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updated: 1/17/2014 6:20 PM

Methodist clergyman faces church trial over gay wedding

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  • Mary Bishop, left, and her partner Sharon Baldwin listen as Sue Barton and her partner Gay Phillips speak to guests during a celebration Tuesday at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, in Tulsa, Okla. A federal judge struck down Oklahoma's gay marriage ban Tuesday, but headed off any rush to the altar by setting aside his order while state and local officials complete an appeal.

      Mary Bishop, left, and her partner Sharon Baldwin listen as Sue Barton and her partner Gay Phillips speak to guests during a celebration Tuesday at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, in Tulsa, Okla. A federal judge struck down Oklahoma's gay marriage ban Tuesday, but headed off any rush to the altar by setting aside his order while state and local officials complete an appeal.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The United Methodist Church has formally charged another clergyman for presiding at the same-sex wedding of his son.

The Rev. Thomas Ogletree will be tried March 10 for violating church law against officiating at gay unions, his spokeswoman, Dorothee Benz, announced Friday. It's the second high-profile United Methodist trial in recent months over same-sex relationships. In December, pastor Frank Schaefer of central Pennsylvania was defrocked after he officiated at his son's gay wedding. The church considers homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching."

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Ogletree is a theologian, a former Yale Divinity School dean and a retired elder in the church's New York district, or Annual Conference. Some clergy had filed a complaint after his son's 2012 wedding announcement appeared in The New York Times.

Ogletree, 80, said he could not refuse his son's request to preside at the wedding, which was held in New York, where gay marriage is legally recognized.

"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 said in a statement. He received notice of the trial in the mail Thursday, Benz said.

The United Methodist Church is the second-largest Protestant group in the U.S. and claims 12.5 million members worldwide.

Bishop Martin McLee, who leads the New York Annual Conference, asked for prayers for all involved and noted church procedures allow for a negotiated settlement even after a trial starts. "It is my hope and prayer that a just resolution can be arrived at and a trial can be avoided," McLee said in a statement.

The Rev. Randall Paige of Christ Church UMC in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., who led the clergy who filed the complaint, said, "we take no joy" in the charges against Ogletree. Paige said they would have dropped the complaint if Ogletree had promised never to officiate at a same-gender wedding again.

"Had he agreed to this request, there would have been no need for a trial," Paige wrote in an email.

Separately, Schaefer had also been asked to make a similar pledge, which would have allowed him to keep his clergy credentials, but he refused to say he would never again officiate at a same-sex wedding.

Like other mainline Protestant groups, Methodists have been debating for decades over whether the Bible condemns or condones same-gender relationships. However, other mainline groups, such as the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, have in recent years taken key steps toward accepting same-sex couples. The top Methodist policy-making body, General Conference, has repeatedly rejected changing church law on homosexuality, including in their most recent vote at a 2012 meeting.

In the last few years, as gay marriage has gained legal recognition by U.S. states, Methodists advocating for gays and lesbians have intensified their protests, hosting gay weddings in Methodist churches or officiating the ceremonies elsewhere.

Two other similar cases are pending within the Methodist church. The Rev. Stephen Heiss of the Upper New York Annual Conference is expected to face a church trial for presiding at same-sex marriages, including officiating at his daughter's 2002 wedding. The Rev. Sara Thompson Tweedy, of the New York Annual Conference, is facing a formal complaint that she is a "self-avowed practicing" lesbian, or lives openly with a same-sex partner, which is barred by church law.

Ogletree's trial will be held at First United Methodist Church in Stamford, Conn.

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