On May 31 the highly controversial Philip Wogaman, former pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church (1992-2002), surrendered his clergy credentials in solidarity with T.C. Morrow, a lesbian member of his former congregation who was not ordained as a Deacon due to the fact that she was a practicing homosexual in violation of church law.
“I do this with a heavy heart, but knowing that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right about there being a cost of discipleship at every stage in our life as Christians,” Wogaman told the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference during their clergy session.
Now retired and age 85, he’s publicly opposed United Methodism’s traditional teaching about marriage and sexual ethics for several decades, first as a prominent longtime seminary professor and later as a pastor. Wogaman is approaching his 60th anniversary of being ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist church.
During Bill Clinton’s two terms as President of the United States, the Clinton family regularly attended Foundry United Methodist Church, which is one of 200 reconciling congregations of the United Methodist Church. Wogaman was essential in leading Foundry to becoming a reconciling congregation in 1995, which made Foundry one of the key meeting locations of the religious homosexual community in the Washington, D.C., area.
Wogaman has long been a controversial figure of Foundry. In 1995, IRD’s President, Mark Tooley, highlighted Wogaman’s liberal leanings that led the 1996 Republican nominee for U.S. President, Bob Dole, and his wife, Elizabeth, to find a new church that, “would more accurately reflect their traditional beliefs.” Tooley commented in the Washington Times regarding the ironic nature of the Republican nominee and his wife attending a church where Rev. Wogaman actively attacked Republican policy.
Later Wogaman counseled and publicly defended President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal that led to Clinton’s impeachment.
Wogaman’s liberal theology also translated into his stances on domestic policy and politics. He was a strong supporter of higher taxes, including a more progressive social security tax in the 1980s. As a staunch critic of Ronald Reagan and a free market economy, Wogaman claimed that, “[socialism] can claim modest but real economic success.”
Once hosting controversial Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong at Foundry Church, where Spong characteristically denied biblical miracles, Wogaman also questioned traditional biblical teachings like the virgin birth.
Rather than urging any other members of clergy to quit United Methodist ordination, Wogaman stressed that those concerned clergy members stay put and allow him to be, “[their] representative outside the circle,” in the fight to suspend church discipline regarding practicing homosexual clergy like T.C. Morrow.
The denial of T.C. Morrow’s candidacy for ordination shows the ongoing evangelical direction of global United Methodism, even in a liberal conference.
Last year, the Baltimore-Washington Conference Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM), the body charged with screening ordination candidates in the region, recommended Morrow for ordination. This came shortly after this board issued a joint statement with the New York Conference Board of Ordained Ministry announcing new policies in their respective regions of publicly welcoming gay ordination candidates. However, an extraordinary last-minute intervention prevented Ms. Morrow from receiving the required approval of a vote of a super-majority of all clergy in her conference.
This year, Morrow failed to even win the approval of the board of ordained ministry. This was a direct result of recent rulings of the denomination’s supreme court, the Judicial Council. One such ruling challenged the application of this aforementioned LGBTQ-welcoming ordination policy in New York, and resulted in the Judicial Council ruling that such boards are required to ask the necessary questions to fully examine ministry candidates’ compliance with the denomination’s prohibition of clergy engaging in sexual relations outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Another ruling “prohibits the consecration as bishop of a self-avowed practicing homosexual.” Together these rulings now concretely deny individuals such as T.C. Morrow and Karen Oliveto, both lesbian activists, from legitimately serving as bishop or receiving ordination.
IRD’s UM Action Director, John Lomperis, submitted two legal briefs on each of these two cases (those submitted on the bishop case can be read here and here) that may have assisted the Judicial Council in reaching their ultimate decisions.
Wogaman has been one of the most prominent advocates for United Methodism to abandon its traditional teaching that sex is for marriage between man and woman across four decades. His surrendering his clergy credentials maybe ultimately recalled as the beginning of the end for viable liberal resistance to the increasingly global denomination’s more orthodox direction.