WHITE PLAINS, NY — The head of the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church has ended the church trial of a minister who officiated his son’s same-sex “wedding,” and is now vowing to end all future trials in the region.
“Church trials produce no winners,” Martin D. McLee told reporters on Monday. “[They] result in harmful polarization and continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”
As previously reported, Thomas Ogletree, 80, was set to stand trial today at the First United Methodist Church of Stanford following complaints filed by fellow clergy who accused him of violating church doctrine. Ogletree, a retired United Methodist minister and former Yale Divinity School Dean, had officiated his son’s same-sex “wedding” in 2012 against the Book of Discipline.
The Book 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.”
“I could not with any integrity as a Christian refuse my son’s request to preside at his wedding,” he said in a statement in January. “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 one of three United Methodist ministers–all from New York–who were to face church trials this year for violating Church doctrine. Stephen Heiss of Binghamton was likewise accused of officiating same-sex ceremonies, and Sara Thompson Tweedy of White Plains was 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.
According to the New York Times, McLee dropped the charges against Ogletree on Monday under the stipulation that he engage in dialogue on matters of sexuality and the Church. He asserted that his decision to end trials against Methodist ministers would promote healing within the denomination, but others opined that it would result in an inevitable split.
“The impact of this settlement today will be that faithful United Methodists who support the church’s teachings will be ignored,” Randall C. Paige and Roy E. Jacobsen, the two pastors who had filed the complaint against Ogletree, said in a statement this week. “Far from avoiding schism, today’s settlement increases the probability that schism will take place.”
Ogletree has expressed no repentance for his actions. In being asked following McLee’s decision whether he would perform another same-sex “wedding,” he replied “Sure.”
The matter 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.
Photo: New York Conference