(RNS) United Methodist Bishop Martin D. McLee of New York on Monday (March 10) announced he was dropping a case against a retired seminary dean who officiated at his gay son’s 2012 wedding and called for an end to church trials for clergy who violate the denomination’s law on ministering to gays.

Tom Ogletree photo courtesy Yale Divinity School

The Rev. Thomas Ogletree, 80, a former dean of both the Yale Divinity School and Drew Theological Seminary, called presiding at his son’s wedding “an act of pastoral faithfulness and fatherly love.” Photo courtesy Yale Divinity School


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The resolution of the Rev. Thomas Ogletree’s case highlights an emerging dynamic that allows some pastors in the country’s second-largest Protestant denomination to skirt rules banning clergy from performing same-sex wedding, while others risk costly church trials and the loss of clergy credentials. Increasingly, those differences are geographic.

“Church trials produce no winners,” McLee said. “(They) result in harmful polarization and continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

Ogletree, 80, a former dean of both the Yale Divinity School and Drew Theological Seminary, called presiding at his son’s wedding “an act of pastoral faithfulness and fatherly love.”

Asked Monday if he would perform another same-gender ceremony, he answered, “Sure.”

The resolution in his case differs markedly from that of Frank Schaefer, a former Pennsylvania pastor who was found guilty of violating church law when he officiated at his son’s 2007 wedding. Schaefer was stripped of his credentials when he refused to agree not to perform additional same-sex weddings.

At least three other clergy face possible trials amid a growing wave of defiance of church law. The United Methodist Church accepts gay and lesbian members, but its Book of Discipline calls the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” and bars clergy from performing same-sex unions or holding them on church property.

The varied responses reflect the denomination’s polarizing demographics, said David Steinmetz, professor emeritus of the history of Christianity at Duke Divinity School.

The Rev. William McElvaney, seated, defied United Methodist Church law by presiding at the Saturday (March 1, 2014) wedding of George Harris and Jack Evans. The service was at Midway Hills Christian Church in Dallas. Photo by Sam Hodges, courtesy of UMNS

The Rev. William McElvaney, seated, defied United Methodist Church law by presiding at the March 1 wedding of George Harris and Jack Evans. The service was at Midway Hills Christian Church in Dallas. Photo by Sam Hodges, courtesy of United Methodist News Service


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“The two parts of the country that most strongly favor gay ordination and so forth are the West Coast, particularly the Pacific Northwest, and the Northeast,” he said. “Those places have Methodists in smaller numbers.”

Some Methodist clergy are asking to serve in regions of the country friendly to their views on gays and lesbians.

The Rev. Jen Stuart, associate pastor at First United Methodist Church of Austin, Texas, for example, asked to be transferred to the Pacific Northwest Conference so she can be ordained an elder in a region more supportive of gay and lesbian equality.

She points to the treatment of a classmate removed as a candidate for ministry because she is gay, as a motivating factor. The Schaefer trial convinced Stuart she had to minister in an inclusive conference.

“I can’t make these promises to uphold the Book of Discipline,” she said.

In another example of the marked contrast in punishments for disobedience on gay weddings, two Methodist pastors in the Pacific Northwest Conference, the Rev. Cheryl A. Fear and the Rev. Gordon Hutchins, were suspended without pay for 24 hours for officiating at same-sex weddings. The two acknowledged they presided at such ceremonies after Washington legalized same-sex civil marriage in 2012.

But even if the 7.5 million-member U.S. denomination were split evenly on the issue, it would be outweighed by the 4.8 million United Methodists in Africa, where most take a far more conservative stance on sexuality issues.

“The people in Africa vote at General Conference, too,” said Steinmetz. “Every four years the numbers get larger against, not larger for.”

Worldwide, the percentage of United Methodists who support gay marriage is small, he said. And for now, geography is destiny when it comes to discipline.

