The United Methodist Church (UMC), facing a wave of internal dissent over its policy on homosexuality, last week brought charges against the latest pastor to defy church law by performing a same-sex wedding.
The Rev. Thomas Ogletree of New York will undergo a church trial starting March 10 for officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding in 2012. Ogletree, 80, is a retired pastor and former dean of the Yale Divinity School. He performed the ceremony in New York, where same-sex marriage is legally recognized.
In a statement, Ogletree called his actions an “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.’”
Conservative members of Methodist clergy filed a complaint against Ogletree in defense of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, which allows gay church members but prohibits clergy members from officiating at same-sex weddings or having same-sex relationships themselves. It also prohibits the use of United Methodist church buildings for same-sex marriages or commitment ceremonies.The top Methodist policy-making body, General Conference, has repeatedly rejected changing church law on homosexuality, including in their most recent vote during a 2012 meeting.
Since then, a number of clergy have fanned the flames of discord in the church by openly flouting the rules.
In September, retired Bishop Melvin Talbert traveled to Alabama, where same-sex marriage is not legal, to preside at an unofficial wedding ceremony for two men. The local UMC bishop asked Talbert in advance not to participate in the event, but Talbert, a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage during his career, proceeded anyway.
The Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, Pa., was defrocked in December for officiating his son’s same-sex wedding and then refusing to repent of his actions. Schaefer called the UMC’s Book of Discipline discriminatory and said, “I cannot voluntarily surrender my credentials because I am a voice now for many—for tens of thousands—of LGBT members in our church.”
In November, the Rev. Philip Thomason in a speech at a vigil in honor of Schaefer disclosed that he had cohabitated with his gay partner for 19 years and participated in a commitment ceremony with his partner in August. Thomason retired after a formal complaint was filed against him, John Loperis of the Institute on Religion and Democracy reported.
In December, two female UMC pastors were married in a UMC church by the UMC district superintendent, the Rev. Patricia Simpson, according to Good News magazine.
Numerous charges are pending elsewhere around the country against pastors who have violated the Book of Discipline by presiding over same-sex weddings or having same-sex relationships. The commitment of the UMC leadership to maintaining its position on homosexuality is unclear. In November, the Executive Committee of the UMC Council of Bishops called for a task force to lead “honest and respectful conversations about human sexuality,” indicating there could be room for a future policy shift about same-sex marriage. “We acknowledge that we, the Council of Bishops, and the Church are not of one mind in matters of human sexuality,” the statement read.