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Marriage comes to United Methodist Church, in New York

Timothy Kincaid

March 11th, 2014

Bishop Martin McLee

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.

Comments

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Nathaniel
March 11th, 2014 | LINK

Timothy, lets not forget that the anti-gay rules in the UMC are relatively recent. Prior to the 70s, there were no restrictions on what pastors and churches could do with respect to LGBT people. But the Fellowship slowly adopted increasingly stringent rules. When a doctrinal statement proved insufficient to keep pastors and churches from being accepting, one ‘law’ was passed. Then another. Finally resulting in the prohibition of pastors acting on their conscience with respect only to LGBT people. It is a terrible thing the UMC has done to itself, but it was done in the name of power, not Jesus. A few wanted to control the whole, and they tried a little bit at a time until their power was absolute. I don’t see this ending well for the UMC, unfortunately, if the baton of power has been effectively passed to fervently anti-gay interests. Anti-colonialism and reverse-missionarism will only reinforce anti-gay, and perhaps even anti-women theologies. Welcoming churches/regions will likely be forced to choose between the virtues of inclusion or fellowship; rules are rules, after all, and unless they can be changed (which sounds unlikely for the foreseeable future), juries will have no choice but to convict, even if the individuals agree with the defendant. I think this situation will prove increasingly unacceptable to the accepting.

Sandhorse
March 11th, 2014 | LINK

This is an Interesting, (and encouraging) turn of events.

Still, I can’t help but wonder how Bishops can choose to disregard ‘Rogue Pastors’ and not get accused of being rogue themselves. I was brought up Methodist but certainly don’t know the inner workings of the hierarchy.

While it’s good to see that concessions are being made, if this concession was done to prevent ‘bad publicity,’ that tempers the positive resolution.

If however, McLee did this as a way to begin a ‘conversation,’ then the proverbial pitch forks and torches turning on him would spur such a conversation on. Injustice thrives on secrecy and if the ‘Figureheads’ are given shelter so the naives can continue to promote exclusion under cover of obscurity; then this conversation is going to take much longer.

Ben in Oakland
March 11th, 2014 | LINK

People forget why the united Methodist church is united–NOW. something to do with negroes, slavery, and the inherent worth of human beings.

For some, the united is worth far more than the Methodist. Personal,y I think a schism is well in order, but then, I’m not a Methodist and have no bigot in this race.

John JP Patterson
March 12th, 2014 | LINK

“The beginning of the end of The United Methodist Church’s misguided era of discriminating against LGBTQ people!”
- Rev. Dr. Tom Ogletree

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

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