In perhaps the biggest Methodist LGBT news since the 1972 enactment of the “incompatibility clause,”* Bishop Martin McLee has just announced a complete dismissal of the ecclesiastical charges against Rev. Thomas Ogletree. Rev. Ogletree was on trial for conducting a wedding service for his gay son. What is more, Bishop McClee stated, “I call for and commit to cessation of trials” arising under the Book of Discipline provisions related to LGBT persons. This is the highest act of Methodist ecclesiastical disobedience to date, but it follows the recent actions of retired Bishop Melvin Talbert, who personally conducted the wedding of two gay men, and the actions of sitting Bishop Minerva Carcaño, who offered defrocked pastor Frank Schaefer an appointment within her jurisdiction. Four other bishops have publicly registered their dissent from Book of Discipline trial proceedings.
Though it is always dicey to predict the significance of an event without the benefit of historical hindsight, this Methodist news may parallel the breakthroughs in sister denominations, including the 1996 failed heresy trial of Episcopal Bishop Walter Righter, and the legislative reversals of the Lutherans in 2009 and the Presbyterians in 2011. Certainly, there will be many jurisdictions, perhaps most, where the Book of Discipline provisions will still be enforced, but this announcement from Bishop McLee suggests a break in the dam, and the more progressive Methodist Annual Conferences on the West coast, Midwest, and East coast may soon surge through the breach.
*Pertinent provisions from the Methodist Book of Discipline
- We do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice to be incompatible with Christian teaching. (1972)
- Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church. (1984)
- Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches. (1996)
UPDATE: Religion Dispatches has published my essay, which elaborates on this historic breakthrough.