BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The United Methodist church is settling a complaint against a retired bishop who performed a same-sex wedding in Alabama, and a church leader said the agreement showed the denomination doesn't have to be divided by differences over gay marriage.
Church statements issued Monday said the case against retired Bishop Melvin G. Talbert had ended with a settlement that the denomination calls a "just resolution."
Official Methodist teaching doesn't allow same-sex marriages, and there's been discussion of splitting the denomination over disagreements about whether the position should be amended as society changes. Talbert is retired, but he still holds the title of bishop and could have faced sanctions including the potential loss of ministerial privileges in the denomination had the complaint gone forward.
Colorado-based Bishop Elaine J. W. Stanovsky, who handled the complaint against Talbert, said the settlement showed Methodists can work together on the issue.
"The Just Resolution Agreement ... is a reminder that United Methodists don't have to be divided by their differences," Stanovsky said in a statement. "The conflicted parties came together, prayerfully listened to one another, challenged one another, and searched for God's guidance for themselves and for the church."
Under United Methodist Church complaint procedures, a just resolution "focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all the parties."
Talbert, who maintains the Bible teaches that pastors should perform ministry services for everyone, said the settlement doesn't prevent him from performing more same-sex marriages.
"I cannot say I will not do it, but I have no plans to do so at this time," Talbert said Tuesday in an interview from his home near Nashville, Tennessee.
In the agreement, Talbert expressed regret that some felt harmed when he performed the wedding ceremony for Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince in Birmingham in October 2013. But Talbert also said he still believed his actions were correct.
North Alabama Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett filed a complaint against Talbert last year after he wed the men, who were refused permission to marry in their Birmingham-area church.
In a statement, Wallace-Padgett said she hoped the resolution "will be helpful to the church at large."
United Methodists are among the religious denominations struggling with how to balance biblical teachings and same-sex marriage. One of the men wed by Talbert said he was glad the bishop wouldn't face penalties for his actions.
"This decision does lift a weight off my shoulders, because I would have felt bad if a punitive measure had been taken against bishop Talbert because of a celebration of our love," Openshaw said in a written statement.