Despite what you might think, my disgust with Bishop Talbert is not about homosexuality or his opinions thereof. And the damage he has done to the Church is not related to the reasons he has given for his destructive actions. It's not about sex at all. It's about obedience.
Those clamoring for clergy to break the rules in order to achieve the acceptance of gay marriage that they have not been able to win in forty year's politicking and demonstrating at General Conference should be as sorrowful over Bishop Talbert's actions as the rest of us. Bishop Talbert has damaged their Church, too.
In the grand tradition of civil disobedience -- which goes back before Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi even to Sts. Peter and John -- there are certain routines that are to be honored. Civil disobedience can only properly be done by those who are subordinate to the unfair or tyrannical rules. These subordinates present themselves as non-repentant but guilty, in order to be punished. Indeed, being punished is the point. By offering themselves to suffer for breaking a bad rule, they eventually quicken the conscience of those who are required to punish them. Those in authority come to detest inflicting their punishments, and the general conscience of the whole society recoils from it as well. This results in a change of heart and therefore a change of the rules.
Bishop Talbert and other clergy who are threatening to break our rules in order to change them are counting on not being punished at all -- or perhaps only suffering a mere slap on the wrist, a meaningless punishment. Bishop Talbert in an interview last week hinted as much. But if you break the rules without expecting to be punished, without demanding that you be punished, then you aren't engaging in civil disobedience; you're merely wrecking your own society or organization. You are establishing the principle that rules don't apply, that people can make up their own rules, that we aren't responsible to each other for our behavior under the rules. This is self-righteousness, not "biblical obedience." This is mere vandalism, and the bishop is casting his lot with those who break and enter rather than use the gate, who scatter rather than gathering on the side of Jesus.
But it's not just that he has broken the rules and expects to get away with it. Civil disobedience can only properly be engaged in by those who are powerless or subordinate. Leaders don't get to do it. A leader who breaks the rules is merely a tyrant and a false shepherd. So, how do people in authority protest rules with which they disagree? That's simple: they resign.
When President Nixon ordered the firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, His Attorney General, Eliot Richardson, resigned rather than do the deed. The Deputy Attorney General, William Ruckelshaus, also resigned. Solicitor General Robert Bork finally did the firing. Which is not a knock against him, particularly; somebody down the line would eventually have had to fire Cox, since the President ordered it done. But both Richardson and Ruckelshaus did what people in authority do when they are faced with violating their consciences: they resigned.
Bishop Talbert is a retired bishop, but he is still a member of the Council of Bishops and of his Jurisdiction's College of Bishops. He should have long since resigned in order to protest what he deemed an intolerable injustice. That's how it's done. But, no, not Melvin T. He intends to hold onto his position and his pension and all the rest of it. He expects to break the rules, break the covenant of trust between himself and the Church and between himself and his fellow bishops and clergy, and not only get away with it, but continue to live the comfortable life of privilege and pension his service has earned him. In what way does he differ from the crassest President-for-life of the backwardest banana republic on the map?
Meanwhile, all of us clergy are entrusted with leadership by virtue of our ordination. So far as the rules of the Church go, we are not powerless, not subordinates. We are part of those in authority. If we cannot live by the rules, we should resign. That would be a true protest and might change some hearts. But simply wanting to break the rules and get away with it makes those who do so no better than a clerical banditti.
Talbert has brought shame upon his office and wrought destruction in our Church -- not because of his opinions, but by his abusing his office to break the rules he was charged with enforcing and having neither the guts nor the grace to resign.