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Actually, Talbert has never "promoted" homosexuality; he's merely stated, in various ways, that gays, like everyone else, should be regarded with Christian love. As for "chasing out" churches, it's a good example of how Tooley takes a sliver of history and twists it: Five years ago, members of a couple of Northern California congregations threatened to leave over the issue of gay holy unions. Talbert fought to keep those churches in the fold by respectfully accommodating religious views opposed to gay unions. And the conservative churches stayed.
"They are attempting to defame me, and they are not accountable to anyone," Talbert told me. "They are self-appointees who band together for a cause; in this case it is to take over the church and to run it however they want to do it.
"The voice of the church has been very influential in secular society in this country. Some of the groups funding the IRD are groups that do not appreciate the church's prophetic witness over the years. Since they cannot influence churches in any other way, they are using their money through an organization like the IRD."
With regard to the IRD's attention to the Rev. Oliveto, Talbert offered advance words in her defense.
"All I can say is that Karen is one of the competent and capable pastors in that conference. She is committed in serving all people, including gays and lesbians. I think she has given careful thought to these positions. She feels she has not violated the Book of Discipline because of the actions of the city of San Francisco when the city of San Francisco said it would acknowledge same-sex marriages," Talbert said.
Before writing this story I spoke with my mother, a liberal Methodist pastor who serves four tiny churches in rural Tehama County, a 3-1/2-hour drive north of here.
"There are people in my small churches that are anti-homosexual. They're on the homosexuality-is-a-sin side. But they don't have any great desire to kick me out. I had supper with a couple that feels very strongly that way last night," Mom said.
After Bishop Talbert failed to discipline my father and the 67 other pastors who officiated over the joint lesbian union ceremony in 1998, a lay pastor in one of my mother's churches became so upset over what he saw as a failure to enforce church doctrine that he quit the church.
"But that did not tarnish our relationship," recalled my mother, who remains close to the former lay leader.
In America's mainline churches, like in the country at large, radical elements of the conservative movement seek to turn such peaceful disagreement into holy war. We will see this in the rhetoric of this fall's presidential elections, in the state and national debate over San Francisco's winter of love, and in the response to a Noe Valley pastor's attempt to make a statement about what she believes is the legitimacy of gay marriage.
As the city teeters between a role as a national model and a political scapegoat on this issue, the fates of San Francisco, America's major Protestant denominations, and the Rev. Karen Oliveto are joined. Let's give the good reverend our support.