The NY Times story about the Rev. Dr. Thomas Ogletree has been all over the web (at least the church nerd part of it). Ogletree is a United Methodist clergyman and professor of ethics at Yale Divinity School.
Ogletree recently performed a wedding ceremony in New York for his gay son, which obviously violates the current law of the United Methodist Church.
Ogletree is hardly the only Methodist pastor to preside over a heterodox wedding ceremony but, given his post at Yale and his former work in the Civil Rights movement, he’s the highest profile pastor to do so.
Ogletree’s move has set off the predictable- and, to me, increasingly uninteresting- condemnations. Some Methodist leaders in the New York area are pushing for a court trial.
Considering Ogletree’s age and retired status, such a trial would be a symbolic- and expensive- charade. But I’ll get off my soapbox.
You can read the story here.
Since yesterday’s Times story came out, I’ve seen numerous FB postings about it.
A few of you even forwarded the story to my email, asking me for my response.
My initial responses had nothing to do with the issue per se. They came to me in this order:
1. It struck me as (morally) gross that someone would refer to a father presiding at his own son’s wedding as ‘a crime.’ Making a father’s love sound like colluding with the holocaust is just bad character. Enough said.
2. I don’t think pastors should be performing religious rituals for their children or family members- baptisms, weddings, funerals. Dads should be dads, moms should moms etc. Don’t confuse one role with another.
After thinking about the article some more and what my requested ‘response’ would be I settled on this:
Arguments in favor of gay marriage need to be more theological.
The Ogletree article, and Ogletree himself, largely views the issue through the lens of Civil Rights. That’s fine and that’s one (secular) way to approach it; however, Christians should be thinking Christianly about the issue.
What’s more, since the conservative argument for ‘traditional marriage’ trades heavily in scriptural and theological jargon, it’s all the more important for a counter proposal to employ the resources of scripture and theological reasoning.
Gene Rogers was my very first teacher of theology, back when I was an undergrad at UVA. As a theologian, he’s ‘conservative’ or, better put, he’s ‘post-liberal.’ He also happens to be gay.
Here’s an excerpt from him making precisely the sort of theological argument- one that is ‘conservative’ in its respect of and adherence to the historic tradition- I wish more Christians and clergy attempted to make:
Christian thinkers have argued against the notion that the diversity of creatures and persons is the result of the Fall rather than of God’s creation of a multifarious world, Aquinas represents a prominent strand of Christian thought on this point: the earthly environment demands to be filled with an ordered variety of creatures, he said, so that God’s creation will not suffer the imperfection of showing gaps.
Creatures require the diversity that the Spirit rejoices to evoke.
Multiplication is always in God’s hand, so that the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes, the fruit of the virgin’s womb, the diversity of the natural world does not overturn nature but parallels, diversifies and celebrates it.
The Spirit’s transformation of the elements of a sacrament is just a special case of the Spirit’s rule over all of God’s creation.
What kind of diversity or otherness does the Spirit evoke? Does it evoke the diversity represented by homosexual persons?
Clearly, the majority opinion of the church has said no — that sort of diversity in creation is not the work of the Spirit.
But it is not at all clear that such a judgment is necessary.
Conservatives will suppose that by invoking the diversity of creation I am begging the question.
And yet, if the earth is to bring forth not according to its kind (more dirt) but creatures different from dirt and from each other, and if bodily differences among creatures are intended to represent a plenum in which every niche is filled, then the burden of proof lies on the other side.
It needs to be shown that one of God’s existing entities somehow cannot do its part in communicating and representing God’s goodness and do so precisely in its finitude, by its limitations.
What are the limits on accepting diversity as capable of representing God’s goodness? Conservatives and liberals would agree that a diversity evoked by the Holy Spirit must be a holy diversity, a diversity ordered to the good, one that brings forth the fruits of the Spirit, primarily faith, hope and charity.
Given that no human beings exhibit faith, hope and charity on their own, but only in community, it is hard to argue that gay and lesbian people ought to be left out of social arrangements, such as marriage, in which these virtues are trained.
In the words of Gregory of Nazianzus, our human limitations are intended for our good. So too, then, the limitations ascribed to same-sex couples, or for that matter cross-sex couples: in Gregory’s words, their “very limitations are a form of training” toward communicating and representing the good.
The church needs both biological and adoptive parents, especially since baptism is a type of adoption. The trick is to turn these created limits toward the appreciation of the goods represented by others. Our differences are meant to make us yearn for and love one another. Says Williams:
“The life of the Christian community has as its rationale — if not invariably its practical reality — the task of teaching us to so order our relations that human beings may see themselves as desired, as the occasion of joy.”
Under conditions of sin, otherness can lead to curse rather than blessing, to hostility rather than hospitality. Certainly there has been enough cursing and hostility to go around in the sexuality debates.
But as created, otherness is intended for blessing and hospitality.
Conservatives often claim it’s dangerous to practice homosexuality, because it might be a sin. I want to propose that the danger runs both ways.
It is more than contradictory, it may even be resisting the Spirit, to attempt to deprive same-sex couples of the discipline of marriage and not to celebrate same-sex weddings. I don’t mean this kind of rhetoric to insult others or forestall discussion.
I just mean that the danger of refusing to celebrate love is real.
You can read the full of Rogers’ here.