The Reverend Thomas Ogletree thought he was doing the right thing, performing a marriage ceremony for his son, Thomas Rimbey Ogletree. Trouble was, the younger Thomas was marrying another man, Nicholas Haddad, and what started out as a deeply personal act, is now a full-blown church scandal.
The wedding was soon condemned as a public display of ecclesiastical disobedience, because Reverend Ogletree is minister at United Methodist Church, which does not allow its clergy to perform same-sex weddings.
Now, Ogletree is facing a possible canonical trial for his actions, and though he isn’t the first United Methodist minister to face discipline for performing a same-sex wedding, he does have the highest profile because he is a retired dean of Yale Divinity School and a scholar of the very type of ethical issues that face him now.
“Sometimes, when what is officially the law is wrong, you try to get the law changed. But if you can’t, you break it.”—Dr. Ogletree recently said, perhaps foreshadowing his involvement in his son’s wedding.
Ogletree has five children, two of whom are gay, His daughter was married in Massachusetts, in a non-Methodist ceremony, but when his son asked him to officiate at his wedding, he instantly said yes.
“I 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.
It was the wedding announcement in The New York Times that prompted several conservative Methodist ministers to file a complaint against Ogletree with the local bishop. The Reverend Randall Paige, pastor of Christ Church in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y. led the charge, and declared that, under the rules of the church, “this ceremony is a chargeable offense.”
Still, the two men, Paige and Ogletree, met in January to try and resolve the situation, Paige demanded that Ogletree apologize and promise never to perform such a ceremony again, but Ogletree refused.
“I said, this is an unjust law. 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?”—Dr. Ogletree to Dr. Paige.
Like many Christian denominations, the United Methodist Church struggles over LGBT rights. Back in 1972, the denomination added a line to its rule book declaring the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” and it bars the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” as clergy; it also prohibits clergy from officiating at same-sex unions. Rather hypocritically, though, the denomination calls The Gays “persons of sacred worth,” and welcomes them as members.
Not to minister or be married, though. And that is what Ogletree finds contradictory, and why he decided to break the laws of the church in an effort to change the laws of the church.
“The church’s official motto is open minds, open hearts, open doors, even though our rules on same-sex marriage contradict that claim.”—Dr. Ogletree.
Since his meeting with Paige in January, Ogletree has been working with Methodists in New Directions, a New York-based group that is part of a growing movement to change the church’s rules. More than 1,100 United Methodist clergy members—of about 45,000 in the nation—have expressed a willingness to perform same-sex ceremonies, even if it means they may face suspension or censure.
“He does the right thing because he believes in doing the right thing. 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.”—Thomas Ogletree, the son, speaking of his father.
The Reverend Thomas Ogletree is not just a father, wanting to be part of his son’s marriage; he is an LGBT-ally, who understands that churches need to change if they want to be part of the cultural landscape in this country. If you teach, and preach, love and understanding and compassion, then, as Ogletree has done, you need to practice it as well.
I say hats off to the Reverend.