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As Christ Jesus moves to the cross this Lenten season, the Church moves right along with him. We will watch him heal the sick, feed the hungry, liberate the oppressed, love the hated, and include the outcast. As we walk to the cross, we will behold the Christ who became one with “the least of these”—whose death on the cross is a radical identification in the flesh with those who endure suffering and oppression at the hands of the powerful and the privileged. 
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Today, at the request of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church, we have received word that a formal complaint has been filed against Bishop Melvin Talbert for violating the Book of Discipline. On October 26, 2013, Bishop Talbert celebrated the wedding of Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw in Birmingham, Alabama. In doing so, this prophetic bishop of color stood in solidarity with these two gay men, extending to them the liberating ministry of Jesus the Christ and revealing the racism and homophobia embedded in both culture and church. The Council, comprised in large part by white straight male bishops from the US, made a decision as a whole to request the filing of a complaint against their black brother bishop. Were active white bishops not willing to speak up on behalf of Bishop Talbert? We hope they were. In striking Lenten parallel, Jesus was subjected to an unjust juridical procedure himself, both for his identification with and liberating love for, the oppressed. And in both cases, Bishop Talbert and Jesus the Christ, the reasons given for their persecution hover around institutional covenants and the preservation of rules meant to sustain power. But, these are the reasons given by those who have not been victims of systemic oppression; these are the reasons given by those who operate from a position of high privilege and who have never had to endure the effects of systemic racism; and finally, these are the reasons given by those who have never had to endure the effects of homophobia. Far from being a reasonable justification, these reasons hide key social injustices and confuse well-meaning people resulting in the maintenance of oppression. 

It is no accident that the strongest active episcopal voices within the movement for queer inclusion in The United Methodist Church are bishops of color. We celebrate their prophetic leadership and acknowledge that it is from their deep commitment to the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ and their own experiences of suffering and oppression that they lead as they do. As this complaint is turned over to the Western Jurisdiction’s College of Bishops, we hope for vindication of Bishop Talbert’s liberating work through a very good and very just resolution. Since this jurisdiction has committed itself to Biblical Obedience, we have every reason to believe that those who process this complaint will do so with Christ as their guide. 

We join with them and with many others on this Lenten journey where Christ Jesus, rule-breaker and outcast, will invite the whole church to stand alongside communities and persons who endure regular and systematic oppression because of who they are. As we walk this via dolorosa with Christ, let us do so with hope, with courage, and with love, for we know how this story ultimately ends. Perhaps, along the way, we will hear the echo of tremolo, the keys of the piano, and the rich velvety voice of Mahalia Jackson echoing in the distance as we go:  

One a-these mornings
Soon one morning
I’m gonna lay down my cross
Get me a crown
Soon one evening
Late in the evening
I’m going home to live on high

Peace for the journey,

Matt Berryman
RMN Executive Director
 

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Mobilizing United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Matt Berryman

Matt Berryman serves Reconciling Ministries Network as executive director. Prior to joining the staff of RMN, Matt spent three years in law school at the Florida Coastal School during which time he worked for churches, law firms, and LexisNexis as a legal editor.From 2002-2009, Matt served United Methodist congregations in the Jacksonville area of the Florida Conference.In addition to serving churches in the United Kingdom, he has led training events and workshops for The United Methodist Church, The Fund for Theological Education, Emory University, and the Fellowship of United Methodists for Music and Worship Arts.He received a B.A. from the University of South Carolina and a M.Div. from Emory University. Although he loves the heat and sunshine of Florida, he anticipates growing to love the charm of cold weather living in Illinois and the perfection of the snowflake!Matt loves an outdoor concert, a good idea, and his 14 year old son, Aidan.
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