THE BLOG

Justice on Trial: Another Minister Breaks Church Law to Perform Gay Marriage

01/26/2014 03:01 pm ET | Updated Mar 28, 2014

"One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." -- Martin Luther King Jr.

Rev. Thomas Ogletree performed a marriage ceremony for his own son. For that, he will stand trial in March before an ecclesiastical court of the United Methodist Church. You see, his son is gay. Ogletree officiated over his wedding to Nicholas Haddad.

The 80-year-old minister and former dean of the Yale Divinity School did not exactly blunder into violation of his denomination's law. On the contrary, he knew precisely what he was doing and why he was doing it. You can see him in this brief clip explaining his actions before a group called MIND -- Methodists In New Directions.

Ogletree is not the first United Methodist Minister to practice clerical disobedience in the pursuit of justice. Rev. Frank Schaefer, a longtime methodist minister in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, performed a wedding for his gay son in 2007 and was defrocked for it. But this time may be different. The moral force of Tom Ogletree's defiance will, I predict, blow right through straw house of church law.

At least in the eyes of parishioners. Just read what Ogletree says in his written statement, and you'll see why I'm confident that is so.

[W]hen my son, Thomas Rimbey Ogletree, asked me to preside over his wedding to Nicholas William Haddad, I was deeply honored. There was no way that I could with integrity have declined his request, even though my action was designated as a "chargeable offense" by The United Methodist Discipline (cf. par. 2702). Tom and Nick are men of maturity, wisdom, and integrity, and their exceptional bonds with each other have enhanced their commitments to foster a more just and inclusive society that serves the wellbeing of all people. Performing their wedding was one of the most significant ritual acts of my life as a
pastor!

Indeed. Like the civil rights marchers of the 1960s, and the Abolitionists of the 1860s and before, those who practice clerical disobedience have plain moral truth on their side, while their prosecutors have nothing but an interpretation of Scripture, frozen in time, to rely on. Even if Ogletree is convicted, he and Schaefer won't stand alone. At least thirty other Methodist ministers have plunged into clerical disobedience, and more stand ready to support the movement.

Rev. Stephen Griffith, associate pastor of Saint Paul United Methodist Church here in Lincoln, Nebraska, speaks for many when he says, "I believe that our denomination's position on conducting same-sex marriages is wrong. It's unbliblical, it's not Christlike, and it needs to be changed."

Griffith, who is a friend and someone I have served on numerous panels with, feels that putting a minister on trial for blessing the marriage of his own son is a mistake. When Rev. David Lux, the senior pastor of his church, made the same point in his sermon of November 24th, 2013, the congregation broke into applause.

As a secular commentator on religion, I must pause to note that I have no right whatsoever to tell Methodists or any other denomination what their Canon law should be. Sure, it's sad to see the supposedly United Methodists tearing themselves apart. Rev. Griffith worries that the church's stand is alienation younger generations. Still, like freedom of speech, freedom of religion includes the right to be wrong.

But let's be clear: take one step outside the Book of Discipline, or any other compendium of canon law, and the case is over. There can be no justice in denying competent, consenting adults the right to marry merely because their sexual orientation differs from that of the majority. What's more, a majority of Americans now recognizes that.

The loving union of two people of the same sex does no harm to anyone else and does much good to them and their children, if any. (Yes, same-sex couples can have children, by prior heterosexual relationships, by artificial insemination, or by adoption.) There is not a shred of evidence that if same-sex marriage is recognized it will prompt anyone born heterosexual to "convert" to homosexuality. Indeed, the ghastly, failed "conversion therapy" campaigns of "Christian psychologists" argue that it cannot be done.

In short, the only secular arguments against same-sex marriage are a pack of lies and irrelevant scare tactics. Mutterings of bestiality and pedophilia, apart from their irrelevance, ignore the principle of consent. It is staggering to realize that opponents of gay marriage who resort to this argument cannot tell the difference between marriage and rape.

Of course, ecclesiastical law differs from civil law. It draws on what is perceived to be God's law. But increasingly believers are being put in the uncomfortable position of being asked to believe that God promotes unjust laws. That is precisely the position that many Christians were in a century and a half ago when they were told from the pulpit that God hated abolitionists and sanctioned slavery.

Either God was wrong then, or the theologians were. When Rev. Thomas Ogletree goes on trail, Methodists everywhere will have to decide who is in the wrong today.