We are posting this open letter to United Methodists from Bishop Joseph Sprague, formerly bishop in Northern Illinois where Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary where we taught is located. He is one more prophetic bishop who was also a strong supporter of the Civil Rights movement earlier.
The prosecution (horrible term for church folks dealing with church folks!) proclaimed that the penalty imposed on the Pennsylvania pastor who married his gay son in a family celebration needed to be severe enough “to deter others from performing such services.”
Our sense is, however, that the severe and unreasonable penalty which will no doubt cost this faithful pastor his orders will have the opposite effect. We will do weddings for all–using the same criteria for persons whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. Christian weddings are about committed and faithful love and a desire to be a family together!
We stand with all reconciling United Methodists and with Bishop Talbert by asserting that we believe being Biblically Obedient on this GLBTQ issue in our denomination means that we must be ecclesially disobedient even as we work to change the rules in the current Discipline.
Here is Bishop Sprague’s letter:
NOVEMBER 22, 2013
Bishop C. Joseph Sprague: An Open Letter to the People Called United Methodists
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Standing outside the Statement of the Council of Bishops [COB] regarding Bishop Talbert’s celebration of the marriage of two gay United Methodist men, whose baptismal names are Bobby and Joe, I embrace the words of Christian mystic, Meister Eckhardt, “People ought not to consider so much what they are to do as what they are; let them be good and their ways and deeds will shine brightly. If you are just, your actions will be just too.”
The issue before us is not Bishop Talbert’s “undermining the ministry of a colleague”, as the COB’s Statement asserts. Rather, it is our church’s failure to follow Jesus in being just and thus doing justice with minorities, in this case gay and lesbian human beings, too often marginalized by the majority’s fear and insensitivity. The Statement’s call for another study of homosexuality and its generic reference to real pain are evidence of institutional protectionism and insensitive duplicity, co-mingled with the privilege of the majority. None of this constitutes either a guidepost for a saintly church, or a pathway for a visionary COB that is called in Eckhardt’s words, to “shine brightly.”
Therefore, this Open Letter respectfully suggests:
- That, should any Complaint be filed against Bishop Talbert, the Western College of Bishops take no action on it;
- That bishops, who are so persuaded by their considered application of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, stand in solidarity with clergy colleagues who celebrate weddings of lesbian and gay couples, when such couples meet the same pastoral requirements for a Christian wedding as do their heterosexual counterparts;
- That all United Methodists dedicate ourselves anew to following Jesus by freeing children from poverty, liberating the captives, and working to eliminate violence, mayhem, and war; and,
- That, rather than continuing to waste invaluable resources and hurting each other and the church we love, the people called United Methodists confess we are not of one mind and heart on this entire matter and, therefore, entrust to annual conferences, congregations, laity, and clergy the gift of being in such relationship with lesbian and gay sisters and brothers as the vital and dynamic experience of the means of grace determines and dictates.
May we proceed graciously knowing that what is required is “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6:8b]
Grace and Peace,
Bishop C. Joseph Sprague
November 19, 2013