Black Methodists for Church Renewal says it stands by retired Bishop Melvin Talbert, subject of a censure effort for advocating that UM pastors officiate at same-sex unions.
Here’s a statment from BMCR:
Last month a group of United Methodist laity and pastors who claim to stand for “scriptural integrity and covenantal unity within The United Methodist Church,” published an open letter advocating for the executive committee of the Council of Bishops to publicly censure retired Bishop Melvin G. Talbert for comments he made at the Love Your Neighbor/Common Witness Coalition’s “Altar for All” service on May 4. 2012. At this worship experience, Bishop Talbert implored the more than 1,100 United Methodist pastors who signed statements affirming their desire to change current church law and perform unions for same-gender couples to defy the current law in the churches where they serve.
“I declare to you that the derogatory language and restrictive laws in the Book of Discipline are immoral, and unjust and no longer deserve our loyalty and obedience,” said Bishop Talbert. “The time has come for those of us who are faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to do what is required of us,” he continued, “So in light of the action taken at our General Conference, I believe the time has come to call for and invite others to join in what I’m calling ‘an act of biblical obedience’ based on the two-fold commandment of love.”
BMCR’s mission is to “raise up prophetic and spiritual leaders who will be advocates for the unique needs of Black people in the United Methodist Church.” As a member and former Executive Director of BMCR, Bishop Talbert is leader, called by God, who has been on the front lines of calling the church and society to justice for decades. His embrace of God’s call to radical inclusivity led him to lead prophetically with respect to the struggle for racial and gender equality in the church and now to advocate for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons. Bishop Talbert values “the possibility and the choice of being bold and making a witness for those who are excluded in the church and in society.”
At our last annual meeting, the members of BMCR voted to affirm the platform of the Common Witness Coalition leading up to General Conference 2012. We stand with Common Witness and we stand with Bishop Talbert, particularly in their conviction to speak their conscience. Most importantly, however, we stand with Jesus Christ, who proclaimed that as we have done to the least of these, we have done it unto him, who read in his inaugural sermon that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to let the oppressed go free and who told us that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
To be clear, BMCR represents a diverse constituency in United Methodism and the Body of Christ. Represented in our membership and our board of directors, are varied interpretations of scriptural holiness, human sexuality and justice. Simply put, we are theologically diverse and do not agree on all matters. Yet, we pray, study the scriptures and strive toward perfection together in struggle for the renewal of the church such that we can be authentic witnesses of God’s love, peace and justice in the church and in the world. Though there are differences within the body, we do not advocate for the censure of any member of the body who we may disagree with.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often reminded allies and adversaries to the civil rights, black freedom and anti-war movements that:
True peace is not merely the absence of tension, but is the presence of justice…I think this is what Jesus meant when he said, ‘I come not to bring peace but a sword.’ … Whenever I come a struggle takes place between justice and injustice … I come not to bring a negative peace, but a positive peace, which is justice, which is the Kingdom of God.
As a unified prophetic voice seeking the renewal, vitality and relevance of the United Methodist Church for Black people and all God’s children, BMCR challenges any effort to publicly censure any episcopal leader of Christ’s church, and especially one who has served so faithfully to the biblical call for justice.
What some may call “encouraging dissension, disunity and disobedience” and “advocating anarchy and chaos,” we call advocating for a positive peace that is the presence of justice. Rather than attempting to silence prophetic leaders of the church, we should encourage just dialogue and the tension that comes with it. Rather than make claims of encouraging “disunity” and “anarchy,” we question whether the motives of the letter’s signers have more to do with personal profit, gain and power and less to do with God’s justice and the coming of the beloved community.
In an interview with Time to Embrace, a website dedicated to respectful dialogue and reconciliation around the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in the life of the church, Bishop Talbert was asked “What can we do to foster dialogue and build bridges with people with different views on inclusion?” He replied:
For leaders, we have to be open to dissenting views. We can’t expect people to listen if we refuse to listen to them. We need to realize that the view we hold may be wrong.
The larger issue is not a matter of what we believe about a certain issue. We are all part of the family of God. As such, we must respect the humanity of each other. People we are trying to reach must see in us a fairness and openness to their views.
Black Methodists for Church Renewal is committed to continued, ongoing, justice-seeking dialogue perfected by the power of the Holy Spirit and condemn efforts to publicly censure anyone with dissenting views.
With striking similarity to our common Wesleyan theological heritage, our enslaved ancestors often sang that “we’re not what we used to be and we’re not what we’re going to be.” Thank God the United Methodist Church is not what it used to be. God in Jesus Christ and with the power of the Holy Spirit is transforming the United Methodist Church and we are being perfected by God’s grace. In order for us to be the church that God calls us to be, we must embrace the “positive peace that is the presence of justice.” For this reason, we stand with Bishop Melvin George Talbert.
Approved by the Board of Directors of Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Inc.
September 5, 2012