The following was originally posted on
A Time to
Embrace, the blog of Rev. Janet Edwards, and is used with her
Conversation with Bishop Melvin Talbert, Retired
on January 20, 2012
Talbert is a retired bishop of the United Methodist Church. He is a proud
African- American who is a product of the civil rights and Black power
movements, which means he is proud of how God created him to claim his
heritage as a person of color.
your personal journey to advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
people strengthened or challenged your faith?
As a black
person, I’ve always been proud of who I am and the struggle for that pride
and equality that has grown out of the civil rights movement. Early in my
journey, I was not sure of who gay people were or what their struggle was. I
was not willing to equate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT)
struggle with the struggle in the Black community. So, when I heard people
in the LGBT struggle call it a civil rights issue, I had my differences.
conversations with LGBT people, I remember asking questions like “Why do you
need to talk about it [meaning their sexuality]?”
one person responded by asking me a question, “Do you know anything about
I said, “Of
course I do.”
“Then why was it important for you and other Black people to talk about it?”
triggered in me a level of sensitivity that I had not experienced before. I
understood for the first time why LGBT people need to speak out — because it
is who they are. Not to speak out is to deny their identity and orientation.
That was a
turning point in my journey. I could no longer bifurcate the issues of race
and sexual orientation. I understood it was a civil right.
What is one
of the defining moments in your life as a Christian?
I grew up
in a community where I was baptized as a baby. At a revival, I was waiting
on the Mourners Bench praying to have the experience others had of the Holy
Spirit. An old, old Methodist deaconess sat down beside me. She asked, “Why
are you still sitting here?” I told her I was waiting to feel the touch of
the Spirit in the way these other people were describing their faith.
me, “Do you believe in God?” I said, “Yes.” “Do you believe in Jesus
Christ?” “Yes.” “Are you willing to step out in faith in the Name and Spirit
of Jesus Christ?” “Yes.” She said, “Well, that’s all you need to know.
You’re ready to leave this seat.” I left that seat and was baptized by
immersion which made me a member of The Methodist Church. I’ve been working
and living in faith to this day.
probably nine at the time. I look to that experience as a benchmark in my
Do you have
a story of a person who embodies Christ’s teachings?
When I was
a student in seminary, I participated in the student sit in demonstrations
in 1960 in Atlanta, a spin off of SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating
Committee. Our strategy was to desegregate all public accommodations and
services in the Atlanta community at a time when Martin Luther King Jr. was
deploying the tactics of non-violent civil disobedience.
expertise of leaders from that movement, students from several black
educational institutions created our own community to organize our own sit
in demonstrations. Non-violence became a centerpiece for these. Students
were only allowed to participate if we took the oath of non-violence. Taking
that oath was a spiritual experience because it was a commitment to be
willing to die for the cause.
for weeks with careful plans. We met and talked to public officials, store
owners, and the police. We told them that we would break the law and go to
jail, if necessary, to have our civil rights. We published our strategy in
the newspaper. We invited Dr. King to join us, and we were overwhelmed when
women were arrested. Dr. King was arrested with us. I was one of several
young men who were privileged to be in one jail cell with Dr. King. We were
angry radicals. We were angry at white people, all of them. Martin Luther
King Jr. shared with us his philosophy of non-violence. It was very
personal. He got to know us and he talked about George Wallace and Bull
Conner. King was the one person there who insisted that white people are our
brothers and sisters.
directly to me, “And, Mel, you know better because George Wallace is a
Methodist.” I knew he was right. I could not let anger be the overpowering
influence in my life. I came to the realization that love is stronger than
mind, what are the Biblical foundations for LGBT inclusion in the church?
a young lawyer comes to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal
who he was. Rather than answering, Jesus asked him question, “What does it
say in the law?” and the man replied, “Love God and love your neighbor.”
Then Jesus said, “You have read it right. Do this and you will live.”
