STANFORD, Conn. — A retired United Methodist minister and former Yale Divinity School Dean is set to face a church trial in March for officiating his son’s same-sex “wedding” in 2012.
Thomas Ogletree, 80, will stand trial on March 12 at First United Methodist Church of Stanford following complaints filed by fellow clergy who accuse him of violating church doctrine.
“I could not with any integrity as a Christian refuse my son’s request to preside at his wedding,” he said in a statement this week. “It is a shame that the church is choosing to prosecute me for this act of love, which is entirely in keeping with my ordination vows to ‘seek peace, justice, and freedom for all people’ and with Methodism’s historic commitment to inclusive ministry embodied in its slogan ‘open hearts, open minds, open doors.'”
Ogletree is formerly an elder with the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church, which has reportedly passed resolutions expressing support for same-sex “marriage.” However, officials state that regardless of the conference’s stance, Ogletree’s actions violated the United Methodist Book of Discipline.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline outlines that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” may not be ordained as ministers in the denomination. It also forbids ministers from hosting or participating in “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.”
Ogletree is one of three United Methodist ministers–all from New York–who will be facing church trials this year for violating the Book of Discipline. Stephen Heiss of Binghamton is likewise accused of officiating same-sex ceremonies, and Sara Thompson Tweedy of White Plains is charged with coming out as an avowed and practicing lesbian.
“The Bible has some wonderful parts to it, but they’re dated, and right now it’s time to quit asking gay people to sit at the back of the bus,” Heiss told reporters last year.
Resolutions have been passed during several regional conferences that likewise challenge the Book of Discipline in regard to homosexuality. In 2012, a number of conference attendees expressed support for a declaration entitled the “Statement of Gospel Obedience,” which asserts that the United Methodist Book of Discipline is wrong to denounce homosexual behavior.
But in an article entitled Why Many Methodists Still Oppose Same-Sex Marriage, John Lemperis, the Director of the UM Action program of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said that the Bible is crystal clear on the matter.
“Even liberal Biblical scholars now agree that the Old and New Testaments are very clear in their moral disapproval of homosexual practice,” he wrote. “More fundamentally, Scripture paints a beautiful picture of marriage as a holy covenant of intensely intimate, self-giving community between man and woman, uniting the two most basic, equal categories of humanity.”
“We submit to Jesus as Lord,” Lemperis stated. “If He is truly Lord, then no area of our lives can be off-limits to Him. Jesus spoke strongly about the centrality of self-denial in following Him, which often means dramatic personal sacrifices, including not acting on powerful desires for things outside of God’s best for us. … Jesus and new life in Him are more than worth it.”
Ogletree’s trial follows last year’s high-profile hearing in Pennsylvania involving Frank Schaefer of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona. As previously reported, Schaefer had been found guilty of violating church law and was given 30 days to repent of officiating his son’s “wedding,” but as three of his four children are homosexual, he refused. As he would not voluntarily surrender his credentials, he was defrocked and has reportedly since joined an assembly in Washington, D.C.