Delegate Sara Ann Swenson (left) of Minnesota presses her voting keypad to her lips while awaiting results of a vote on the United Methodist Church's stance on sexuality during the denomination's 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla. At center is fellow delegate the Rev. Bruce Robins. Photo by Mike DuBose/courtesy United Methodist News Service

Delegate Sara Ann Swenson, left, of Minnesota presses her voting keypad to her lips while awaiting results of a vote on the United Methodist Church’s stance on sexuality during the denomination’s 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla. At center is the Rev. Bruce Robbins, a fellow delegate. Photo by Mike DuBose, courtesy of United Methodist News Service


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Meanwhile, a denominational panel, the Connectional Table, is studying the relationship between U.S. churches and those overseas and will propose changes to parts of the Book of Discipline to better reflect the church’s global nature.

Its task includes issues of regional structure, autonomy, ministry training and mission. But those issues quickly lead to discussions of sexuality, said Bishop Bruce Ough, who leads the Minnesota Annual Conference and chairs the Connectional Table.

“The church in North America is struggling with the issue of homosexuality and issues of inclusion and same-gender marriage,” said Ough. “The church in Africa is still dealing with the issue of polygamy, which violates the Book of Discipline.”

While recommendations to the 2016 General Conference are intended to better reflect the diverse global church, they will likely reflect the conservative views most Africans hold on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer issues rather than the more liberal sensibilities of American culture, Ough said.

McClee said he expected some to cheer the Ogletree resolution, while others will jeer its failure to hold the retired pastor accountable.

And indeed, the Rev. Randy Paige, pastor of Christ Church United Methodist Church in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., who filed charges against Ogletree, issued a statement that said: “I am disturbed that this settlement appears to represent a determination on the part of the New York Annual Conference leaders that they will no longer enforce or uphold the Discipline on this matter. … Today’s settlement increases the probability that schism will take place.”

Since October, Methodists in New Directions, a group that advocates for gay and lesbian inclusion, has published on its website essays by people who presided at same-sex weddings. No complaints about them have yet become public, and McClee would not say if he has received any.

“I am duty-bound to deal with any complaint that comes across my desk,” he said. “If we have a case, I will deal with it in an honest, open way. I hope we never have a trial.”

YS/AMB END GADOUA

45 Comments

    • Invisible, all-powerful, un-responsive, absolute, unaccountable ruler of ALL things who nobody has actually ever heard say a single word….

      Somehow dictates things through priests and preachers who get to insert their own personal ideas along anyway!

      The wreckage! The human suffering over this nonsense!

      Nothing illustrates the absurdity and the anguish more than the back and forth between bishops about whether Gays should be allowed to get married or not. :-(

      Love lies waiting in the balance. And it is so unfair.

      • Atheist Max – I suppose by your comments and name u r an atheist? Please give your account of the “First Cause” how we all got here if there is no God? Where’d the “stuff” of life come from? How many miracles do u need? Atheism – so sad, so illogical/ impossible!

        • @preacherdb,

          First cause? well….What caused God? Seems that just answers one mystery with a new mystery – while destroying the question.
          The evidence so far does not suggest that there was a ‘first cause’.
          The big bang may have been one of many – but…Who knows?

          But remember, The Atheist is making no claims.
          God may exist or not. I do not know for certain.

          So I am Agnostic, as in, I do not “know”.
          And I am Atheist, as in, I do not “believe.”

          Atheism is only about belief.
          So, I do not believe there is any god at all.
          When I say ‘there is no god’ I subconsciously insert the word ‘probably’ – I’m glad to consider any demonstration that might show a God exists.

          As a Theist, you claim to KNOW.
          You are the one who makes the Claim – not me.
          I cannot bring myself to even understand how you could ‘know’.

          In my experience, people who claim to ‘know’ speak of emotional arguments, parents, grandparents and how they were brought up.
          I felt that way too, once. I was a Christian for 44 years.

          • Sometimes you have really profound things to say and I genuinely appreciate your comments. However most of the time your comments make me regret that I ventured into the comment section in the first place due to their banal and disparaging content and their tendency to promote mud slinging instead of thought provoking dialogue or meaningful conversation.

