Bishop Melvin Wheatley – LGBT Ally Dies at Age 93

March 18, 2009

Melvin E. Wheatley, a United Methodist Church (UMC) bishop and LGBT ally, died on March 1st at the age of 93. Wheatley and his wife, Lucille were parents of a gay man. Reconciling Ministries Network, advocates for inclusion quoted Wheatly, "Lucille and I never went through the agony that most PFLAG parents went through. We knew immediately that if John was gay, the stereotypes must be false...We wouldn't feel comfortable being anywhere John wouldn't be welcome."

In 1978, Wheatley spoke out against church doctrines that discriminated gay people.  Then, in 1982, he appointed the first openly gay clergy and was exonerated after being tried for heresy. During an interview with The Denver Post in 1984, Wheatley stated that "discrimination against gays is an absurdity and an atrocity and that the arrogant judgmentalism and punitive persecution (by some against gays) is too great a price for society to pay." The official UMC website lauded Bishop Wheatley's work for gay rights-despite the denomination's ongoing policies of discrimination.

The Los Angeles Times described Wheatley's lifetime of outreach to LGBT people, African Americans and WWII Japanese-Americans.  Rev. Donald Messer, president emeritus of the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, said Wheatley was a "visionary for the whole church....He freed all of us to be less prejudiced, biased and dogmatic."