Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw married in a civil ceremony in September and now look forward to being married by retired Bishop Melvin G. Talbert in the presence of family and friends on October 26. Photo by Kevin Higgs.
A UMNS Report
A same-sex couple who plan to wed Saturday, Oct. 26, are responding to a statement from the executive committee of the United Methodist Council of Bishops asking retired Bishop Melvin Talbert to not perform their wedding.
“Stop writing about us and look at us. Talk to us. See the humanity and faces of two men who are deeply in love with one another and who are seeking to follow God’s calling to join together in marriage so we can go, therefore, and better show the world what God’s love for God’s people looks like,” write Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince.
Talbert agreed to officiate at the couple’s request after their own United Methodist pastor told them she could not marry them in their church, Discovery United Methodist Church, Hoover, Ala.
“Through this whole ordeal, one thing has stood out to us … there have been lots of press releases, but only Bishop (Mary Ann) Swenson has reached out to us,” Openshaw and Prince said.
Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, episcopal leader for the North Alabama Annual Conference, also asked Bishop Talbert to not officiate at the wedding. She responded to the executive committee’s statement by saying the press release focuses on covenant.
“Understanding and living out our covenant is at the heart of the statement,” she said. “This includes our relationships with other bishops and clergy as well as upholding the discernment of the worldwide Church as described by the Book of Discipline.”
Openshaw and Prince’s letter states: “We reached out to Bishop Wallace-Padgett, but not even our own bishop has wished our relationship and life together well.”
Talbert could not be reached in time to respond to this article.
* * *
To: The United Methodist Church Council of Bishops and Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett
Dear Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, and other Council bishops,
Our names are Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince. We are faithful members of your church.
We read your statement condemning Bishop Talbert for saying “yes” to us after we shared with him our journey and asked him to officiate our wedding. It saddens us that our own pastor was not able to marry us in our church, like heterosexual couples are able to do—even couples who don’t attend our church. Through this whole ordeal, one thing has stood out to us… there have been lots of press releases, but only Bishop Swenson has reached out to us. We reached out to Bishop Wallace-Padgett, but not even our own bishop has wished our relationship and life together well. That brings us to point out hypocrisy in something you claim to hold dear: the importance of covenant.
The Discipline contains multiple covenants for clergy and bishops. The Discipline also contains unjust laws that force clergy to choose between covenants of the special relationship between each other and the covenant to be in ministry with and for all people, including gay people like us. Scripture contains stories of Jesus healing on the Sabbath because ministry with people is at the heart of the Gospel. Does the “special covenant” between bishops overrule our Wesleyan general rule to “do no harm?” Bishops have also been given the duty to serve as a “prophetic voice for justice in a suffering and conflicted world.” In your response to our wedding and Bishop Talbert, how are you and the Council of Bishops upholding your prophetic voice for justice? We believe that Scripture and the Book of Discipline, and the covenants they speak of, are best fulfilled and lived out when read as a whole, than through selected paragraphs.
In your statement you call on us to wait, saying that we should trust “that God who reconciled the world will enable us and all Christians to strive for peace and justice for all.” We do believe God is actively reconciling right now in the actions of Bishop Talbert. Calling on us to wait reminds us of another time when other Methodist bishops condemned someone who was being faithful in Birmingham. The words Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned 50 years ago in response to them still ring true today:
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
In your statement, you refer to us as “United Methodists who experience themselves as excluded because of decisions of the General Conference.” Please do not try to wash your hands of your complicity in our exclusion. We feel excluded by you and your failure to lead our church. If you are serious about not breaking your covenant with your people, and even with your colleagues, you must proclaim God’s reign of justice here now, and not something voted on every four years. You have the power to change this wrong. You too, like Bishop Talbert, can stand on the side of justice.
Bishops Wenner, Brown, Hayes, Weaver, Goodpaster, other executive Council members, and Wallace-Padgett… we have one request of you. Stop writing about us and look at us. Talk to us. See the humanity and faces of two men who are deeply in love with one another and who are seeking to follow God’s calling to join together in marriage so we can go, therefore, and better show the world what God’s love for God’s people looks like.
Because once you see us, and our love for one another, we believe it will be impossible not to be by our side on our wedding day.
With the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince