Editor’s Notes: Joe and Bobby are married. What now?

DSC_0008_320x320For the past week it seemed like all that any of us United Methodist news nerds could talk about was the ongoing struggle between Bishop Mel Talbert and the Council of Bishops as he prepared to officiate at the celebration of marriage of Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince. Comments flew fast and heavy on the websites and Facebook pages between those who saw Talbert as courageous and prophetic in his stance against injustice, and those who saw him as outside God’s will, bent on destroying the church. And we in the press contributed our own sense of urgency in our breathless reports in the war of the competing statements.

So, the service is over. Bishop Talbert has carried through on his promise to ignore the official teaching of the church in his desire to demonstrate God’s love through the act of conducting a ceremony which celebrates homosexual unions (to use the language of ¶2702 of the Book of Discipline). The TV crews have packed their bags, and the sheriff’s deputies maintaining order at the event are off eating donuts somewhere. The party is over, and we have to figure out where we go from here. Was last night’s event the first step in the unraveling of the United Methodist Church, or was it (as some attendees at the wedding suggested) no big deal?

Within the broader culture this probably isn’t a big deal in the face of more and more states legalizing gay marriage. The writing is pretty much on the wall that the legal distinctions between homosexuality and heterosexuality are eroding, and that a secular society can embrace the belief that all people are invited to the table and can share in the benefits of covenanted, mutual monogamy.

But the issues involved for our church are more troubling for Bishop Talbert’s actions raise more questions than simply whether gay folks can marry. The issues are many: the radical differences in culture between the various regions of the country (let alone the world); the nature of the vows clergy make and the covenant between them and the church; the lack of trust between members of the Council of Bishops, which permeates the larger church; our belief in a system of governance based on corporate discernment and how we respond when a minority believes that that actions of the majority are unjust. In off-the-record conversations with a few bishops I’ve heard concern and predictions that the divisions are too great, and that the covenant that they hold with one another is broken. For some the notion of a retired bishop challenging the practice of ministry of an active bishop in her episcopal area and defying her authority raises issues about the place and status of retired bishops and the need for term episcopacy like that of the Central Conferences.

At this point the future of these and other issues lies in the hands of the Western College of Bishops — a college that has supported Talbert’s call to “biblical obedience.” If they carry through on the statement adopted at the 2012 Western Jurisdictional Conference and ignore the Discipline’s proscriptions on same-sex marriages when a complaint is made against Talbert then all bets are off for the future of a United Methodist Church.

A couple of days ago, in the midst of the flurry of statements, I traveled up to Chicago for the annual United Methodist Association of Communicators conference. As a part that meeting, they brought together Matt Berryman, executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network, and Tom Lambrecht, VP and Executive Director of Good News, for a program on new ways of talking about sexuality. Both were articulate and passionate about their beliefs. Both honored and respected one another, listening closely to the other’s position. And yet, as the seminar ended and they were talking individually, Matt looked at Tom and asked “What are we going to do to deal with our division in the church,” and Tom answered with all honesty “I don’t know.”

The divide is great — based partially in differences in theology but also in the differences in life experiences between the urban expanses along both coasts, and that of the the traditional “red states” in the south and middle of our country. And the fact is that no one — not the bishops, not our clergy, not our dedicated lay leaders — really knows what to do from here.

Bobby and Joe are married. They are United Methodist men of sacred worth and I choose to honor their love and commitment to one another as well as their commitment to their local church.

But for the rest of us, there are deeper issues that lay unaddressed. We’ve been married now for over 40 years as The United Methodist Church, and there are hidden scars, unrevealed secrets, and unsaid resentments that continue to eat away at us. The possibility of divorce is very real.

Some will simply want to move on, oblivious to the precarious nature of this marriage, choosing to be part of a marriage of convenience rather than one of a passionate belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Others will be ready to end it all, to call the lawyers, circle the wagons, and fight it out in the courts in a nasty proceeding that will leave all the children damaged and troubled for many years to come.

Our bishops can help us find the counseling we need and put us on the path toward healing if we’ll let them, and if they can move beyond their own divisions. They have the potential to model for us a new way of functioning — one of openness and transparency in which we all admit our powerlessness and need of God’s grace. But like any breach of trust in a marriage, what we face is hard work, requiring dedication to one another and a belief that the value of the marriage is worth the effort.

Bobby and Joe believed that being married was important enough to them that they were willing to fight a battle with their church and be part of a media circus to seal their covenant of love for one another. It wasn’t easy. It was hard. But they truly believed it was worth it.

Maybe THEY are the ones who are the example for all of us in the future.


