Birmingham couple responds to Council of Bishops’ statement

Openshaw and Prince

Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw
Photo by Kevin Higgs

Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw , the same-sex couple whose celebration of marriage Bishop Melvin G. Talbert will officiate this Saturday,  have released a statement in response to the  Council of Bishops Executive Committee statement issued earlier this morning. The Executive Committee statement urged Bishop Talbert to refrain from presiding at the service.

Quoted in a story by Kathy Gilbert at at UMCConnections, Openshaw and Prince said that “…there have been lots of press releases, but only Bishop (Mary Ann) Swenson has reached out to us.”

Here is the full text of their statement:

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

Jay Voorhees, Former Executive Editor

The Rev. Jay Voorhees is the Executive Editor of The United Methodist Reporter and the Chief Creative Officer for CircuitWriter Media LLC which operates this site and Jay is an ordained elder in the Tennessee Annual Conference. Jay has written on life and the practice of faith in The United Methodist Church at Only Wonder Understands since 2003.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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God Bless, this couple. The hypocrisy of a church that proclaims itself as having open hearts and open minds is manifest in this cruel rejection.

Mike Hodge
Mike Hodge

It seems that many want to proof text the few scriptures that might vaguely have to do with homosexuality without putting it in the larger context of God's love and Jesus' consistent disregard of religious requirements that were excluding people. By the way, most all of those "clobber" verses certainly do not refer to a loving long-term relationship. But ok, if we want to proof text and criticize, why are we not more upset about the blatant disregard of the hundreds of verses that talk about our relationship with the poor? Or the prohibition on charging interest? Amazing how selectively… Read more »

Circuit Rider
Circuit Rider

Ditto Sanctity of marriage. In every case like this that I've read the argument tends to twist a biblical issue around to become an emotional one – with no scriptural references to back up the argument. Of course, that's because there are none, but there are plenty of biblical truths to undermine their position. I sympathize with their situation. I'm sorry that they cannot fulfill their desire to be "married" in the church where they are members. I'm sure that is an emotionally trying experience for these two people. However, disregarding what the Bible teaches about the sanctity of marriage… Read more »


Not to pick a fight, but how does that last paragraph stand up in light of 1 Cor. 5? Either this is a sin or it is not. If it is not a sin, go ahead. If it is a sin then encouraging them to continue in it is harming them and the Church at large. We must decide.

Sanctity of marriage

Biblical truth trumps man made covenants. Bishops cannot and should not condone unions that strike at the very heart of civilizations that God never ordained.

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