Ministry on trial
NYAC elder and Yale scholar being tried for officiating at son’s wedding
Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree is a United Methodist minister and a distinguished theologian whose scholarly expertise is Christian ethics. On October 20, 2012, he presided over the wedding of his son. Tom describes this as “one of the most significant ritual acts of my life as a pastor.” He performed this legal wedding (in New York State) knowing that the United Methodist Church bans such ceremonies because they happen to involve two people of the same sex, but convinced that he could not with any integrity turn down his son’s request to do it.
On October 24, 2012, a complaint was filed against him after the wedding was publicized in the New York Times wedding announcements. The complaint set in motion a disciplinary process within the church that resulted in formal charges against Tom. He was notified on January 16, 2014 that he would be tried in a church trial on March 10 and 11, 2014. On February 10, the presiding officer in the case, Bishop Clifton Ives, announced that he was postponing the trial in order to give the parties another chance to reach a just resolution.
On March 10 at a press conference, a resolution in the case was announced. That resolution means there will be no trial. The resolution is a complete vindication of Tom and also represents a significant breakthrough in our movement of non-compliance with discriminatory church laws.
Specifically, the agreement reached that does three things:
1. DROPS THE CASE AGAINST TOM: The legal action against Tom is resolved without any conditions. Tom did not pledge to not conduct further same-sex weddings. There is no admission of “guilt” on Tom’s part and no “penalty” for his violation of the UMC’s discriminatory law prohibiting pastors from performing such weddings.
2. PLEDGES BISHOP MCLEE’S COMMITMENT TO NO LONGER PROSECUTE PASTORS FOR MINISTRY: Bishop McLee “call[s] for and commit[s] to a cessation of trials” that concern pastors ministering to LGBTQ people. This is a bold act of leadership for our bishop, whose longstanding support herewith takes a new step that mirrors our own refusal to follow discriminatory laws.
3. INVITES TOM TO TELL HIS STORY: Bishop McLee invites Tom 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 the Wesleyan tradition and Christian ethical principles.
This resolution is a significant victory for our movement, but of course it is but one step in our journey to that day when our denomination no longer officially condemns and discriminates against LGBTQ people. Prosecutions and trials are not the problem in the UMC; they are the symptom of the problem, which is our unjust church laws.
The agreement strengthens our cause and shows that our strategy of living into the Gospel call to welcome ALL people works. This resolution would not have happened without the nationwide movement – which we helped start with We do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality – that is organizing ministry to LGBTQ people in open defiance of church law and the tremendous pressure that that movement has put on the institutional church to address its sin of exclusion. We dare not rest; indeed, this development means we should redouble our efforts and commitment to the path that we are on.
Significantly, both Tom’s action in officiating his son’s wedding and Bishop McLee’s commitment to a cessation of trials are entirely consistent with the longstanding opposition of the New York Annual Conference to the UMC’s prejudice and discrimination against LGBT people. They are specifically consistent with the conference’s official position that the UMC requirement to discriminate in matters of marriage inhibits appropriate pastoral freedom for pastors to minister to their congregations. Our conference has, as a matter of official record, called on its members to exercise restraint in filing charges against one another for the exercise of such pastoral freedom and has furthermore stated that “those who take punitive actions against others for offering the sacraments and rituals of the church on an equal basis do so contrary to the historic expression of the New York Annual Conference at the risk of causing grave harm to LGBT persons, their loved ones, their sisters and brothers in Christ, faithful clergy and the annual conference itself.”
- More about Tom
- MIND press release
- New York Times article: "Methodist Bishop to End Trials for Ministers Who Perform Gay Weddings"
- New York Times article: "Caught in Methodism's Split Over Same-Sex Marriage"
- Tom's op ed in the Washington Post: "Why I disobeyed the United Methodist Church's unjust teaching on same-sex marriage"
- Tom’s blog on the RMN blog: “Reason and Experience: United Methodist Resources for Correcting Our Course”
- PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly feature story on Tom's case
- Tom's speech to the MIND lunch June 2013
- MEDIA INQUIRIES: Please contact Dr. Dorothee Benz, 718-314-4432