Light & Verity

No church trial for former divinity dean

A minister faced charges for performing his son’s gay wedding.

Julie Brown

Julie Brown

Thomas W. Ogletree says he “wasn't terribly worried” about the possibility of being defrocked. View full image

When a Yalie’s wedding announcement is accepted for publication in the New York Times, he or she can expect some congratulatory e-mails from old classmates, the thrill of seeing one’s name in print, and the certainty that some acquaintances are sniggering about the pretension of submitting such news to the society pages. But one does not usually expect that the notice will get Dad in big trouble.

Yet for Thomas Rimbey Ogletree ’03, that was exactly what happened. On October 21, 2012, the Times ran an announcement of his wedding to another man, Nicholas Haddad. The short item noted that the ceremony was performed by Ogletree’s father, the Reverend Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree, a scholar of Christian ethics and a Methodist minister who was dean of Yale Divinity School from 1990 to 1996. (He is now the Frederick Marquand Professor Emeritus of Theological Ethics.)

Unlike some Christian denominations, the United Methodist Church forbids its clergy from performing “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.” After the Times piece ran, two ministers in Ogletree’s region of the church, which covers much of New York and Connecticut, asked the denomination to begin disciplinary proceedings against him.

On March 10 of this year, the day that Ogletree’s church trial was to begin, the bishop of New York, Martin McLee, dismissed the charges and announced that he would not pursue any more such trials. Had the trial gone forward, there is a good chance that Ogletree would have been defrocked. He had, after all, violated the church’s Book of Discipline, which explicitly prohibits ministers from officiating at same-sex weddings. And a Pennsylvania minister, the Reverend Frank Schaefer, had been stripped of his credentials in December after he had performed the marriage of his son to another man.

But the day after his trial was canceled, Ogletree sounded relaxed. “I wasn’t terribly worried,” Ogletree said from his home in Guilford, near New Haven. “I didn’t think there was much harm they could do to me. In principle, they could have deprived me of my clergy credentials. Given my retired status, that wouldn’t have affected me very much.”

Ogletree, who is 80 years old, said that when he was dean of the divinity school at Drew University, in the 1980s, he began hearing the concerns of gay and lesbian students, and he quickly realized their cause was important. When his own son came out to him, he was immediately accepting, he said. And when his son asked him to violate Methodist discipline by officiating at his wedding, he did not hesitate. “I was very moved that he asked me to do this,” Ogletree said.


  • Reverend Andy Pietrylo
    Reverend Andy Pietrylo, 8:40pm June 09 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    In the attempt to celebrate gay unions and the courage of the Reverend Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree, this article completely misses the point of what transpired. In my opinion, what was reported should not be commended, but rather, condemned.

    When Reverend Ogletree chose to pursue ordination in the United Methodist Church, he accepted their ordination with the full understanding that as long as he served as one of their ministers, he would comply with the Book of Discipline. Reverend Ogletree chose to perform his son’s wedding to another man, and in doing so, violated his sacred ordination oath. His actions are not that of conscience or courage, but rather, demonstrate a lack of ethics and integrity.

    The issue in this situation is not the support or rejection of the LGBT cause, nor is it about Ogletree’s love for his son. The matter is actually about his decision to dishonor his commitment. Thomas Ogletree pledged that he would follow the Book of Discipline, which was a condition of his ordination. Should his personal convictions demand that he do otherwise, he should have acted honorably and resigned his ordination. Instead, he defied his church and broke his vow.

    Although Reverend Ogletree was not defrocked, his actions are nothing to celebrate.

  • Arthur Shippee
    Arthur Shippee, 4:15pm June 15 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Mr. Pietrylo notes that there's another aspect to this story, which is true enough; whether it's to be condemned is another question. Those who see marriage equality as an important part of a historic liberation will think back 150 to another set of laws and rules which then restricted rights in ways no one now doubts were deeply immoral, however much they may have made sense to those who enacted them.

    What then is one to do, facing rules viewed as, not just inconvenient or wrong, but now revealed to be deeply immoral? Especially when one judges that this view will be all but universal within a generation. Reverend Ogletree was ready, as those who practice civil disobedience are, to suffer the legal consequences for taking a moral stance that outweighed even his commitment to the Book of Discipline.

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