United Methodist Bishop Martin McLee and Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree announced that the church was dropping the case against Dr. Ogletree for officiating at his son’s wedding. Furthermore, Bishop McLee said in his statement “I call for and commit to cessation of trials,” the first time ever a sitting United Methodist bishop has categorically declared he will not prosecute pastors for ministering to LGBTQ people.
The decision to drop the case would not require Dr. Ogletree to say he would not conduct same-sex weddings in the future, nor did it in any way frame what he did as “wrong.” Rather, the bishop’s statement acknowledges that church trials “continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters” and invites Dr. Ogletree to “a public forum on the true nature of the covenant that binds us together,” where he can tell his story about why he performed this wedding and how he understands that act to be consistent with United Methodist teaching.
“I am grateful that Bishop McLee has withdrawn this case and the church is no longer prosecuting me for an act of pastoral faithfulness and fatherly love,” said Dr. Ogletree. “But I am even more grateful that he is vowing not to prosecute others who have been likewise faithful in ministry to LGBTQ people. May our bishop’s commitment to cease such prosecutions be the beginning of the end of the United Methodist Church’s misguided era of discriminating against LGBTQ people.”
With the agreement announced today, Bishop McLee joins a small but growing number of U.S. bishops who are openly breaking with their colleagues’ insistence on enforcing the UMC’s anti-gay discriminatory rules. In October 2013 retired Bishop Talbert became the first bishop to preside at a same-sex wedding. After the Council of Bishops voted to direct two of its members to file a formal complaint against Bishop Talbert, four bishops took the unprecedented step of issuing statements publicizing their dissent in that vote. In December, after the Eastern Pennsylvania Board of Ordained Ministry moved to strip Frank Schaefer of his ministerial credentials, Bishop Minerva Carcano publicly offered him a job as a pastor in the California-Pacific Annual Conference.
Bishop McLee’s actions today go farther than any other active bishop has gone thus far in that they publicly commit him to a policy of not punishing pastors for their ministry to LGBTQ people.
Tom Ogletree’s case began in October 2012, when a complaint was filed against him after his son’s wedding was listed in the New York Times wedding announcements. (For full disclosure, Dr. Olgetree's son, Tom Jr., is a former GLAAD employee). Ogletree made clear that a promise to never do another same-sex wedding was not a condition he could accept. Formal charges against Tom were filed in January 2014, and Tom was notified of the charges and the trial date (March 10) on January 16. He has been represented by Rev. Scott Campbell and Rev. Paul Fleck, who are members of MIND’s legal team.
While the resolution is a victory for the movement to end UMC discrimination and a vindication for Ogletree, it cannot undo the strain he and his family endured during the 16 months that the case was pending.