United Methodist Minister Charged for Officiating at Son’s Wedding
Nicholas Haddad and Thomas Ogletree announced their wedding ceremony in the Weddings/Celebrations section of the New York Times. Their October 20, 2012 marriage was officiated by Thomas’ father, the Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree, a United Methodist minister. Dr. Ogletree is Professor Emeritus of Ethics and former Dean of Yale Divinity School. Several United Methodist ministers in New York have filed charges against him for officiating at his son’s marriage, which violates church rules and exposes him to a potential church trial.
“I was blessed to have been Tom Ogletree’s colleague at YDS for several years. He is a minister of great integrity and pastoral sensitivity, and is providing important pastoral care as are thousands of other clergy who are willing to risk church trials for the sake of their understanding of the gospel. They are prophetic heroes.” ~Patrick Evans, Interim Executive Director of More Light Presbyterians.
When Thomas asked his father to officiate at his wedding, Dr. Ogletree was inspired. “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.”
Dr. Ogletree, 79, is now facing a possible canonical trial for his action, accused by several New York United Methodist ministers of violating church rules. While he would not be the first United Methodist minister to face discipline for performing a same-sex wedding, he could well be the one with the highest profile. He is a retired dean of Yale Divinity School, a veteran of the nation’s civil rights struggles and a scholar of the very type of ethical issues he is now confronting.
“Sometimes, when what is officially the law is wrong, you try to get the law changed,” Dr. Ogletree, a native of Birmingham, Ala., said in a courtly Southern drawl over a recent lunch at Yale, where he remains an emeritus professor of theological ethics. “But if you can’t, you break it.”
For Dr. Ogletree, the issues are not just academic. He has fully accepted, he said, that two of his five children are gay. His daughter 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.
The wedding of Thomas Rimbey Ogletree and Nicholas W. Haddad, held on Oct. 20, 2012, at the Yale Club in New York, incorporated readings from Scripture and the Massachusetts court decision legalizing same-sex marriages. A wedding announcement in The New York Times prompted several conservative Methodist ministers to file a complaint against Dr. Ogletree with the local bishop…
“He does the right thing because he believes in doing the right thing,” Mr. Ogletree said of his father. “And then, if there is any question about that, he is willing to stand up and place a claim for that in a public way.”
New York’s Methodists have passed resolutions supporting same-sex marriage, but the region’s bishop, Martin D. McLee, said he had no choice, once mediation failed, but to refer the matter to the equivalent of a prosecuting lawyer for the church, who will decide whether to hold a trial.
Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree wrote an in-depth commentary about officiating at his son’s marriage for Reconciling Ministries Network, an organization working for the full welcome of LGBTQ people in The United Methodist Church.
There was no way that I could with integrity have declined his request, even though my action was designated as a “chargeable offense” by The United Methodist Discipline (cf. par. 2702). Tom and Nick are men of maturity, wisdom, and integrity, and their exceptional bonds with each other have enhanced their commitments to foster a more just and inclusive society that serves the well-being of all people. Performing their wedding was one of the most significant ritual acts of my life as a pastor! …
I contend that same sex unions and marriages are fully compatible with Christian teachings, and that we have an obligation to incorporate these understandings into United Methodist practices, even though such efforts are presently in conflict with the church’s existing judicial standards. For the sake of justice, therefore, I was obliged to commit an act of ecclesial disobedience, even though I now face judicial charges for acting in faithful devotion to our church’s inclusive vision.