving a particular lifestyle. I choose to see it as an act of unreserved Christlike love.

  • RubyB says:

    It seems that Bishop Talbert is doing exactly what you urge. He is being true to his devotion to Christ rather than the Institution. So the Institution is being slothful, not the Bishop. Remember when he had to stand against oppression based on the colour of the skin of members of the UMC. Wake up

  • We, the servant-leaders of the UMC in Africa are praying, and seeking the face of the Lord on this issue with Bishop Talbert, knowing that his stance against the Bible, the doctrine of the UMC and its leadership, the Book of Discipline is a direct challenge to God. We will pray and God will ultimately act. But now is time for the leadership of the UMC represented by the Council of Bishops to act as the voice of God to God’s people everywhere across the connection. We are praying for them as they are currently meeting; and watching to see if they will lead the way or lose the way.

  • The rebellion is the the sin of witchcraft.
    Theologians can teach whatever they want, but if something violate the character of the institution, indeed constitutes a rebellion.

  • Joel Betow says:

    The United Methodist Book of Discipline Articles of Religion also provide that war is contrary to the Gospel, but no United Methodist pastor or Bishop has ever been charged for their wholehearted endorsement of a war, no matter the level of evil involved in support of such war, no matter the way a war is waged, no matter the level of civilian death, no matter the brokenness inflicted on the world community. War good, gays bad. That’s the essential message of the United Methodist Church.

  • Rod says:

    It is the intention of many or most United Methodist ministers to change the Book of Discipline to allow for same-sex marriage. When the Supreme Court allows same-sex marriage in all states, probably next year, I am fairly sure that this change will occur in the Book. Setting aside Biblical arguments, bisexual marriage will be before the Supremes next in the argument for “fairness”. And why not? When the floodgates are opened, many different models of “marriage” will ensue, but what are the ramifications for society?

  • Butterfly says:

    Inihtsgs like this liven things up around here.