Retired UM pastor faces possible church trial for officiating at gay son’s wedding

The Rev. Thomas Ogletree

A new, high-profile episode in the United Methodist Church’s struggle over homosexuality has emerged, with a retired UM pastor and Yale Divinity School dean, the Rev. Thomas Ogletree, facing a possible church trial for presiding at the wedding of his gay son to another man.

The UMC’s Book of Discipline forbids clergy from officiating at same-sex unions, and also holds that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

The New York Times reported that Dr. Ogletree had refused a complaining pastor’s request, in a mediation meeting, to apologize or say he would not officiate again at a same-sex union.

The newspaper said the impasse led Bishop Martin McLee of the New York Conference to refer the matter to an ordained elder operating as counsel for the church, who will decide whether a church trial should come next.

Reached by phone today, Bishop McLee said confidentiality  requirements would keep him from discussing the matter in detail. But he confirmed that a complaint had been received; that “just resolution” had not been in reached in a hearing; and that the matter had been referred to counsel.

“Counsel does investigation,” the bishop said. “Counsel can decide there’s no evidence. Counsel can decide if it should proceed to a church trial. There’s been no trial scheduled … Any conversation about a trial is premature.”

Dr. Ogletree confirmed in a phone interview the Times account. He said that in officiating at his son’s wedding, he wasn’t focused on whether he would be violating church law. But once he faced complaints from clergy colleagues, he said, he had no difficulty deciding to stand his ground and face the church’s legal process.

“As a dean, I really worked to make sure that gay and lesbians were fully included in the community,” he said. “That’s been a commitment of mine for some time.”

Of the UMC’s prohibition against clergy officiating at same-sex unions, Dr. Ogletree, a theological ethics scholar, said: “I think this rule is incompatible with Methodist teaching. I think it contradicts our core values. I think it will change over time, but the battle is not over yet.”

Reconciling Ministries Network has published an essay by Dr. Ogletree, in which he elaborates his views regarding the UMC and homosexuality. Methodists in New Directions (MIND), a reconciling ministry in the New York Conference, issued a supportive statement.

More than 1,000 UM pastors in the UMC have pledged to officiate at same-sex unions, and several annual conferences have passed resolutions challenging, in various ways, the church’s position on homosexuality. Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert last year called for defiance of the ban on UM clergy officiating at same-sex unions.

But efforts to change the church law regarding homosexuality failed at General Conference 2012, as did an “agree to disagree” petition submitted by the Revs. Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter, leaders of UM mega-churches.

Good News, a conservative caucus within the UMC, supports current church law on homosexuality. The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, vice president of Good News, said he was aware of Dr. Ogletree’s case.

“It’s sad that we’ve reached the point where people feel like they can violate the Book of Discipline without any qualms on their part,” he said.

Dr. Ogletree performed the wedding of his son, Thomas Rimbey Ogletree, to Nicholas W.  Haddad, on Oct. 20, 2012, at the Yale Club in New York. (New York State is among the states that have legalized same-sex marriage.) The wedding announcement in the Times prompted several UM pastors to file a complaint, the Times reported Sunday.

As reported in the Times, Dr. Ogletree met in the mediation hearing with the Rev. Randy Paige, pastor of Christ (UMC) Church in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., and heard from him that he needed to apologize and promise not to officiate again at a same-sex union.

Dr. Ogletree confirmed to the Reporter that it was Mr. Paige who laid down those conditions, in a meeting held March 6. Mr. Paige didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Dr. Ogletree also confirmed a detail in the Times’ story – that he has a gay daughter who was married to her female partner in Massachusetts, another state that allows same-sex marriage.

He said his own longstanding support for gay rights grew out of his commitment to civil rights for African Americans, dating back decades.

Since the Times story appeared, he said, he has been “overwhelmed” with expressions of support.

“My email is overloaded,” he said. “I’ve never had so much email coming in.”

Dr. Ogletree is Frederick Marquand Professor Emeritus of Theological Ethcis at Yale Divinity School. He served as dean of the school from 1990-96, and as dean of Drew Theological School from 1981-90. Early in his career, he served as pastor of UM congregations in Alabama, Wisconsin and Tennessee, and was founding pastor of Vestavia Hills UMC in Birmingham, Ala.