Wesley, the founder of the Methodists, took that passage and developed the
doctrine of Christian Perfection. Based on Jesus’ teaching of these
commandments, Wesley said, Christians are to love God and love their
neighbor. There are three simple rules to follow:
1) Do no
2) Do good.
3) Stay in
love with God.
volumes written on these which are the very essence of being Christian.
Really these are all I am trying to model in my life journey.
Is there a
prayer or meditation that helps you make it through trying times?
ago, a monk, Father Adrian, serving in the delta in Mississippi, wrote a
saying about Jesus called “Singing.” He said, “Jesus was born singing love.
He lived singing love. He died singing love. He rose in silence. If the song
is to continue we must do the singing.” This is formative for my spirit.
you say to those Christians who have a different view on inclusion?
all, I would say, “You have a right to your belief. All I ask for you is
that you recognize that there may be a different perspective.”
When I was
bishop in San Francisco , 68
United Methodist clergy participated in a single
holy union service for a lesbian couple in my area. By performing
this ceremony, they were seen as violating church law. It was not easy for
me to be with all the people who were angry.
visited people in the area, I would ask two questions.
many of you have gay and lesbian people in your congregation or in your
families?” Hands would go up all over the place.
“You know that the role of LGBT people in church and society is very
controversial. How many of you can get help and support in dealing with this
issue in your church without being judged?” Usually, very few hands would go
would say, “That’s the problem I have as bishop. Of what significance is the
church if you cannot bring your most difficult problems and challenges and
find support and guidance? The church has to be able to help you with these
What can we
do to foster dialogue and build bridges with people with different views on
leaders, we have to be open to dissenting views. We can’t expect people to
listen if we refuse to listen to them. We need to realize that the view we
hold may be wrong.
issue is not a matter of what we believe about a certain issue. We are all
part of the family of God. As such, we must respect the humanity of each
other. People we are trying to reach must see in us a fairness and openness
to their views.
You have to
hear people out. Usually it comes back to Scripture. It helps us to see that
we can interpret Scripture differently.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA of parents from generations of
Presbyterian faithful, Rev. Janet Edwards was ordained in 1977 as Minister
of Word and Sacrament and became an Instructor in Homiletics and Liturgics
at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Seeking deeper experience in ministry,
she then served Morningside Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ
in McKeesport, PA and Mellwood Presbyterian Church, each for about three
years. She was elected Moderator of Pittsburgh Presbytery in 1987.
With two sons and a physician spouse on call every third night, Rev. Janet
paused in serving as the pastor of a congregation and began attending with
her family the Community of Reconciliation, an intentionally interracial,
interdenominational and inclusive church in the heart of Pittsburgh’s
university district. Through the years at Community of Reconciliation, she
has sung in the choir, taught toddler Sunday School, been interim co-pastor,
served as a Parish Associate, and remains active in the community to this
day. When her children started school, she returned to Duquesne University
and earned a Ph. D. in Spirituality with a call to be a “pray-er,” to find a
way in this world to pray without ceasing.
Called to the ministry of reconciliation and inclusion, Rev. Janet joined
the Taskforce on Ministry with Sexual Minorities of Pittsburgh Presbytery in
2000. Her participation in the work of this taskforce led to being asked by
Nancy McConn and Brenda Cole to officiate at their June 2005 marriage
ceremony. After a year of prayerful discernment and preparation, she
presided at the joyous ceremony celebrating Brenda and Nancy’s sacred love
and commitment to each other. The Presbyterian Church (USA) tried and
unanimously acquitted her in the fall of 2008 for officiating at Nancy and
Rev. Janet now sits on the board of directors of Demos, a non-partisan
public policy research and advocacy organization, and also on the board of
the Pittsburgh Presbytery Foundation, an entity that supports the work of
her local presbytery.
In November of 2008, Rev. Janet became co-moderator of the national board of
More Light Presbyterians. In this role, she has sought to grow the
ever-expanding conversation about the inclusion of our lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers in Christ. Her hope is that
her Web site - A Time
to Embrace - will offer another space, an online space, for respectful
dialogue and reconciliation.