- (Photo: Trinity UMC, Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard)
Bishop Martin D. McLee, who heads The United Methodist Church in the New York Area, announced on Monday that he will be seeking to stop church trials of clergy who have officiated same-sex marriages, though some critics have said this could lead to a split in the denomination.
"I am grateful to report that the matter concerning the Reverend Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree will not result in a church trial as a just resolution has been achieved," McLee said in a statement, according to NBC News. "I call for and commit to a cessation of church trials for conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions or performing same-gender wedding ceremonies and instead offer a process of theological, spiritual, and ecclesiastical conversation."
Ogletree, a Frederick Marquand Professor Emeritus of Theological Ethics and one of the authors of United Methodist's Book of Discipline, was facing a canonical trial after it was revealed in 2013 that he officiated his son's same-sex wedding, which goes against church teachings.
Ogletree has argued that he was refusing to comply with a law which he felt contradicted one of UMC's core teachings.
"I would not casually violate any rule in the Discipline. I would do it only if I was convinced that upholding it would be a violation of our core Methodist teachings – open minds, open doors and even the acceptance of people without regard to sexual orientation," Ogletree shared with The Christian Post in a 2013 interview.
Ogletree's trial had been scheduled to begin on Monday, The New York Times reported, but following McLee's announcement, it will no longer take place. The bishop, who oversees close to 460 churches, said that he would drop all charges against Ogletree, and asked him to participate in a dialogue on matters of sexuality instead.
"While many insist on the trial procedure for many reasons, I offer that trials are not the way forward," McLee said. "Church trials result in harmful polarization and continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters."
Some critics of that decision, such as The Institute on Religion and Democracy's United Methodist Action Director John Lomperis warned, however, that undermining the church's teachings could lead to a split in the denomination.
"No one today seriously argues that sex outside of man-woman marriage is consistent with the historic, core doctrinal standards United Methodist clergy vow at their ordinations to uphold. But a vocal minority now bizarrely brag about not keeping their word," Lomperis wrote in a statement.
"By refusing to fulfill his basic responsibilities as bishop to uphold our standards, Bishop McLee is demonstrating a profound lack of integrity, breaking his own word to God and the church, and is further undermining trust in bishops throughout our denomination."
The United Methodist Action director added that McLee's decision has "ensured a prolonging and an intensification of our denomination's internal conflicts," and accused a "minority faction" of leading the United Methodists down "the same liberalizing road that has split other oldline Protestant denominations."
The UMC is the second-largest Protestant group in the U.S., after the Southern Baptist Convention, with 12.5 million members.