by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
A Methodist minister, the Rev. Thomas W. Ogletree, is facing church discipline for officiating at the wedding of his Gay son.
Ogletree performed the ceremony in October 2012, uniting Thomas R. Ogletree with his boyfriend, Nicholas Haddad.
The wedding was held at the Yale Club in New York because Ogletree is a retired dean of Yale Divinity School, one of the country's most prestigious theological seminaries. It featured readings from scripture and from the pioneering Massachusetts court decision legalizing same-sex marriages.
The couple's wedding announcement in The New York Times prompted a group of conservative Methodist ministers to file charges with the local bishop against Ogletree, alleging he violated the denomination's Book of Discipline.
A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE
The United Methodist Church, the third-largest denomination in the country (after Roman Catholicism and the Southern Baptist Convention), does not endorse same-sex marriage, and its Book of Discipline forbids clergy from officiating at such ceremonies. Offenders may be suspended from the ministry, or even defrocked.
Ogletree, now 79, is already retired from active ministry, so even if his denomination convenes a church trial and he is convicted, he faces few consequences. But he says that for him, the issue is one of principle.
'Sometimes, when what is officially the law is wrong, you try to get the law changed,' Ogletree, told the Times. 'But if you can't, you break it.'
Ogletree explained that both his children are Gay, and that he has long accepted that fact. His daughter previously married her partner in Massachusetts, in a non-Methodist ceremony. So when his son asked him last year to officiate at the wedding, he said yes.
'I was inspired,' Ogletree said. 'I actually wasn't thinking of this as an act of civil disobedience or church disobedience. I was thinking of it as a response to my son.'
DECLINED TO APOLOGIZE
In January, Ogletree met face-to-face with his principal accuser, the Rev. Randall C. Paige, in an effort to resolve the dispute without a church trial. According to Ogletree, Paige asked him to apologize and promise never to perform such a ceremony again. He refused.
'I said, 'This is an unjust law,' he recalled telling Paige. 'Dr. King broke the law. Jesus of Nazareth broke the law - he drove the money-changers out of the temple. So you mean you should never break any law, no matter how unjust it is?'
In a long post on the Washington Post On Faith blog, entitled 'Why I Disobeyed the United Methodist Church's Unjust Teaching on Same-Sex Marriage,' Ogletree recalled his childhood in the old South.
'As a white Southerner growing up during the segregation era,' he wrote, 'I became intensely aware of the pervasive racism in our society. I recognized that I had to join emerging new movements to dismantle racial segregation or I would myself become morally complicit for injustices resident in those practices...
'My experiences in the Civil Rights movement,' he continued, 'have illumined my responses to what I perceive to be unjust disciplinary rules in the United Methodist Church, especially rules that denied my right to officiate at my own son's wedding.
'As a heterosexual, married clergyman I have a unique opportunity and obligation to challenge the inequitable treatment of Gay and Lesbian persons, both in church practices and also in the wider society. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, 'one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.'
Ogletree is not without support in his denomination. At the UMC's General Conference last May, a proposal to endorse same-sex marriage was hotly debated, but it eventually was voted down by a wide margin, 61% to 39%.
Retired African-American Bishop Melvin Talbert was so angry over the result, he exclaimed, 'The time for talking is over. It is time for us to act in defiance of unjust words of immoral and derogatory discrimination.'
The UMC has dealt with at least four other cases in which clergy performed same-sex marriages. In 1999, the Rev. Greg Dell was suspended from the ministry for one year. In the same year, 68 Methodist ministers were brought up on charges after they blessed a Lesbian wedding as a protest against the church's position, but that case was eventually dropped. The Rev. Jimmy Creech was defrocked, however, for continuing to marry same-sex couples after he had been warned to desist. In 2011, the Rev. Amy DeLong was convicted of violating the Book of Discipline for marrying a same-sex couple, but received only a 20-day suspension.
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