He’s the author of five books, and helped draft the UMC’s Book of Discipline statement on doctrinal standards.

Bishop McLee, asked for a general comment on the Dr. Ogletree matter, said, “The United Methodist Church journeys with most mainline denominations in being all over the map” regarding acceptance of homosexuality. But he noted that attempts to change the UMC’s positions had failed at General Conference.

Asked if he agrees with the church’s positions, Bishop McLee said: “Bishops don’t decide on church law. The General Conference every four years makes the decision. I will respect whatever decision General Conference makes, regarding matters of human sexuality and any other matters.”

Here’s a letter he sent today to members of the New York Conference:

Beloved New York Annual Conference:

Many of you may have read the recently published article in The New York Times that centered on same sex marriage and the United Methodist Church. The confidentiality requirements of the complaint process prevent me from discussing the case in detail. However, as is the case on many issues confronting the church today, there are multiple perspectives associated with human sexuality.

There is also a multiplicity of other concerns that we are confronted with as a body of Christian believers. Immigration reform, gun violence, poverty and the challenges with our system of criminal justice are but a few of the significant issues on the local and national landscape.

As United Methodists, we are not a one issue denomination. We find ourselves on the front lines providing leadership in many arenas. I have witnessed the incredible efforts connected to addressing hunger, inadequate housing, Superstorm Sandy recovery and mission support of our international partners during my travels around the Conference over the past eight months. I applaud the faithfulness and tenacity of the clergy and laity of the New York Annual Conference as you respond to the many needs we face.

As we continue forward, I encourage you to deepen your resolve to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Continue to pray for the United Methodist witness as we reach out to a hurting world. Tonight, some child, perhaps in your community, will not have a place to sleep; some family will not be able to feed itself. New York Annual Conference, be encouraged. There is much work to be done. Remember, we are not alone. God is with us.

The songwriter said it best: “If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living shall not be in vain.”

All my prayers,

Bishop Martin D. McLee


Sam Hodges, Former Managing Editor, UMR

Sam Hodges

Sam Hodges was the managing editor of The United Methodist Reporter from 2011-2013. A formee reporter for the Dallas Morning News and the Charlotte Observer, Sam is a respected voice in United Methodist journalism.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Hypocrisy! I love The United Methodist Church. I have given my life in its service. But the sheer hypocrisy of our church's position on homosexuality sickens and saddens me. On the one hand, it permits the multiple marriages of those who have been previously married and divorced, even though Jesus explicitly prohibits them (Mark 10:11). On the other hand, it prohibits the marriage of same-sex couples who desire to live in a monogamous covenant of mutual love and fidelity, even though we have no recorded saying of Jesus which explicitly prohibits such marriage. By what moral theological reasoning can it… Read more »


“Silence is not neutral ground,” said Frantz Fanon. If we are not speaking up for the oppressed, we are on the side of the oppressor. A statement supported by Jesus of Nazareth who was on the side of the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. Our God is a loving, inclusive God, active and present even today, present in Christ, who transcends race, class, gender, and sexuality. A God whose spirit enlivens our one Christian body, the church, that moves, acts, and speaks on behalf of the oppressed because, indeed, silence is not neutral ground. Dr. Ogletree’s decision… Read more »


Um, these two were married at the Yale Club in New York City. The poor and hungry the bishop highlights in his letter to his conference would not be allowed in the door of this private preserve of the rich and the well-connected.


I can sympathize with Dr. Olgtree's desire to express his love for his son. Being a father myself, if I was in his situation, I would want what is best for my son but more so I want what is God's best for him. Allowing any man to marry another man is not God's best. Matthew 19:1-12, provides us a vivid picture into Jesus perspective of marriage. It should be noted that when the Pharisees approach Jesus about divorce he answered them by first stating that God, in the beginning, created them male and female and follows that statement by… Read more »


It is understood that many modern Methodist believe the Holy scriptures are set aside for the purpose of intervening on the side of dust in its argument with gravity … but if actually consumed as a sustaining substance it says (one more time) in Romans 1:26 – … Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 Furthermore, just as… Read more »

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