Former Yale dean Tom Ogletree on why he officiated his son’s same-sex wedding

Regardless of how you feel about homosexuality and same-sex marriage, you should know the name Tom Ogletree.

Just because he’s an interesting guy who had a choice to make. That choice pitted his family against his faith. And he choose his family.

Thomas Ogletree

Thomas Ogletree

I am curious about what you would decide. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Back to Ogletree. A United Methodist Church pastor, Ogletree is a Frederick Marquand Professor Emeritus of Theological and Social Ethics at Yale University Divinity School.

He previously served as dean of Yale Divinity School (1990–96) and the Theological School at Drew University (1981–90). He was director of graduate studies in religion at Vanderbilt University (1978–81).

He is the author of five books: “The World Calling: The Church’s Witness in Politics and Society,” “Christian Faith and History: A Critical Comparison of Ernst Troeltsch and Karl Barth,” “The Death of God Controversy; The Use of the Bible in Christian Ethics,” and “Hospitality to the Stranger: Dimensions of Moral Understanding.”

In October 2012, Ogletree presided over his son’s gay wedding in New York City, where it is legal. The younger Thomas Ogletree married Nicholas Haddad.

A complaint has been filed against him by the United Methodist Church, which may lead to a church trial. The UMC does not allow its clergy to perform same-sex weddings.

While he is not the first UMC clergyman to defy the church on gay marriage, Ogletree, 79, is the highest-profile pastor to date. The result has left him in the middle of a church tug of war, which the New York Times addressed in an article this week.

As the Times notes, the United Methodist Church is the third-largest Christian denomination in the country. Its clergy members pledge to follow the church’s laws as contained in its rule book, the Book of Discipline. The rules can only be amended via votes by clergy and laity that take place every four years.

Ogletree has become a symbol of sorts for UMC clergy who seek to change the church rules on gay marriage. He has aligned with Methodists in New Directions, a New York group that is part of a growing movement to change the church’s rules.

The Times reports that more than 1,100 United Methodist clergy members — of about 45,000 in the nation — have expressed a willingness to perform same-sex ceremonies, even if it means they may face suspension or censure.

I found Ogletree’s quote to the Times very telling: “I actually wasn’t thinking of this as an act of civil disobedience or church disobedience. I was thinking of it as a response to my son.”

Ogletree, who also has a gay daughter, wrote his own opinion column in the Washinton Post explaining his decision to disobey the church.

I am always fascinated when a staunch social conservative amends their tolerance level when confronted by homosexuality in their own family. Or their own children. Dick Cheney favors gay marriage. He probably would not favor gay marriage if he didn’t have a gay child. Sen. Rob Portman recently came out in favor of gay marriage, revealing that his son is gay.

While that is nice, to me, it isn’t right. I don’t believe you can represent people, as a politician or a clergyman, and be opposed to something as long as it doesn’t touch you. The values and love you carry for your own family must be the values and love you want for everyone.

What would you do if you were in Rev. Ogletree’s shoes?

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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One Response to Former Yale dean Tom Ogletree on why he officiated his son’s same-sex wedding

  1. This wasn’t a case of choosing between faith and family. The Christian Gospel, centered on Jesus’s boundary-breaking love and radical inclusivity, is all about welcoming and defending marginalized members of society. Tom Ogletree’s embrace of his son, his willingness to offer a blessing to his son, didn’t present him with a dilemma: he was perfectly clear before that moment that LGBT people ought to be treated equally by church and society. He didn’t “change his tune” when it got close to home. He didn’t need to.

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