By Victoria Cavaliere
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United Methodist Church announced on Monday it was dropping its case against a New York clergyman accused of defying church policy by officiating at his son's same-sex wedding.
The church said a trial over the actions of the Rev. Thomas Ogletree, a former dean at Yale University's divinity school, could cause "harmful polarization" during the ongoing debate over the church's stance on gay unions.
The move came three months after a Pennsylvania pastor was defrocked after a church judicial proceeding found him guilty of officiating at his son's same-sex wedding. Instead of facing trial, Ogletree will participate in a series of conversations about the church's policy toward homosexual unions, a church official said.
"Church trials produce no winners," Bishop Martin McLee, the leader of the church's New York Annual Conference, said in a statement.
"Church trials result in harmful polarization and continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters," the bishop wrote.
Methodist doctrine welcomes congregants regardless of sexual orientation but maintains that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teachings." Under church policy, same-sex marriages cannot be performed in Methodist churches or by ordained ministers.
But like other mainstream Protestant denominations, the church faced increasing pressure to amend its stance on same-sex couples. Over the past three years, advocates have urged Methodist clergy to defy church policy and conduct gay weddings as a sign of protest.
Ogletree said he could not refuse when asked to officiate at his son's 2012 wedding to another man in New York, a state that recognizes gay nuptials. A fellow Methodist clergyman saw the wedding announcement in a newspaper and filed a complaint against Ogletree.
"It is a shame that the church is choosing to prosecute me for this act of love, which is entirely in keeping with my ordination vows … and with Methodism's historic commitment to inclusive ministry embodied in its slogan 'open hearts, open minds, open doors,'" Ogletree said in a statement in January.
Ogletree, a noted scholar on Christian ethics and a member of the clergy for 60 years, said he was relinquishing his right to a trial and had accepted the resolution agreement and its "intention to ...offer a process of theological, spiritual and ecclesiastical reflection."
The United Methodist Church is the second-largest Protestant group in the U.S. after the Southern Baptist Convention. It has about 12.5 million members worldwide.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Amanda Kwan)