            I find it curious how you seem to have made a hobby out of trolling this site and posting every single day on almost every new article published when there are so many other more interesting and productive things you could be doing with your free time. Now that I think about it, lately I have often found myself posting on on this site too. How about each of us find new hobbies ;)

      • Gilhcan, Why are you making making sweeping general non specific comments about religion like you are saying something factual? You are probably not that narrow. Your nonspecific comment is pointless though it does reveal I fear a hurt that you have experienced. Have you ever read about the Christ of the Bible?

        • @preacherdb,

          If you are really a preacher….(If not, never mind the following…)

          ….you are probably a wonderful person who cares about people – that is, compassion for people is what got you into that line of work.
          I sometimes wish atheists had an institution from which they could reach out and spread their own compassion to the community which is why I donate to the local hospice and volunteer there. Being compassionate is something the church can do so easily when it wants to.

          Unfortunately, looking at this sad issue from the outside – it seems religion only makes your job more difficult – all these factions with their disagreements and votes about what level of kindness is really allowed toward homosexuals.

          Is that really what you signed up for? You know these Gay people are in love, right?

  1. Would anybody have any objections to excommunicating the New York Annual Conference from the Methodist Church? Chop ‘em, drop ‘em and stop ‘em!

    P.S. Pac-Northwest, you’re NEXT!

    • Wouldn’t it be easier if anti-gays left the UMC and joined a denomination that agrees with your emphasis on homophobia? Most of the homeowners in adjacent properties would be happy to sell you their homes very cheaply.

    • Pray tell, who is ” ‘em?”

      And when you finished attempting to explain and/or justify that, you can start on religion, truth, honesty, justice, goodness…

    • I think it is time to move at the 2016 GC that we begin to seek a process for amicable separation to be instituted at the 2020 GC where bishops, clergy, and congregations be allowed to choose which group they want to go with. Certain obstacles regarding pensions would have to be dealt with but this division is beyond repair and further discussion pointless.

    • The vast majority of Methodists ought to have risen up loud and demanding that their church stop throwing people away or forcing ridiculously different, frustrated lives on gays just because of their natural orientation. That evil is religion at its worst, and history is very full of too much of it. It is a contradiction of intelligence and goodness.

  2. A large denomination in the United States is going to follow the dictates of a continent filled with third world countries. Countries where people have what Americans would consider bazar cultural practices, many wife’s, circumcise women, kill gay’s and lesbians, rampant rape, etc.

    I am not Methodist, but my sister is a devout Methodist and I have always been impressed by their progressive and charitable attitudes. No more! My own denomination follows the Methodist on homosexuality and I do not approve. I guess I am going to have to become Episcopalian.

    Please do not respond to me with THE BIBLE SAYS. The Bible says a lot of things no one follows, women not sitting with men, women not having a voice, women not wearing jewelry, women not wearing makeup, and the list goes on and on and on. The people that claim THE BIBLE SAYS are the very ones that pick and choose the rules they want to obey and not obey.

    • Edward Borges-Silva

      Since you have so little regard for the Word of God, and do not appreciate its nuances, perhaps you should leave the church altogether and join Atheist Max among the unbelievers. The Bible is the basis for the faith of all Christians, if you reject it, you yourself are rejected from being a member of the faith. Q.E.D.

      • Susan Humphreys

        As he clearly pointed out, Mr. Martin doesn’t reject the Bible, he accepts it as it is, and unlike you he doesn’t seem to need to pretend that it is something that it isn’t (inerrant). I think he has greater respect for the book than you do Mr.Borges-Silva

      • Typical fundamentalist megalomania. Everyone who interprets the Bible differently than you is either ignorant, dishonest or some kind of weird heretic. Such views are comforting to those who want to indulge their egos in a socially acceptable manner.

        Truth of the matter is anyone who claims their point of view is based on the correct reading of the bible is full of crap. They merely look to confirm their own behavior and use the scripture as pretext.

  3. Sad day for Methodism and religion when Methodists continue to display the evil attitudes that come from ignorance. There is so much more to understanding life and human beings than the bible. Methodists and other dark-age religionists must return to study, learning to hopefully understand more and better.

