Methodists drop church charges against minister who conducted gay wedding

Posted at 3:51 PM, Mar 11, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-11 15:51:54-04

(CNN) — The United Methodist Church announced Monday it is dropping its denominational case against a New York clergyman who officiated his son’s same-sex wedding.

The Rev. Thomas Ogletree was charged by the church after presiding over the wedding of his son to another man on October 20, 2012, according to a statement from the New York Annual Conference (NYAC) of the United Methodist Church. The Methodist church says it welcomes members regardless of sexual orientation, but same-sex marriages cannot be performed in Methodist churches or by ordained ministers under church policy.

An official church trial was set for Ogletree, in which his case would have been heard by a jury of 13 ordained clergy members with a penalty ranging from a reprimand to a full defrocking.

Following an additional meeting among the church counsels, the decision was made to reach a “just resolution agreement” instead of a trial, said the statement.

“Church trials produce no winners,” NYAC Bishop Martin McLee said in a statement Monday, stating that such prosecutions result in “harmful polarization and continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

The case began when a fellow clergyman who had seen the wedding announcement for Ogletree’s son in The New York Times filed a complaint with the bishop of the conference, according to the statement.

The complaint set in motion a formal disciplinary process with McLee, who then referred the case to counsel for the church, the equivalent of a prosecutor.

After the case was reviewed, it was determined that there was sufficient evidence to warrant charges against Ogletree for his violations, the statement said.

“I could not with any integrity as a Christian refuse my son’s request to preside at his wedding,” Ogletree said in a statement in January.

“It is a shame that the church is choosing to prosecute me for this act of love,” the January statement said.

Ogletree is a retired professor and a past dean of the Yale Divinity School.

As part of Monday’s resolution, Ogletree agreed to join others from varying perspectives in a public forum that “shall reflect a variety of different opinions and understandings,” according to the just resolution agreement.

Ogletree released a statement Monday relinquishing his right to the trial and accepting McLee’s intention to “approach the matter of marriage equality in a non-juridical manner.”

The decision comes just months after Pennsylvania pastor, Frank Schaefer, was defrocked in December after being found guilty in a church trial for officiating his own son’s same-sex wedding.

“On first blush it doesn’t seem fair,” Schaefer said on Monday, “two United Methodist Ministers are charged with the exact same ‘crime’ of officiating at their son’s same sex weddings — one is defrocked, the other one’s case is dropped without conditions.”

Schaefer went on to say that despite the different outcomes, overall he is happy about the church’s decision to drop Ogletree’s case.

“It is a victory for the LGBT movement…if trials are part of the reason why things are changing now in the United Methodist church, it will have been worth my sacrifice,” Schaefer said.

™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.