Minister To Lose Job After Performing Same-Sex Marriage?

When Methodist minister Reverend Thomas Ogletree officiated his son's same-sex marriage, he didn't think it would cause a stir. But now some New York United Methodist Church ministers are threatening to defrock him. He speaks with Host Michel Martin about the controversy and why he feels he's being singled out.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. By now, you might have heard that the Boy Scouts of America have reached a decision to end the ban on openly gay scouts, but not scout leaders. The Barber Shop guys will talk about that in a few minutes, but first, we want to talk about another issue where there's been a struggle to reconcile gay rights with traditional values. The issue here is same-sex marriage.

For the Reverend Thomas Ogletree, a scholar of Christian ethics and a United Methodist clergyman, that issue became personal when his son asked him to officiate at his wedding to another man. He said yes. That, despite the policy of the United Methodist Church, which officially forbids its clergy members from performing same-sex marriages or celebrating same-sex unions.

After the wedding announcement appeared in the New York Times, Reverend Ogletree found himself the subject of a formal complaint and he now faces a possible church trial. And he's with us now to tell us more about it.

Reverend Ogletree, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

REVEREND THOMAS OGLETREE: Well, thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: And I should mention that you are not the only person who potentially faces discipline over this issue in your denomination, but you are probably the highest profile, given that you are a former dean of the Yale Divinity School.

So I wanted to start by asking, when your son first asked you - first, when he told you he was getting married, I assume that you were happy. Right? Because you like the young man.

OGLETREE: Oh, very, very happy. Yes.

MARTIN: But when he asked you to officiate, did you hesitate at all?

OGLETREE: Oh, no. I was deeply inspired. It was so joyful.

MARTIN: Because you particularly like the young man, you were very happy that he was getting married, or why?

OGLETREE: Well, all of those things. One is, obviously, when you grow up and realize that you're gay in this culture, then you face some real challenges. Well, I've been supportive of him since his, you know, high school days and watching him gain strength and leadership. And then, when he met Nick Haddad, who is also an extraordinary person, seeing these two men build bonds and friendship, really, over a number of years, was very inspiring. And then they wanted me to do it, which was very meaningful because I admire these men so much.

MARTIN: Did you think, at the time, that it would cause a ruckus?

OGLETREE: I knew it was a violation of the discipline. It has been since 1996. It was declared to be a chargeable offense. At the same time, because I was retired and I'd spent most of my time as a professor and a dean, I hadn't really thought about it as having a serious impact on my life. And frankly, my son Tom and Nick were the ones who chose to publish their wedding in the New York Times. If they had not published it, then it would not have been known. I would have heard nothing by it.

But, once it was published, then this provoked the response. And quite frankly, I've experienced it, not as something troubling or disturbing, but as an unexpected opportunity for me to bear witness to a more open and inclusive vision of the Christian faith and also to promote that same vision in the larger society, as well.

So, for me, it's been an inspiring opportunity to become a public witness on this vitally important issue.

MARTIN: How did you find out that a complaint had been charged against you under the book of discipline...

OGLETREE: Well...

MARTIN: ...which, ironically, you helped to write?

OGLETREE: I helped to write the section called Our Theological Task, which talked about how we think critically about the meaning of the Scripture and theGospel message, but the person who notified me was Bishop McLee. He actually called me by phone and then sent an email saying that charges had been filed. And the man who filed the complaint told me, if I would promise never to do this again, then he was willing to forgive me. Well, I wasn't apologizing in any way because I thought I was doing the right thing. But I told him, though I'm retired, I'm not likely to be asked to perform another wedding, but if I were asked to, I could not, in good conscience, refuse.

MARTIN: On the other hand, the fact is a book of discipline does exist and you can see where other people might argue that...

OGLETREE: Oh, yes.

MARTIN: ...if you are not willing to adhere to these tenets, that you cannot continue to be held up as a standard bearer of the church. And, therefore, it is appropriate to separate you from at least a leadership position in the church, even though you are retired. Do you have any sympathy for that point of view?

OGLETREE: Well...

MARTIN: However painful?

OGLETREE: That's the crux of the matter. That is, the person filing the complaint, when we met together with the bishop, simply said, you broke the law. And he didn't ask whether the law could be justified. But of course, I pointed out that the United Methodist discipline opens with the history reminding us that, as a church, we once supported slavery and, after the Civil War, we supported a segregated version of Methodism, and we denied women ordination. And so we acknowledged that sometimes we are divided and we have to struggle with our differences and people seeking justice know they've got to be patient.

See, some people say, why don't you just leave the church? But I'm saying, no. The Methodist church has fundamental principles that can undergird changes we need to make and I'm going to stay there to support them as best I can.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, I can't help but notice that your wife, your son's mom, is also a minister. She's United Church of Christ. Right?

OGLETREE: That's correct. Yes.

MARTIN: So, presumably, she would not have been sanctioned by her denomination...

OGLETREE: That's correct.

MARTIN: ...had she performed the ceremony. So were you ever tempted to say, ask Mom?

OGLETREE: Yeah. I could have said that. Yeah. But they asked me and so I wanted to do it.

MARTIN: Well, there you go. That was the Reverend Thomas Ogletree. He is a Methodist minister, as we said. He's also the retired dean of Yale Divinity School and he joined us from a studio in Newhaven, Connecticut.

Reverend Ogletree, thank you so much for speaking with us.

OGLETREE: Well, thank you for inviting me and I appreciate your questions very much.

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