By Rev. Lois McCullen Parr
“When Moses confronted Pharaoh, sharing God’s word, saying ‘let my people go,’ Pharaoh hardened his heart,” said Bishop Melvin Talbert at the LYN Tabernacle. “In the case of this general church it has hardened its heart to GLBT people.
“I stand before you here this afternoon and I declare that God has already settled his matter: all human beings are created in the image of God. There are no exceptions, no exclusions. We belong to the family of God.
“At the same time, 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.”
The LYN Tabernacle crowd rose to its feet, applauding and shouting “Amen!” and “Yes!” on this last day of General Conference, as the planned noontime event featured Talbert in an event to support United Methodist clergy who have signed a pledge to marriage equality for all couples.
Talbert said that the “time has come for those of us who are faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to do what is required of us.” The Retired Bishop went on to remind the LYN crowd of the old story of Jesus’ teaching to love God and neighbor, according to the Gospel of Luke.
As Jesus said to the young lawyer, “you have answered rightly: do this and live,” Talbert said to the gathered Coalition: “my brothers and sisters I declare to you that same Gospel imperative: do this and live. In light of the actions taken by the General Conference, the time has come to act and to invite others to join what I’m calling an act of Biblical obedience.
“You see, we, too, have the good book on our side,” he said, “our Biblical marching orders.” Talbert was joined at the dais by Retired Bishops Judy Craig, Violet Fisher, Elias Galvan, Susan Hassinger, Don Ott, Sharon Rader, Roy Sano, and Jack Tuell; and active Bishops Warner Brown, Sally Dyck, Grant Hagiya, Bob Hoshibata, John Schol, and Mary Ann Swenson. “I call on the clergy who have signed the pledge to stand firm in their resolve to perform marriages among same-sex couples and to do so in the normal course of their pastoral duties,” he said. “Encourage your congregations to support you by taking actions to support you in your efforts to be faithful to the Gospel by taking action [to use] your local church facilities for such marriages.”
RMN Board Member Rev. David Meredith said about the event: “In the Tampa Tabernacle, the people of God encountered the Divine Presence today. Like the Tabernacle of scripture, a people wandering for 40 years in the wilderness of unjust law, immoral teaching, and dehumanizing actions toward LGBT persons experienced the presence of God.
“While the Westboro Baptists hated gays on the sidewalk outside using posters, bullhorns, and angry actions, inside same-gender loving couples, leading laity and clergy of Reconciling Congregations, and prophetic activists for marriage equality created an opportunity for something more,” he said.
The tent was filled to capacity with people, music, clergy, and with Bishops – “all ready to apply the Gospel to ministry,” said RMN Executive Director Troy Plummer, who described how we were called to step out as pastors and congregations to serve all God’s people, so that our marriages are conducted by our pastors in our churches.
“As the last planned event in the Tabernacle, to end our time of these two weeks charts a course of hope,” said Plummer.
“Yesterday we experienced disorder,” said Rev. Marti Scott, Pastor of Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church in Oak Park, Illinois and convener of the NIC RMN Task Force. “We are in ministry in the new order: ministry with ALL.”
Plummer said we were called to “go forth and do likewise.”
The event ended in song led by Foundry UMC, Mark Miller’s “Draw the Circle Wide,” and the traditional closing blessing used in marriage ceremonies, from the United Methodist Book of Worship: “…and now, may those to whom love is a stranger find in you generous friends.”