  4. Edward Borges-Silva

    Atheist Max I understand, he has no use for anything involving spiritual precepts.
    But people who are purportedly spiritual, particularly Christians, who claim to be disciples of Christ, that treat the doctrines of the bible as a twelve dollar buffet, where one may pick and choose that which they will receive, and that which they will reject; this is do not understand. Leaving Leviticus aside, the New Testament teaches clearly that practicing homosexuals can not function as participating members of the faith. Pastors and Bishops who abrogate their fidelity to the Word of God, He will judge. But I expect this trend to continue, Christ, Paul, and Peter all taught that in the end even the Church would become corrupt and deny the very precepts that many of You now deny.

    • Susan Humphreys

      You are the one picking and choosing Mr. Borges-Silva. There are two passages in Corinthians and Timothy that people point to as saying that homosexuality is wrong, BUT scholars have shown the words have been mis-translated, and refer more honestly to “soft men”, perhaps referring to pastoralists as opposed to warriors, peace makers as opposed to war mongers, which would include Jesus. Then there is the passage in Romans, I won’t detail the problems there but you can google homosexuality and the Bible and find truthful commentaries about all the passages. Then there is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, not a story against homosexual behavior BUT a story about how strangers are treated. Then there is the passage about “what God has joined together let no man rent assunder”. Get out your Bible and read ALL of Matthew 19. The last line says let those that can follow this do so. Implying that this teaching doesn’t apply to everyone. So your argument that the New Testament “New Testament teaches clearly that practicing homosexuals can not function as participating members of the faith.” is plain and simply a LIE. AND you know the Bible also tells you to not bear false witness against your neighbor, that means spreading lies and misinformation about them. So who is picking and choosing?

      • “BUT scholars have shown the words have been mis-translated”

        No, scholars have “shown” no such thing. Apologists for same-sex behaviors have argued for such interpretations, but they are utterly without historical or scriptural support. “Malakos” is used in numerous extrabiblical Greek texts to refer to males who desire to be penetrated–the same way it is quite obviously used in Corinthians given its deliberate pairing with “arsenokoitai” which refers directly back to Leviticus 20:13. As for Matthew 19, Jesus was not saying that HIS teaching did not apply to everyone but that not everyone could accept the DISCIPLES (who were horrified by the hard line Jesus took on divorce) conclusion that it was better not to marry at all.

        Mr. Borges-Silva is quite correct.

        • What you really mean is no scholar you want to accept or take seriously says such things. Every legitimate scholar talks about translation issues. Nobody can make an honest claim that the homosexual acts allegedly described in the Bible translate directly to consensual adult same-sex relations. Except maybe for the story where Jesus healed the gay centurion’s companion. You said yourself it is not directly addressed by Jess ad simply lumed it in with “sexual sins”. A very tenuous and weasel worded argument.

          • “What you really mean is no scholar you want to accept or take seriously says such things”

            Pot, kettle, etc.

            “Nobody can make an honest claim that the homosexual acts allegedly described in the Bible translate directly to consensual adult same-sex relations.”

            And yet you have made a supposedly “honest” claim that it does not. What makes your claim more honest than mine, please?

            “Every legitimate scholar talks about translation issues.”

            True, but there is not much of a translation issue presented here. The view that you and Susan advocate is a very small minority view intended to further a particular agenda. It is not the goes against scholarly consensus on the subject.

            “Except maybe for the story where Jesus healed the gay centurion’s companion.”

            Spare us the “pais” nonsense. There is nothing in the gospel to indicate that either the centurion or his servant was gay.

            “You said yourself it is not directly addressed by Jess ad simply lumed it in with “sexual sins”. A very tenuous and weasel worded argument.”

            Tenuous to you perhaps. Not tenuous in the slightest to the teachers of the Law whom Jesus was addressing, who knew quite well what all fell into the category of “sexual immorality.”