AUTHOR’S NOTE: In reading through the commentary and after hearing from several individuals I have made two small changes in what I originally posted. The first was using the description “rural simplicity” to talk about a segment of the population, which some saw as a personal attack. My use of the phrase as a southerner who has lived in rural areas was to think about a way of life, not a description of rural people, and I removed that phrase because it was clear that it was offensive to some. The second was near the end when I acknowledged Joe and Bobby’s marriage and said that “we are happy for their love.” I recognized that was stronger than I originally intended, and that this phrase referred to a “we” rather than my own personal recognition of their love for one another. Thus I have changed that for clarity’s sake. 

Editor’s Notes represent the personal opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of The United Methodist Reporter and/or CircuitWriter Media LLC.

Photo courtesy of the Reconciling Ministries Network.

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 MethoBlog.com. 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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49 Comments on "Editor’s Notes: Joe and Bobby are married. What now?"

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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I have to respect the Catholic Church on their 2000 years of clear teaching on the subject. Their Catechism's section on homosexuality is actually quite beautiful and compassionate.

And when did the sin of sodomy stop being immoral? We're to fight against and turn from our temptations and demons, not make a lifestyle out of them.

Wilson Huhn
This conflict is nothing new. The Methodist Church split over slavery in 1844. The cause of that schism was precisely the same as this one. The sad truth is that Methodists who believe that they are better than homosexuals are no different than Methodists who believed that they were better than people with dark skins. Both point to the Bible to justify their feelings of superiority. The great truth is that people are people. Skin color, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation have nothing whatsoever to do with the content of a person's character. After 170 years it's time for people… Read more »
David Thompson

Bobby and Joe and Mr. Mel Talbert and Ananias and Sapphira are great examples for the church….All of them were firmly committed to their beliefs…none of them were Godly beliefs or practices….

Jay Voorhees, Exec.

Hey, just so there is no confusion here, the Jay that is commenting here is not the author of the article. For the record, I simply anticipated likely responses, but am not advocating for divorce yet. What I WAS trying to do was to acknowledge the difficulties we face in our deep divisions, as reflected in the comment stream on this article.


Seriously? Jay likes Kevin's Option 3? You WANT to become like the Episcopalians? They and the UCCs are already small, urban-centered Protestant polities. Why in the world would we want to become another one? I appreciate being a Methodist, and don't want us to become Episcopalians or Southern Baptists. But, hey: I'm rural simple, I guess.

No. I don't want to be like the Episcopalians, though the Episcopal Church as now constituted is a very admirable church. I come from a very long line of Methodists and I would like to remain a Methodist, but only if the Church will evolve to accept gay people as full members of the Church. If not, I would like congregations like mine, which is a welcoming and reconciling congregation that has many gay and lesbian members, be permitted to leave, while the rural simple congregations like yours, along with the African churches and others opposed to equal rights, commune… Read more »

For what it's worth, I serve a large Midwestern congregation that has eschewed the culture wars, in which all persons are welcome–we just don't make a big deal of it You'd even be welcome! Another Methodist congregation in our community recent left the denomination because Methodism is too liberal. If others want to leave because Methodism is too conservative, I'm not entirely sure what's stopping them. As for me (and I suspect many others), I kind of like being part of a polity that embraces the middle.



That is what I think will likely happen. When it does you can go your way and I along with my fellow hateful conservatives will go ours. I think it highly unlikely that there will be an agreement wrt a split. How would you split a pension fund? We can look forward to some bitter arguments there and possibly expensive litigation.


Re Kevin's 3 options above, I strongly prefer option 3. I hope that more and more ministers defy the immoral laws of the BOD and that in response those conservatives who are so hateful that they cannot bear to see homosexuals treated with equal dignity in the Church leave and join other denominations. Or at least, agree to split the current denomination in two.



After you have done what Fred recommended see if these strike a chord with you.

8. Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?

9. After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?

10. Will you preach and maintain them?

The answer to what you are supposed to do will pop right out.

[…] A couple of days ago, in the midst of the flurry of statements, I traveled up to Chicago for the annual United Methodist Association of Communicators conference. As a part that meeting, they brought together Matt Berryman, executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network, and Tom Lambrecht, VP and Executive Director of Good News, for a program on new ways of talking about sexuality. Both were articulate and passionate about their beliefs. Both honored and respected one another, listening closely to the other’s position. And yet, as the seminar ended and they were talking individually, Matt looked at Tom… Read more »

What am I a young United Methodist pastor suppose to do? I am in a red area that does not believe in this, but I really don't care. We need leadership on this issue.


You should look at the Articles of Religion and The Confessions of Faith and just maybe the Bible as well and ask if you believe them. Don't ask someone else to lead you, you'd better be able to see if you believe our constitutional doctrinal standards. If you do, fight for them. If you don't then tell your Board of Ordained Ministry and go where you can be comfortable. If you don't care then maybe this should not your arena of life?

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