UPDATE: United Methodist Church and No More Trails; Schism Ahead?

By Central Voice

Central Voice talked with defrocked pastor Frank Schaefer, Lebanon, on a decision by an upstate New York United Methodist Church conference to stop church prosecutions of pastors within their conference who perform same-sex weddings.

Rev. Thomas Ogletree

Rev. Thomas Ogletree

March 10, United Methodist Bishop Martin McLee and Rev. Thomas Ogletree announced that the church was dropping the case against Ogletree for officiating at his son’s wedding. There is a movement within the UMC to organizing its marriage ministry to all couples on an equal basis in open defiance of church law.

Bishop McLee said, “I call for and commit to cessation of trials,” the first time ever a sitting UM bishop has categorically declared he will not prosecute pastors for ministering to LGBTQ people.

“I am grateful that Bishop McLee has withdrawn this case and the church is no longer prosecuting me for an act of pastoral faithfulness and fatherly love,” Ogletree said. “But I am even more grateful that he is vowing not to prosecute others who have been likewise faithful in ministry to LGBTQ people. May our bishop’s commitment to cease such prosecutions be the beginning of the end of the United Methodist Church’s misguided era of discriminating against LGBTQ people.”

Rev. Thomas Ogletree was scheduled to be tried March 10 after officiating his son’s same-sex wedding.

The new announcement means that these kinds of trials will no longer occur only within the upstate New York conference. The UMC is governed by many conferences, each of which participates in the larger governance structure of the international church.

“This decision, to end trails, effects only the upstate New York conference, nowhere else,” Schaefer confirmed for Central Voice. He is still defrocked within his own conference.

The entire UMC meets every four years, next in 2014. Schaefer says there is a real possibility that the church will experience a schism over same-sex marriage.

“We are deeply divided on same-sex marriage,” Schaefer says. “There’s lots of turmoil but perhaps this will bring change, but maybe not,” he reflects. “I expect this division could lead to a schism within the church when we next meet in 2016. If by then the rules stay the same – no same-sex marriage – then each church, each conference will have to decide. That may lead to a split,” he says.

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