Marriage comes to United Methodist Church, in New York
March 11th, 2014
The United Methodist Church has been split for decades over the issue of where gay people fit within the body of faith. Many churches, even districts, have made loud gestures of inclusion and advocated for equality. But the UMC is a global, rather than national, denomination and representatives from Asia and Africa have allied with conservatives in the US to block advancement and inclusion. And so gay members remain banned from the clergy and officiating at same-sex marriages is forbidden.
Consequently, there is a growing sense of frustration by many of the UMC laity and clergy and an increasing likelihood of schism. This has been exacerbated by the ferocious and punitive responses by conservative Methodists who, holding the advantage of votes from foreign delegates, have arrogantly imposed their values on the majority of American Methodists.
The latest example was in November when a church trial in Pennsylvania convicted Frank Schaefer of violating the Methodist Book of Discipline by officiating at his son’s wedding. Those leading the charge were vile in their attack and succeeded in having Schaefer de-credentialed.
In response, Minerva Carcaño, UMC Bishop of Los Angeles, invited Schaefer to Southern California to work out of her office and to minister, though in a somewhat lesser capacity.
But while Schaefer’s trial caught the attention of the church and the public, it promised to pale in comparison to the scheduled trial of another Methodist minister accused of breaking the church’s doctrine by officiating at his son’s wedding. Schaefer was somewhat obscure, but Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree is not. (Yale)
Professor Ogletree has served as dean of Yale Divinity School (1990–96) and the Theological School at Drew University (1981–90). He was director of graduate studies in religion at Vanderbilt University (1978–81). He is the author of five books… He was also one of the principal drafters of the current United Methodist Disciplinary statement on doctrinal standards. Under the auspices of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Cross-Disciplinary Fellowship from the Society for Values in Higher Education, he pursued postdoctoral studies at the Free University in West Berlin, and at the Center for Advanced Studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. He is a life member of Clare Hall at Cambridge University.
Defrocking a pastor of a rural Pennsylvania church is one thing. But seeking to expel the former dean of Yale Divinity School from your denomination commands global news coverage, and not in a way that makes your church look more Christian.
And so, with less than a week before trial, the bishop responsible for Ogletree’s trial made a dramatic decision. (NYTimes)
Bishop McLee, who oversees about 460 churches in lower New York State and Connecticut, agreed to drop all charges against Dr. Ogletree; in exchange, he asked only that Dr. Ogletree participate in a dialogue about the church and its stance on matters of sexuality. Promoting dialogue, the bishop said, could be a model for other United Methodist bishops to follow.
“While many insist on the trial procedure for many reasons, I offer that trials are not the way forward,” Bishop McLee said in a statement attached to the resolution of Dr. Ogletree’s case. “Church trials result in harmful polarization and continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”
McLee said that he would not prosecute cases in his district in which UMC ministers violated the Book of Discipline by officiating at same sex weddings, effectively giving permission to begin UMC gay marriages in New York.
It is too soon to know whether other bishops follow McLee’s lead, but I think it likely. And the consequence will be either to disunite the Methodists, or to result in an uneasy alliance under which each bishop or church can follow their conscience and the conservatives will fade into the corners. But irrespective of the eventual consequence to the denomination, to gay and lesbian Methodists this is an exciting and joyous moment.