The United Methodist Church is gearing up for another marriage equality trial.
Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree, a United Methodist minister and distinguished scholar of Christian ethics, will be charged and tried in a church trial for officiating at the wedding of his son. Because the wedding, legally performed in New York State, was between two men, Ogletree’s participation in it is barred by church law, which holds that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and explicitly forbids its clergy from performing same-sex marriages or holy union ceremonies. The New York Times broke the story today.
The trial will be the first since a movement was sparked around the United Methodist Church General Conference last year when delegates refused to change church doctrine to be more LGBT inclusive. Clergy and lay supporters emerged within the church to publicly defy the ban on marriage equality and to extend their ministries to all couples, gay and straight, on an equal basis.
“I could not with any integrity as a Christian, as United Methodist or as a specialist in Christian social ethics refuse my son’s request to preside at his wedding,” explained Ogletree, who is a retired professor and a past dean of both the Yale Divinity School and Drew Theological Seminary. “Performing Tom and Nick’s wedding was one of the most significant ritual acts of my life as a pastor,” he added, referring to his son, Thomas Rimbey Ogletree, and son-in-law, Nicholas William Haddad (note that Thomas Rimbey Ogletree is a former employee at GLAAD).
“Tom’s actions were quintessentially pastoral,” said Rev. Vicki Flippin, associate pastor of The Church of the Village in Manhattan. “No minister should be required to discriminate against those they are charged to care for.”
The wedding took place on October 20, 2012, and a complaint was filed on October 24 with the New York Annual Conference. The complaint set in motion a formal disciplinary process that has now resulted in the bishop referring the case to church counsel (the equivalent of a prosecutor) to draw up charges, which are the first step in initiating a church trial.
“That Tom Ogletree – a lifelong faithful Methodist and theologian who wrote a section of the very rule book now being used to prosecute him – could be brought up on charges for officiating at his own son’s wedding shows just how far off course the United Methodist Church has gone from any effort to live up to its slogan ‘open hearts, open minds, open doors,’ to say nothing of following Jesus’s commandment to ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’” said Dr. Dorothee Benz, chair of MIND.
Prof. Ogletree’s willingness to ignore the rules that would prohibit him from presiding over his own son’s wedding is the latest evidence of a growing crisis of authority within the United Methodist Church resulting from its continued discrimination against LGBT people. In 14 of the UMC’s annual conferences, networks of clergy have organized and publicly declared their intent to defy the church’s gay wedding ban.
In 2011, Rev. Amy DeLong was placed on trial for performing the wedding of a lesbian couple. In 2012, the United Methodist Church met in General Conference, where no progress was made to change the policy against LGBT people. GLAAD has supported all of these movements, and will continue to advocate for a more inclusive United Methodist Church.