        • Susan Humphreys

          Sorry Shawnie you showed your ignorance by using the word Malakos. I suggest you google the word Malakoi which is the word that was used. Malakos is an adjective that means soft. In the Bible it is found attached to a garment or cloth, soft cloth or soft garment. In Greek when the ending is changed to the oi to refer to a type of human, a direct translation and an honest translation is soft-man. And as I pointed out a soft-man could refer to Jesus. Malakoi appears only in those two passages in Corinthians and Timothy. There was a common word for homosexual in usage at the time and Malakoi isn’t it. Malakoi from what I have read was not in common usage elsewhere. Now there is another word used in Timothy, I think. That is Arsenakatoi which is a really odd word and scholars aren’t sure what it means. Some suggest it refers to Pederasts and Malakoi to the young boys that are exploited by Pederasts. This information comes from the Religious Tolerance organization website. You might look it up: religioustolerance.org. No need to spread more untruths, and you know the Bible tells you not to bear false witness, as in spread lies and misinformation about others.

          • “you know the Bible tells you…”

            Funny how “one’s own personal morality” always finds a way to line up with something in the Bible.

            Where would we be without the Bible – TheGreat Validator – to confirm the path already chosen? Adrift?

            Good thing nobody was in the mood to kill anyone today because there is plenty to endorse that sort of decision too….

            “bring to me those enemies of mine, and EXECUTE THEM in front of me.” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

          • “Malakoi from what I have read was not in common usage elsewhere.”

            You read wrong. As before stated, it is used in a number of extrabiblical Greek texts, from Plato to Ptolemy to Soranus, in reference to men who desire to be penetrated (which obviously rules out force and exploitation).

            “That is Arsenakatoi which is a really odd word and scholars aren’t sure what it means.”

            Um, Susan, you showed your ignorance by using the word Arseakatoi. The word is “arsenokoitai” and it is only odd in that it doesn’t appear before Paul’s use of it. But scholars are in no particular doubt as to what it means. It is made up of the two key words in Leviticus 20:13 which prohibits same-sex behavior, and it thus literally translates to “man-bedders.”

            Thanks for the referene to religioustolerance.org but I prefer the actual ancient writings of the time, such as the Septuagint, Philo, Josephus, the Babylonian Talmud and the Midrash, to name a few, for guidance as to what the NT writers were talking about. Not modern-day fables and propaganda.

    • @EDWARD,

      Those who treat…”the bible as a twelve dollar buffet, where one may pick and choose that which they will receive, and that which they will reject..”

      BUT….but…but….
      JESUS repeatedly commands from both sides of the same coin.
      IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU CHOOSE!
      You can ALWAYS claim to be following Christ!

      “Love your enemies.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:44)
      “Kill enemies.” – Jesus (Luke 19:27)

      “Do not judge others” – Jesus (Matthew 7:1)
      Judge others harshly, “remove your blessings of peace” – Jesus (Matthew 10:3)

      “Blessed are the peace makers” – Jesus (Matthew 5:9)
      “I come NOT TO BRING PEACE but a sword.” – Jesus (Matthew 10:34)

      “Pray in public” – Jesus (sermon on the mount)
      “Pray only in private” – Jesus (sermon on the mount)

      Christianity is a parlor trick :-(

  5. In the United Methodist Church we have a covenant to resolve differences in discussion, debate, and voting. If persons can disregard what has been voted upon with no consequence, what is the point of voting? If there is no point to voting, what is the point of debate? If there is no point to debate, what is the point of discussion? If there is no point to discussion, what is the point of relationship. If there is no relationship, there is no point to the denomination. This isn’t rocket science.

  6. Hmmm… The Church might attempt to make even tighter laws and offer stricter sanctions, but it is too late. The wind of the Spirit cannot be sent back to the place from whence it has come.

    The church that believes it will be saved by coercing compliance with rules that large numbers of the faithful believe to be unjust will destroy itself in the end. Bishop McLee has helped us to see a better way, the only way, and I am grateful. Thank you.

    - Scott Campbell, Counsel for the Respondent

    https://www.facebook.com/campbellwscott/posts/10152643894814692

  7. Maybe it would be better if Methodists split on these different issues. I “are” one and will probably walk when, not if, they do. (In the last days, man will do what is right according to his wisdom). Paraphrased.

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