The Methodist Council of Bishops in Alabama expects to file a complaint against a retired bishop who officiated at a gay wedding last month in Birmingham. The local bishop and others asked Melvin Talbert not to perform the wedding, saying it violated church law.
It's difficult to get anyone within the church to talk about this. ABC 33/40's Candace Sweat reached out to Bishop Debbie Wallace-Padgett of the north Alabama Conference. She is out of town. And we were told she would not be available to give us a statement. Sweat also reached out to Bob Alford, the district superintendent. She was told he was not available for an interview.
ABC 33/40 did however catch up with one of the men who was married by the retired bishop Melvin Talbert. He had plenty to say about the recommendation from the Council of Bishops.
"We were legally married on September 3rd in Washington, D.C. And then we had a holy ceremony here in the Birmingham area on October 26th," said Joe Openshaw, who married his long-time partner, Bobby Prince.
The holy marriage ceremony between Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince was performed by retired bishop Melvin Talbert. Prior to the ceremony, Openshaw said he and Prince asked their bishop, Cheryl Blankenship of Discovery United Methodist Church, to perform the ceremony. She declined, citing the Book of Discipline, a set of rules in the Methodist Church; one of which prohibits a bishop from performing gay marriage.
"We knew what her position was that she would follow the book of discipline and could not do the ceremony. But doing normal protocol we decided to ask her and she was gracious in her refusal," said Openshaw.
The executive committee of the Council of Bishops asked Talbert not to perform the ceremony. When he did anyway, a statement from the council of bishops was released. It said in part, "the actions of bishop Talbert have raised concerns and stimulated much conversation, reflection and prayer" among members of the council.
Ultimately, the Council of Bishops requested that the president of the council, along with Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett of the North Alabama Conference, file an official complaint stating that Talbert violated the book of discipline.
"It was a little disappointing I guess to see the entire council of bishops put out the statement that they did," said Openshaw.
Openshaw responded to the statement with a letter to the council, arguing that the council's recommendation for a complaint reminded him "that those who are against the love between gay people refuse to acknowledge our humanity".
Wallace-Padgett has yet to make a public statement on whether she will take the council's recommendation and file a complaint against Talbert. So Openshaw has seized this window of uncertainty to reach out to Wallace-Padgett via email.
"Through an email we asked her to change her position and to give a blessing to bobby and I didn't hear back from that," he said.
Openshaw says, regardless of what happens, he will remain a part of the United Methodist Church. We reached Talbert by phone. He declined to make a comment on pending complaints.